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The Thirteen Chairs

” It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs.” ~W. S. Gilbert

A family cabin can be a place to relax or fish or swim, but it can also be a place to keep a lot of things that you no longer have room for in your house. My sister and I own our cabin together, and in our case, the “things” we have a lot of are chairs. She called me today after spending the weekend there to ask me if she could get rid of two. Admittedly, I have a chair hoarding problem, and it immediately gave me a bit of anxiety at the thought of losing any. The chairs she was speaking of were two folding metal chairs, probably from the 1950’s. They are cute and kitschy and sit lower to the ground than today’s chairs. I am ashamed to admit that 1950’s derrieres were a bit smaller than mine, too, as they aren’t the most comfortable things to sit in. Getting rid of two brings our total number of chairs in that small cabin to 13, not including the couch and my father’s old easy chair and ottoman. Oh, and the stool that slides under the counter, too. I must not forget the seven Adirondack chairs around the fire pit, either, as well as the old metal lawn chair on the dock that I sit in when I fish. Since I couldn’t bear the thought of getting rid of those kitschy little chairs, I offered to keep them at my house. Since they fold, they shouldn’t take up too much room, right? I could pull them out and put them on the deck in case I get a lot of company. I only have four chairs on the front deck and five on the back deck, along with an outdoor couch that seats three. I’m really almost embarrassed to mention the 15 chairs that I have in the house, two in the camper, and two in the garage. I am rearranging things in my head as we speak. Thankfully, though, since we are down to just 13 chairs at the cabin it won’t seem so cluttered.

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The end of the road

I took a drive today, in a twenty-five year old rusty pickup truck that in dog years, is much older than that. It is HIS latest acquisition for our driveway, which sometimes resembles a used car lot. It belches smoke and smells of hardworking man sweat, the gravel road I’m driving on, and something I can’t quite put my finger on. Still, the old truck does what it is supposed to do. It hauls the boat back and forth from the lake, which is exactly why I was driving down this dusty road. When the road meets blacktop, I turn left onto another dusty road, pulling an empty boat trailer behind me. HE had driven the boat across the lake and was to meet me at the landing, which is at the end of the road. It gets more narrow with deeper potholes the farther one drives. Along with a cooler and toolbox and an occasional load of firewood, the bed of the old truck holds a chainsaw, which is very important if one is going to drive in this neck of the woods. The forest near the lake is deep and dark and thick with trees old and young. To me, the darkness makes it creepy and kind of Halloweeny, even in the middle of summer. I am dressed in old clothes and comfortable walking shoes, as I was once stopped halfway down by a huge downed popple tree that was blocking the road. Even if I hadn’t been pulling the trailer there was no place to turn around, so I crawled over it, snagging my church clothes in the process, and hiked down to the lake in my Sunday shoes. I tried not to think that with each step I took I was probably stalked by savage beasts and/or goblins. Truth be told, I am kind of a wimp and prefer the sawing of large trees or shooting of savage beasts and/or goblins in the Halloweeny woods to be done by HIM. Today, I was enjoying the hint of fall in the air and was hardly thinking about the familiar route as I turned left on to the gravel road in that old truck, small dog hanging out the window and boat trailer bouncing along behind. I stopped. Instead of trees, there was a line of split rail fencing and a barn I had never seen before. Across the road, bare ground and a retaining wall of large boulders. Landscaping. I thought for a moment that I had taken a wrong turn, and wondered how in the heck I was going to turn this truck and trailer around. As I drove along, I realized that it was indeed the right road, as the forest grew thicker, the road got narrower, and the potholes got deeper the farther I drove. I was thankful that there were no downed trees, savage beasts, and/or goblins to stop me and when I got to the end of the road, the lake was sparkling in the afternoon sun and HE was waiting on the shore.

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Reflections

I was going to give this photograph of my five year old grandson a title. Something like “Reflections” would be nice. A photograph of a soon-to-be kindergartner flat on his belly at the end of the dock, looking into the water. His face reflects his curiosity at the different types of fish that he sees, and he wonders if the water there is over his head. A few minutes later, he is scooting with his mother over a dead cedar tree overhanging the shallows. He has a natural grace and a lack of fear over what lies below. That’s all right. Grandma had enough fear for everyone, and waited for the inevitable splashes as they both fell in, but it never happened. With every step we took along the lakeshore, he had a question about why things happen and how they work. Kindergarten is starting in a few short weeks, and he is ready. More than ready, I think, because he is eager and excited. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday when his mother , eager to start her first day of kindergarten, turned to wave as she stepped through the door to her classroom. I wish I would have had a picture of that moment, even though it is forever etched in my mind. Luckily, I have this precious photograph to keep, plus the rest of the story that goes along with it: Max’s dad taught him that spitting into the water will attract the fish and bring them closer to the surface, so he was hanging over the edge of the dock and spitting. A lot. Five year olds are curious and silly and smart and they like to spit, especially if they have permission to do so. I hope, as this boy steps through the door to his classroom and the many classrooms to follow, that he keeps his curiosity, his sense of wonder at the world, his eagerness to learn, and most of all, I hope he doesn’t spit in public.

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For once, I had few plans for Saturday. Since I no longer have a huge garden and switched to a few raised beds, spending my days off weeding and/or canning are days of the past. Still, I wanted to make a batch of giardenieria (hot Italian pickled vegetables with olives) and since my raised bed cucumbers were producing well, perhaps a jar or two of refrigerator pickles. I had stopped at the farmer’s market on Friday and picked up a head of cauliflower, fresh garlic, and stalks of dill that were almost as tall as I was. My generous neighbor, who let me come and pick enough green beans from his garden to can a few jars for winter, dropped off a large bucket of cucumbers, and since a real Farm Woman never lets anything go to waste, I now had plans for Saturday. Big plans. From past experience, my canned pickles are so bad that even the chickens won’t eat them, but my refrigerator dills are delicious, do that’s all I ever make. I turned on a TV series I have been taping to keep me company while I worked. The original Perry Mason series is a film noir type of murder mystery/lawyer/detective show in black and white and is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Season two, which I am currently watching, is from 1958, the year I was born. I watched and listened as I sterilized jars and scrubbed cucumbers. The voices of Perry Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake were so familiar that I didn’t even have to have my eyes glued to the TV screen. After the first gallon of pickles was packed, I realized that I had enough to make another gallon, and was amazed that Perry and private detective Paul Drake could figure it out so well without smart phones and computers. After that gallon was packed, I realized I had enough to make four quarts of a fermented New York style dill pickle recipe that I had been wanting to try. After they were packed, I took a break to make the giardenieria, wondered if Della Street ever went home, then sliced more cucumbers and onions for a quick pickle for supper. If I didn’t know better, I would swear these cucumbers were multiplying as quickly as the corpses that Perry always seemed to find before Detective Tragg got to the crime scene. Two gallons plus four quarts plus six Perry Masons plus a quick pickle plus a half gallon of giardenieria plus two bags of leftover cucumbers in the fridge. District Attorney Hamilton Burger always lost his case, and still showed up every week to try again. I should use his example and try canning dill pickles one more time. After all, it will use up those extras and nothing will go to waste. It is no mystery that it must be a good year for cucumbers and that after all that work, this Farm Woman needs a nap. I hope I dream in black and white.

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Twenty Questions

A recent fishing trip with our grandson made me realize something. Five year olds learn by asking questions, and they certainly ask a LOT of questions: “Why do fish breath water to live and die when they breathe air?” As the daughter of a biologist, Google and I could have easily explained the anatomy and physiology of the lake perch, which happened to be all we were catching that day, but Max was already busy thinking of the next question: “When we fish with worms, do they really want to die?” Tough one. It is really too bad he doesn’t like to answer questions as much as he likes to ask them, though. A recent exchange with his mother went something like this: Max’s Mom: “What did you do at preschool today? Did you learn anything new?” Max: “Mommy. I just. I just can’t answer all these questions. My brain needs rest. It’s too many questions. I just gotta sit in quiet with no more questions.” When I was a young night shift nurse, my five year old niece thought about it a long time before asking, “So, if I sleep at night when you’re awake and if you sleep during the day when I’m awake, when you have a bad dream, is it called a daymare?” That curious young lady grew up to be a college professor of anatomy and physiology. I think Max will grow up to be a successful veterinarian who talks to animals, just like Dr. Dolittle. How do I know this? He spent a lot of our fishing trip laying in the bottom of the pontoon talking to the container of worms and using his best squeaky worm voice: “You don’t really want to die, do you? ” Sigh. I think the next time we’ll use artificial bait. Maybe we’ll even catch something besides perch.

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Fourteen

HE thinks it was a hawk or an eagle. I think it was pack of salivating rabid wolves with red eyes. Whatever it was, there was nothing left of my poor chicken but a scattering of feathers near the back field. I had a hard time rounding them up that evening. A few were huddled in the pole building, a few in the coop. One went so far as to scoot into a corner as far as she could go. I talked to her softly, trying to soothe her fright, and she looked back at me as if she understood my words. I checked the corners of the coop for predators. Raccoons, weasels, and even skunks will kill chickens. Hawks, eagles, and salivating rabid wolves, too. Sadly, I counted fourteen. Down two. I herded the frightened stragglers in and locked the coop down tight for the night. I checked the long grass by the creek, in case by some miracle they were alive. I whistled down the rows of corn, tall as I am. They usually come when I whistle. I sat on the back steps until it was dark. Sadly, I went inside. Fourteen. Later, I thought I would check one more time, so ventured outside with a flashlight. Looking for a black chicken in the dark is kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack, but I found her, huddled up against the big old garage that shares a wall with the coop. Fifteen. I smiled as I shooed her inside, trying to get her into the coop by way of the back door. Having witnessed the recent tragedy, she was skittish and wouldn’t go in. Standing in the middle of that old garage, I was skittish myself, having awakened a bat by turning the light on, and he was flying around and around the rafters. My mind could have been playing tricks on me, but I swear that bat was salivating and probably rabid, and it had red eyes. I left them both inside the old garage, safe for the night. Bats do not kill chickens, but could possibly cause an old Farm Woman to die of fright by flying too close to her head. The next morning, she scooted right inside about the same time that the corner-hiding hen was taking her last breaths. Probably died of fright…or old age. Back to fourteen again, and in the blink of an eye, too. Life is short, even more so for chickens. I’m glad the last words she heard were kind ones.

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The fitness tracker that I wear on my wrist recently bit the dust. It was a gift from my very fit daughter and son-in-law, who own a gym. I liked it just fine, and yes, it is possible that she was switched at birth. It was easy to use, easy to program, and had an matching app that I downloaded to my smart phone. It kept track of the number of steps I took each day and how many hours I slept each night. By the way, neither the steps I took nor the hours I slept were ever enough. Looking for a new one was harder than one might imagine. What size screen would I like? Should it track calories, steps, sleep, AND notify me of texts to my phone? Well, no, thank you. I have a phone that I paid way too much money for that already notifies me of texts. Since I don’t give two hoots or a holler about knowing the exact second I receive a text, I turned the notification sound off right away. What I wanted in a fitness tracker was just what I had, but after three years and advances in modern technology, it was impossible to find. I am also pretty cheap…er…frugal. It is bad enough that my phone cost more than a few cars I have purchased in my life, and I just don’t want to pay a lot for something that is really just a glorified wristwatch. Finally, I found a similar one and syncronized it with my phone. It has a few more bells and whistles than the old one did, but I thought it would do just fine, and it did. It did until I noticed that one of the bells and/or whistles is a feature that gives off a soft “beep” if it senses that I am not moving enough. I haven’t figured out how turn that vexing little devil off yet, either, but I’m working on it. I almost wish that someone would invent a tracker that would give me an electric shock every time I opened the refrigerator. Now THAT, I would buy. In the meantime, please excuse me…I’m off to take another walk.

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