Of mice and mom

Gladys of ’97 is currently in the garage. She is waiting to be hauled away to the old computer graveyard at the dump, or landfill, or solid waste transfer site, or whatever we’re calling the place this week.

She was nearly twenty years old.  Her Windows 97 logo gave her age away every time I tried to coax her into waking up. First, a light would flicker. Then, an unholy sound like two rabid mice kickboxing would commence in the bowels of her bulky gray tower. While I waited for that madness to end, I’d do other things like check emails on my work laptop or walk the dog. Gladys and I had an understanding. She couldn’t be rushed. Neither could the mice.

Once she was awake, I’d use a mouse of a different kind to urge Gladys into performing a task. My “nudges” mainly consisted of clicking the mouse and waiting for something, anything, to happen on the screen. I’d  also speak gently to her, which intrigued the dog enough to sit and watch. Some days, the old gal showed up for work. Other days, she’d just groan loudly and go back to sleep. I tried not to take it personally. After all, In her youth, she’d been a good computer.  She knew how to do stuff and she never once complained if I left her on overnight.

The kids were not as understanding where Gladys and her declining health were concerned. They are young, impatient, humans accustomed to high-speed everything. Whenever they come home and need to print something, for example, all I hear is, “OMG, MOM! This  (blankety-blank) computer is taking FOREVER!!  How can you stand it? WHY DON’T YOU GUYS GET A DIFFERENT COMPUTER??? WHY?” To which, I’d shrug and say, “what do I have to do that is so important that I can’t wait a few minutes for a computer to wake up from a nap? She’s old and tired. Give her time. She’ll get around to it eventually.”

My son finally decided that my relationship with Gladys and my unwillingness to replace her had to end and he drove up from the Cities with his old computer for me. Looking at this strange new device, I was reminded once again that when it comes to technology and twenty-somethings,”old” is a relative term. Unfortunately, he was missing some high tech-y cable to get it running. Did you know that when you get a computer now that you need a different kind of cord than the ones from twenty years ago? I didn’t! The Boy went back to his high-speed life before it arrived by mail this week, and I was left to figure out what went where without him. Considering that there were about fifty different ports of different sizes on the back of the sleek, black, tower, this was no small feat. Then, I had to remember how to set up the wireless mouse and the wireless printer which you would THINK would be simple since there were no wires to plug into any holes, wouldn’t you? You would be wrong.

Finally, when I thought it was all systems go, I took a deep breath and turned everything on. Lights blinked and a choir of geeky angels sang. No mice could be heard kicking the daylights out of each other. The mouse in my hand worked and the printer spat out a test page. This is HUGE, I tell you! HUGE. I know how to do stuff! I do!

I texted my son to gloat. I may or may not have even referred to myself as a “technological Beast” in my text. His reply? Not “Good job, Mom!” Only this:

Keep telling yourself that so I don’t have to come home and fix the computer.  

Okay, kid. Whatever.

I’ll bask in my greatness alone right after I give Gladys a proper burial.


On the street where we lived

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”

You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

We lived on the Dead-End when I was growing up.  At least that’s what we always called it.

When the town on the edge of a swamp was settled and eventually paved, there must have been some reason for ending a street the way the one we grew up on did. I guess you could say we lived on a strange little cul-de-sac before cul-de-sacs were cool. We never questioned why the other kids in town lived on streets that intersected with other streets or highways while ours ended with a basketball hoop attached to a light pole and two flat-roofed garages where there was  just enough space for a skinny kid to take a short cut.  All we knew was that our street was a central gathering place for anyone on the North End wanting to ride bikes or play hide and seek until the mosquitoes drove them indoors.  Thinking back, it was an awesome way to grow up. It really was.

If I close my eyes, I can conjure up memories of the people who woke up every morning in the houses that lined the Dead End.  The Wilhelms, Wolfes, our own family, and Otts made up one side of the street while Koziseks, Dedericks, Mrs. Peck, Lyons, Barbers and Swishers made up the other.  Each house was neat as a pin on the outside, with flower gardens and large, lovely, evergreens in many of the yards.

The young have tunnel vision where their own childhoods are concerned. Childhood, after all, is neither as carefree nor as complicated as we remember it. Time takes old neighbors. Sometimes it takes young ones, too. We learned that on the dead-end. Too soon, the rest of us outgrew the street where we scraped knees playing tag and rested, spent, on the hill in our front yard under an inky-black sky, wishing on stars.

Why should it matter that decades ago, families I knew lived in those modest homes on both sides of a dead-end street? Why do I long for the way the pretty brick home I was raised in looked growing up and Mrs. Wolfe’s perennials and asparagus in her neatly tended gardens? Why does it grieve me, especially, to think about the trees?  Mrs. Peck’s spruce in her front yard? The Ott family’s towering pine? The gangly evergreen that a blond boy in dark horn-rimmed glasses planted one day in front of my aunt’s kitchen window before the neighborhood lost the boy. Then, there was just the tree. Lance’s tree. 

In a world with so much else to care about, why does any of this matter? Why do I care about a street where kids laughed and played so long ago? About trees that strong summer winds blew down?

Maybe, no matter how old we are, once in awhile, we just want to be able to go home again. To the streets and people. To the homes and shady places we knew as kids.

Perhaps childhood is about more than childish things, after all.


Here we are again, in the middle of sweet, soft, September.

Back in May, I had high hopes that this would be the summer I’d stop working long enough to actually bait a hook and catch a fish. Then, in late June when the wild strawberries were ripe, I hoped to get out one afternoon to walk the fields full of daisies and gather enough for at least one tiny jar of jam. In July, I picked a few wild raspberries off the bushes on the side of the yard to eat with my morning yogurt.  And don’t even get me started about the wild blueberry situation. The closest I got to picking a single blueberry was the day I watered planters up at the cemetery and looked down at a blueberry bush in the forest with a few hard, green, berries on it. Then, POOF! August arrived and with it, meetings and traveling and lesson planning.

We checked quite a few of our things off the infernal Cabin To-Do list, though, so that’s good. The little brown house next to the river is standing up a little straighter and prouder than it was last spring. There was one weekend with highs in the 70’s and low humidity and not a bug to be found where I spent hours basking in sunshine on our new deck.  I think back to that one perfect weekend as the highlight of my summer. I’ll take that memory out again come February. It will keep me warm.

Lilly the Beagle has adjusted to life with two humans who aren’t kids any more, but who do their best to understand the needs of a dog who, at age two, still is. She doesn’t mind being an only child in the slightest. Our grown kids think we’re pretty dopey about this small dog and let us know at every opportunity how “spoiled” she is.  They chide us for giving her too many treats and roll their eyes at us because we let her get away with too much nonsense.  Then they pack their cars and take their strong opinions about beagle-rearing home with them to the Cities, leaving the three of us here in the woods in peace.

Here and there, maples are beginning to change colors.  In a month, the woods will be ablaze with crimson and orange leaves.  The days are getting shorter. The nights cooler. Before too long, we’ll button up the cabin for its long winter’s nap. Turn the key in the lock and hunker down where the roads get plowed better.

But before that happens, there is still September.

Sweet, soft, September.