I am sitting in the screen porch writing this column while listening to the sweet sound of water running off the roof into the gutters.  The woods outside still have a good six inches of  slushy snow and the ice on Pokegama has just, today, begun to take on a more bluish gray tint.  Even so, I have faith.  I heard a Robin yesterday.

After all, if you can’t trust a Robin when it comes to Spring, who can you trust?

My husband tells me I’ve been a little ornerier than usual lately.   Oh, really?  Like I hadn’t noticed.   The poor man doesn’t know how close he came to being married to a particular character from that Stephen King movie “The Shining” a week ago.  I don’t even want to live with me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Spring has been hitting her snooze alarm for two months, refusing to get out of bed.  Or maybe, just maybe it was because of all the folks who kept saying things like, “Hey! Cold enough for ya?” and “I guess it could be worse. At least we don’t have hurricanes!”  to me during March and then April.

Um…hurricanes generally only last for a couple of days.  Yes, they are loud and wet and messy, I know.  But  I haven’t seen bare ground in my yard since, let’s see…October?   I have forgotten what green grass looks like.  I miss grass.

But this morning when I walked outside, I’m pretty sure I even smelled something  slightly resembling April.  And right now, I can hear the faint, far-off low rumble of thunder.  And then, of course, there are the Robins which as I’ve already explained would never kid around about something as important as Spring.   Not this year.

This week,  little kids will fill May Baskets to leave on the steps of their neighbors just as we did when we were kids growing up in town.  Soon, teenagers will skip school to spear suckers in swollen streams.  There will be proms and graduations and summer weddings to celebrate.  Bikes to ride.  Marshmallows to roast. We may still have snow piles in the yard on the Fishing Opener but we will be at the cabin doing cabin things like thousands of other Minnesota families that weekend.

Welcome, Spring.  We are really, really glad you’re here.

A little bird told me to tell you that.


A few precious things

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

He had two names. A first one that, in English, meant “clear water” and a middle one that meant “smart” according to his official documents.  His adoption case worker in South Korea gave him the names.  When I traveled to bring him home to us twenty years ago next month, his only other possessions were two gifts from his foster-mother. The first, a tiny silver bracelet and the other, a pendant engraved with his name and birthday in Hangul characters.  At a year of age, he was just beginning to talk, so he had a few Korean vocabulary words, too.   He lost the foster-mother the day she placed him in my arms for the long trip to his new life in America.  The words he’d learned from her were lost in the confusion of learning English ones.  The bracelet and pendant are all that remain,  reminders of who he was and what he lost in exchange for us, his Forever family.

No wonder the kid has always like stuff.  His stuff, especially. For example, last year when he was preparing to leave for college, I tried to convince him to donate his plastic Fisher Price castle and army of  “castle guys” to Goodwill.  It is still up on a shelf in the garage waiting for a family of imperialistic mice to invade the castle and chase the current residents across the moat and out of the kingdom.  If the Beanie Baby animals living in the clear plastic bin on the shelf next to the castle hear the cannon fire, they’ll have to decide which side they’re on.

I am at the stage of parenthood where, twice a year, my vehicle becomes a moving van for the two nomadic young adults who keep moving. Last week, I drove to Fargo to collect the first load for the Boy.

Now I know why camels spit so much.   And they don’t even have to worry about freezing rain.

When I arrived at his apartment, I watched him pack.  I say “watch” and not “help” because he had a system and I didn’t want to muck it up with, say, an actual system.  I know it sounds a little wacky,  but my idea of packing is to pack things that belong together together.  His system, apparently, is to grab an armful of whatever is closest and shove the contents into the closest plastic bin.  Rumpled t-shirts, used textbooks that he can’t sell, his Kirby Puckett bobble head, and a package of fruit snacks that I’m fairly certain I bought in 2011 made it into the first one.   Another bin, which I mentally labeled Hazardous Materials, was reserved for all the rancid sneakers I have pleaded with him to toss out since at least the tenth grade.

I am moving stuff that landfills won’t take.  HIS stuff.

It was getting late so I suggested that he look for a couple of soft things to stick in one bin to take up some room.  He found a couple of old stuffed animals that he unceremoniously stuffed head-first into the bin before clicking the lid shut. He was just about to do the same thing to his well-worn, well-loved,  stuffed Panda but then he hesitated and said,  “I’ll just wait to pack this one. He can stay.”   Close call there, Mr. Panda.

It’s been a year of challenges for Mr. Panda’s friend.  The year that college became a whole lot more work than fun.  Doubts about his chosen major and frustration over the slow slog toward graduation have plagued him.  He sees friends finishing other, less challenging majors and questions his own choice of career.  It’s hard to know what to say to him at times like this.

We finish packing and I offer to take him to dinner.  During the meal, I tell him just to hold on.  To his dreams, his goals, his friends, his sister, and us.  I tell him to hold on to both his sense of humor and some perspective about all of it.

And then I tell him to let go of  “would have” and “could have” and “should have” because they are even more toxic than those sneakers in the bin. And finally, to let go of the belief that everyone else has their stuff figured out.  I tell him that mastering college is more about persistence than aptitude.  I know that it will be years before he believes me.

After dinner, stuffed full of both steak and words he hugs me quickly and walks toward the apartment building.   As I head toward home, I think about what we hold on to and what we don’t to successfully complete Life 101, a course with no final exam.  Things like faith, and hope, and especially love.  And sometimes,  even scruffy old panda bears waiting silently, patiently, for their boys to come home.

The Village

“I don’t remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.”
Anne Lamott

Once upon a time,  there was a boy.   His name is not important.

He made life miserable for more than a few kids in the neighborhood where he lived.   He was bigger than a lot of the boys, and he took pleasure in tormenting the girls through intimidation, name calling and rock-chucking.  Day after day, season after season, he conducted his personal reign of terror as he rode around the village on his shiny, black Stingray  bike scowling and looking for younger, weaker children to torment.

Now, if this was an actual Fairy Tale, the story would end with an older, much larger boy in the village distributing a little playground justice or the boy suddenly seeing the error of his ways and becoming kinder and gentler as a result.

But this is not a Fairy Tale.

Once upon a time, there was also mother.  Her name is not important, either.

For months she’d had to listen to her daughter’s complaints, dry tears,  and bandage the physical and emotional wounds inflicted by the boy.  She’d complained to the boy’s parents and even lectured the bully personally, all to no avail.

And then, one April afternoon, she waited at the bus stop.

The bus  she was waiting for arrived.  Children began to file off.  She waited a little longer.

Finally, she boarded the bus, exchanged words with the bus driver, and made her way to the back.  She went to where the boy sat, and knelt next to him.  Outside,  children milled about on the lawn of the high school.   It was springtime.  Other buses pulled up and  stopped to drop their passengers.  Exhaust fumes rose in plumes as the buses idled, waiting for the high school students who would be riding the buses out of town.

Suddenly, the folding door of the first bus flew open.  The mom and the boy stood there.  She had him by the ear.  They struggled together to the sidewalk. Grabbing the collar of his jean jacket, she shook him, hollering, “Not such a big boy NOW, are you??  How does it feel?  Not so great, is it?  SHAME on you!  You are to leave my child alone, do you hear me?  ALONE!!!!!  Because if you don’t, every day, I will be here at this bus stop. And every day, I will do this. Do you UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM TELLING YOU?”  He was on his back like a turtle.

She wasn’t a large or powerful woman, physically.  Enraged, she was a giant.  Before that day, she was just Somebody Else’s Mother.  She made cookies and went to school programs.  That day, she became a mythical warrior goddess.  More Incredible Hulk than Carol Brady.   A Mom whose kids were not to be messed with.

Later, when I had children of my own, I finally understood being that fed up.   If you are a Mom, you are probably nodding your own head whether you agree with her method or not.  Today, this act would probably land her either in jail or a psychiatrist’s office.  Things were simpler in the 70’s, I suppose.  There were children to be raised.  Sometimes, the village helped raise them.

She gave the boy one last warning shake, stood up, brushed the grass off of her aqua polyester slacks,  patted her permed hair, and marched toward home.  The turtle boy sat up, rumpled, stunned and sniffling.  He’d gotten a Pride Whuppin’ of monumental proportions.

Most of my memories of elementary school are blurry.  Forty years later, the memory of the events of that day are crystal clear to me.

And I recall that from that point on, there was peace in the village.  At least on our end of town.

Brides of a certain age….

She’s on the hunt for the perfect wedding dress.

She is having a Christmas wedding and this calls  for ivory velvet.  Ivory. Velvet.  Now, nobody is asking me, but I think that velvet is too heavy, even in December.  And that velvet and hot flashes are a really bad combination.  I want to tell her that the only females who look good in velvet are two year olds and the ten mature women on Earth who still wear a size 2.   I think she should take the money she plans to spend on a perfect wedding dress and blow it on a honeymoon instead.  I think she should look for something she can actually wear again…a nice, simple dress or classy suit.

But as a first time bride of 53, she wants a real, honest to goodness wedding gown of ivory velvet so I’m keeping my opinions to myself, for once.   Besides, she is my cheerful, loyal, glass-half-full friend.  The type of friend that some women spend their whole lives searching for and never find.  I was lucky to have found her my first year of college.

Now, don’t get me wrong.   I like a good wedding dance as well as the next gal, and I’m very happy for her.   She’s always been single.  She has a great career, her elderly parents, a daughter, a grand-dog, and many friends.  In a few short months, she’ll be making a vow to love, honor, and cherish another person for the rest of her life.   It’s the same promise that most of her friends  made three decades ago when we were just a bunch of clueless college girls with tiny waists and big expectations.

People who’ve been married a long time sometimes take their marriages for granted.  I know that I’m guilty of that. My marriage is just there…like air. And laundry.   I know couples who have survived the worst that life could throw at them that have stayed together and people who have left marriages that on the surface, at least, seemed happy.   I’ve lived long enough to know that nice people get divorces and ornery people stay married at least as often as ornery people get divorced and nice people stay married.   And I know people who are happily single, too.  It’s good to have choices.  It’s good to know what you need.

I think that my friend who is choosing love understands this.  Maybe brides of a certain age have their Stuff figured out.   Maybe they know best that in this often cold and scratchy Life,  sometimes velvet isn’t the question.  It’s the answer.

She’ll make a lovely bride, this warm and fuzzy friend of mine.    Okay, a sweaty bride, but a lovely one, just the same.