Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lessons from Mother Nature

There they were, just as we suspected.  All the mothers in the neighborhood were down at the end of the dirt road lined up between the weeds of the dry canal and the weeds along the path.  They looked like they were going to play a game of “Red Rover” except they were standing with hands on hips looking like a pack of wild rhinos ready to charge.  No mistake, they were mad and we knew it!

The day had started out quite sunny and bright. Some of my friends were playing in the backyard and after a while we started to get board.  “Let’s take a walk down the back trail and pretend we are pirates on an adventure,” Glenda said as she pulled her brown hair into a short pony tail.

We had been warned more than once by our mothers, about the big canal that ran beside the trail.  But, today the canal had no water.  It was completely dry.  So we decided it would be alright to walk this way to the ball field. 

I ran into the house to grab a mitt, bat, and ball.  I yelled to mom, “We’re going to the ball field to practice baseball for a while.” 

I heard my mom yell, “O.K. Don’t be too late.”  Then off we ran.  Now we could have gone around the long way to the field, but going down the back trail would be faster.

As we got to the field, a game was already started and we knew the older boys would not let a bunch of girls play.  “Hey,” said Sandy, “Let’s just walk down to the apple tree at the end of the lane.” 

“You know that’s too close to the river. My parents would shoot me.” I replied. 

“We could just get some apples and then come back.  Maybe by then the boys will be finished with the field,” Glenda said. 

This time it was Danielle who responded “I guess that won’t hurt will it?  I love the green apples.”
I thought to myself, it won’t hurt unless our moms find out. In the end we all agreed to go.

When we got to the tree, it was full of apples alright. Every branch was laden with the light green fruit.  After picking a few, we sat down under the tree, leaned back against the trunk and started eating.  The apples were large enough that they were more sweet than sour, but I felt my mouth pucker a little anyway. For a few minutes all we could hear was the crunch of crispy apples.  A person can only eat about four or five before their mouth gives out.  It seems when you eat them each apple gets more and more sour.

“It won’t hurt to go down to the river from here,” said Glenda as she started climbing up the branches of the apple tree. “It doesn’t look very deep from here. Please!” Her eyes look right at me as if I was the only one who had to give permission.  

 Again I agreed even though my thoughts said, you really shouldn’t do that.

We could hear the river before we got to it. I hesitated to spoil our fun, but I was having second thoughts. “It sounds kind of loud today.  I think we should turn around and go back to the ball field.” I said. 

“Fine you just stay here and we will go without you!” stomped Sandy, shaking her red hair. Her hair always seemed brighter when she was showing her temper.

Danielle must have felt the same as I did because she said, “I’ll stay too.”

It wasn’t more than five minutes before we could hear Sandy and Glenda laughing.  We heard a loud plunk.  “Let’s find a bigger one,” they laughed.  After which another plunk was heard.  We heard giggling and some splashing, just before hearing a loud scream, “Help me!”  Then another scream, 

“Help, Help!”

'Maybe they are playing a trick on us, but we can’t just sit here!” I yelled as I grabbed Danielle’s hand.  “We have to go see.  What if they are really in trouble? Let’s go.” 

When we got there we could see Sandy pulling a big stick over to the river.  “Hang on, I’m coming,” Sandy yelled. We saw Glenda as her hands slipped down the thin tree limb taking off the leaves along the way.  Then we heard the biggest splash telling us that Glenda was now in the water. 

She was having a hard time keeping her head above the water.  Her head went down under the water more than once.  We ran further down-stream.  I saw that brown pony tail near the top of the water and leaned out to grab hold of it only slowing the movement of Glenda’s body for a moment but, it was enough for Sandy to hold the branch out over the water just far enough for Glenda to grab hold. Both Sandy and I were almost pulled into the water with her.  I held on to that pony tail and Sandy held the branch and by sheer luck she was able to get to the side of the river and grab a solid branch of a tree to hold on to.  “Hold on tight.”  “Don’t let go,” we yelled. 

I don’t think she could hear us but, she did manage to hold on.  The two of us could barely pull her out of the river.  She lay on the grass grasping for breath.  She choked and coughed a few times.  Water came out of her mouth with force like when someone is throwing up. Then at last she started to breathe. 

All this time Danielle was standing shivering with fear.  She was so afraid of water that she was still standing back away from the danger.  However, she was close enough to see all that happened. And as soon as we new Glenda was out of the water, Danielle started to cry.

“Let’s go home.  I’m cold,” said Sandy before she started to cry too. Soon, there we were all standing by the side of the river crying like babies and hugging each other.

Then Glenda said, “I can’t go home wet like this.  My mom will know where we were. Look at me! My blouse is ripped my legs and arms are scraped and I have a cut on my forehead.” 

“Let’s at least walk back to the ball field where we can dry off while we think of what to do.” Danielle said.  “At least we will be away from the river.”

So that is what we did. Glenda sat out in the sun and dried out a little bit while I turned the end of my shirt up and wiped the blood off of her head. “It isn’t too bad just a scrape really,” I said. “You’re going to be all right.”

We stayed for a little too long trying to dry out.  Maybe we should have walked home the long way from the ball field, but in our haste to make up time, once again, we took the trail.

That’s when we saw them.  All the mothers lined up with their hands on their hips.  I knew we were in for a good spanking.  “I’ll be grounded for a month,” said Danielle. 

Sandy replied, “Yeah, if I live that long.”

 Glenda whispered low so our mom’s wouldn’t hear, “Just remember, it won’t be as bad as if I was still in the river.”

She was right. Mother Nature had given us a good scare. She had taught us a better reason to stay away from the river than our mothers ever could.  “Let’s go get it over with,” I said.

Dragons in the Snow

With all of the noise, I was surprised to hear the whisper at my side.  “Will you walk home with me?”  There stood Glenda, in a light Sunday coat barely covering her worn out blue dress.  Her eyes filled with tears as she bit her lip.

“Yes,” I gulped.  “We better hurry.  Grab your things.” 

“I am ready,” she replied. 

I sat on the floor and got my boots on.  Sweat trickled down my face as I grabbed my hat, scarf and mittens.  The door opened and another loud rush of fourth graders pushed their way into the coatroom knocking me back against the wall.

At last we were out in the upstairs center.  Glenda started to jiggle back and forth.  Exasperated I said, “Not Now!  Can’t it wait?”  Again tears came to the surface of her eyes.  “Go ahead, but hurry!”  I will meet your down stairs. 

It didn’t take Glenda long.  She came out of the ladies room pulling on her knee high socks.  I noticed a big run in one of them.  It started at the bottom near her slick black Sunday shoes and went clear up to her knee.

From the upstairs hallway we heard another thunder of footsteps. I felt tension in the pit of my stomach as we quickened our pace.  The fifth graders were out!

The heavy door clanged as we pushed our way onto the playground.  What was white earlier in the day had become a busy freeway of skids and slides.  Some of the snow had turned to slush where angels and games of duck-duck goose had taken place during noon recess.  Half a snowman was leaning over, trying to pick up its head from the ground.  The sky was gray and looked like we could get more snow tonight. Now children were sliding and running to catch their rides home.
I walked steadily in my boots, but Glenda started sliding all over the place.  She pulled heavily on my arm as we ran toward the corner of the playground.  “Ouch,” she said as she slid down on her knee.  I watched the snow turn red as she steadied herself and held on tighter to my coat.  Her hands were turning a dark pink. 

“Where are your gloves?” I asked. 

“My grandma said they had to be washed today.” she replied. 

I took off one of my mittens and with much difficulty pushed it onto her cold wet hand.  I took her other hand in mine and shoved them together into my pocket.  “Let’s run,” I said and we both quickened our pace once again.

We arrived at the end of the play yard just before we heard the heavy school doors clang. That meant the fifth graders were out.  “Here they come.”  We scurried like two jackrabbits through the snow, with hunters on their tails. 

“Wha-who!” the boys shouted.  I glanced behind getting a look at their eager faces before heading around the hedge.  We got to the corner and across the street before we heard them again.  They would be within shooting distance soon.

Glenda and I made the turn and headed down the hill.  Her shoes were now like skis on the downhill slope.  Now I had a difficult time staying up with her. I glanced behind. 

There were three boys all lined up.  They were grinning as they bent down to grab a chunk of snow 
and ice.  The boys were ready for war.  “Hey Glenda, you think you’re such a pretty witch!” one of them yelled.

We didn’t look like any witches.  We actually looked like two dragons with steam rolling from both nose and mouth as we braced ourselves for the onslaught.  I grabbed my scarf and pulled it around Glenda’s face.  There were tiny ice crystals on her eyelashes.  Her face was completely red.  We were winded but there was nothing to do but keep running.

I heard the first thud and felt Glenda lunge forward.  I heard the rip of my pocket.  Now tears were streaming down her face.  Another thud and another, it never seemed to stop.  It took me a minute to realize that not one ice ball hit me!  They were all aimed at Glenda.  “Ouch,” she cried, limping for the next several steps.  My own eyes filled with tears and spilled down onto my cheeks.

“Hey, look. We are in luck,” I chocked.  “Mr. Hansen is out shoveling his walk.”  He was one of the older people who attended our church. He was a little hunched over as he leaned on his shovel.  Everyone expected us to respect him. The barrage of snowballs stopped as we neared the house.  

“Hello girls.  How are you today?” he asked as we walked past.  Of course we replied, “We’re fine.”

“Hello boys,” we heard him say behind us.  “Would you give me a hand for a minute?”  He handed the shovel to one of the boys and the other two moved toward the garbage cans and began to slide them to the side of the garage. 

Maybe we would have enough time to get away. My heart was pounding and my voice felt scratchy and cold, but we had to continue.  As we rounded the last corner and got in sight of Glenda’s house, there was a wave of relief knowing we only had one more stretch to go.  All at once, Glenda jerked hard on my arm and came to a dead stop!  I looked at her face.  It was deep red and her eyes were shut tight.  When she opened them, she looked down at her black shoes.  My eyes were drawn to her shoes too.  There they were, covered with white and red flowered bloomers.  What a time to lose your under-ware!

“Wha-who!”  We heard the boys as they rounded the corner. 

No time to worry about bloomers.  Glenda stepped out of them and left them on the ground.  We covered the distance to her house quickly, but not fast enough to get away from the loud cries of laughter.  We took one last look. 

The boys had found a stick from which they waved the bloomers.  A victory cry rang loudly as we clambered onto the porch and pulled open the door.

Glenda and I went into her bedroom.  We sat on her big rug, our bodies heaving from the long run.  We stared at each other for a few minutes.  Neither one of us were able to talk.  Finally she giggled and said, “Do you want to play a game?”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Cold and Dark

The days were short in the winter and so even though it was not too late, it was definitely dark!  I know 5th graders should not be afraid of the dark but, I had learned too much of the real monsters that lurk in dark places.  I wish I had called my dad to come and pick me up. 

There was no way I could go back and ask to make a call with my friend's dad there. He made me very nervous when he yelled, “All friends go home now!  It is time for our family to eat and do homework.”  Take a deep breath, hustle and get home as fast as you can.  

In our town, one thing that was completely dependable was the wind.  Every morning and every night it would blow up a storm.  I had to walk on canyon road, which was like a wind tunnel.   I pulled my coat tighter around me and put my gloved hands in the pockets of my coat. I had boots on and was ready to bolt.  I never should have stayed so late. It would be a long walk home.

When I got down to Main Street it was a lot lighter there.  I started to dance a little as I waited for the light to change.  As I crossed the busy highway, I looked at some of the cars, in hopes of recognizing someone who could give me a lift home.  Everyone I saw was a stranger. 

On the other side of the road, I had to try to walk around some of the deeper puddles, but as I did, a car came close and hit one of them.  Water splashed high in the air and covered me with brown wet slush.  “Aagh! That is cold!” I yelled, "You stupid car!" but, it kept going down the road. Wow! A chill went down my back as the cold slush penetrated my coat and pants.  Some of the water seeped down into my boots. 

The wind blowing in my face was unbearable now. I started to shiver. I was turning into an ice cycle and still had four blocks to go.  The next stretch was past the old ball fields. There was no moon out and the shadows began to make me uneasy.  I guess the cold water made me more aware that I also needed to go to the bathroom.  I tried to think of only putting one foot in front of the other. 

I started to run, mostly because I was fearful of who was watching from the ballpark.  I couldn’t see anyone, but my imagination sure could! I knew at any moment I would hear footsteps behind me. What would I do?  How would I react if someone really came after me? I am not sure if could yell.  Taking in one cold breath after another, I bet even my voice was frozen.

I tried to run faster, my heavy boots hitting the ground clumsily.  Most people in the area had not shoveled their walks so the ground was uneven making it impossible to run fast.  It started to snow.  I was so frightened and so cold.  There were ice droplets hanging from my lashes.  I tried to wipe them with my wet glove, which only made my face colder.

As I rounded the corner, I saw that someone had actually shoveled there.  I thought, “Great.  I can finally run fast".  Then I hit the ice!  I slid.  My arms waved frantically and I landed flat on the seat of my pants.

“Oh, no!”  You know what happens when you need to pee and you land flat on the ground?  Well, it happened.  Yes, I wet my pants.  For a minute I was actually warm.  It felt so good against my frozen legs. Steam rolled off of the wet cement as I tried to get up. "Ouch," I rubbed my lower back before moving on.  Now I was wet from the inside out.

I could no longer run.  I had to walk.  My Levi pants were frozen and crispy.  In fact, I was walking stiff legged kind of like a zombie.  I had only three more blocks to go but they were the slowest three blocks I had ever walked.  I felt like a frozen Popsicle.  My legs and body rocked from side to side as I inched forward toward home.

I started to cry.  That was the last straw!  Warm tears rolled down my face only to turn to ice.  I could no longer feel my legs or my toes in my boots.  My gloves were so cold they were useless.  I was a stick figure in a child’s drawing.  Stick arms, stick legs, stick feet.  In fact I bet my hair was like a stick too, frozen to a crisp.  It would probably break off if I touched it.

I had walked another block when I heard someone coming up behind me. I didn’t dare look at who was chasing me in the dark!  I just knew it was catching up to me. My heart was still warm because I could feel it beating fast!  It beat so hard I could hear it in my head. Then I felt something hit the back of my coat.  “Help," I yelled.  I guess my voice was not frozen after all.  I fell to the ground.  The next thing I knew, some large monster was on top of me.  He was pulling at my scarf and licking my face. He was barking and yapping.  I heard a door bang and someone yelled, “Buck! Get over here!  Come on Buck, leave that poor girl alone.”

I was breathing hard.  My lungs hurt as I huffed and puffed.  I sat there a moment before staggering once again to my feet.  It seemed forever before I finally made my way around the last bend to my house. I could see the lights in the windows.  They looked so warm and inviting.  Ever so slowly, I walked up the stairs and opened the door.  As I walked into the house, everyone stared!  My voice croaked, “I’m home.” I stood there, a 5th grader, crying like a baby in front of my family.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Home, Where Stories Begin

Although mom had only four children of her own, there were sometimes as many as twenty-five children under our roof.  Mom was like the Old Woman in the Shoe, Who Didn’t Know What to Do.   She started one of the first Child Care Centers in Utah.  It was at a time with few rules about the number of children one person could tend.  The only law at that time was mom.
Children came and went all hours of the day and night. Parents dropped children off  before going to work, no matter what shift they were on. Each child brought a blanket and a pillow so they had their own comfort when it was nap time or bed time. Cots were placed all over the living room, a little like “wall to wall carpet”.
As you can imagine with so many children, meal time was always crazy.  The babies under two (usually only a couple), were fed first.  Then while they were content in their highchairs, mom fed the rest in shifts from the youngest to the oldest until everyone was full.  It seemed that no matter what she made, and no matter how much the children ate, there was always enough food to go around.  Everyone was nice and content after one of mom’s meals.
Every day she would bake something wonderful. Some days we had cookies or cinnamon rolls.  Other days she would make homemade macaroni and cheese.  On bread day she would say, “I wonder why this recipe never makes as much as it says it will.” This comment was always met with silence.  It was because we older children had taken a handful of dough from the underside of the bread as it was rising.  Then quickly ran outside to eat it.  We loved the homemade scones in the morning and the smell of warm baked bread in the afternoons.
When people asked, “Where does your mother work?”  We would reply, “She doesn’t work.  She stays home.”  This was amazing because I have never seen anyone work so hard.  She was always on her feet, cooking meals, baking, washing dishes, washing faces, playing Ring-Around-the-Rosy, reading a story, or dancing with the children.  The only time I saw her sit still is when the children were all napping and she was watching her one and only television show, “Where the World Turns”, a modern day soap opera.  It was boring to children so it put many of us to sleep.
We had time in the day set aside for story time, coloring, writing our names, learning our numbers and alphabet and a play time.  She was a good teacher.  During play time, she taught us how to play.  She taught some to tie their shoes and blow their noses.  She taught others to skip, jump or crawl. Whatever we needed to learn, she was there to teach us.
There are so many stories I have of growing up in such a busy place.  Swimming and splashing in the irrigation water, playing in the dugout, sharing our dolls and other toys, dressing the kittens, playing school and so much more.  We were taught life lessons of sharing, patience, responsibility, solving arguments, getting along, saying please and thank you, and having sympathy for others. Lessons were taught naturally, under natural circumstances and with natural consequences.

Many of the stories I tell, have their beginnings in this small home with all of the children and my wonderful mom.