Monthly Archives: October 2012

Patrick

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My youngest grandchild, Patrick, turns ten years oldĀ  today!

I admired ultrasound pictures of him before he came into this world and I was there, with his Mom, the day he was born. I snuggled and cuddled him when he was just tiny. I talked to him and sang to him and waited for his smile. He had a great smile, even then.

Patrick is the only one of my grandchildren to have been bitten by a snake!

I have a lot of snakes here, on this bit of low woodland I live on. Garter snakes, mostly, but I occasionally see other varieties. None of them are poisonous. I have always picked them up, to show visiting children. They like to feel their scales (not slimy!) and see – close up – the way snakes move and learn about their surroundings by their darting tongue. It’s important, I think, for children to understand snakes, and not be afraid of them.

When Patrick was three, he visited me here on Beaver Island. His Mom went to town one day, and Patrick and I went to check on the growing things in the garden. It was a warm day, so several garter snakes were out sunning themselves on top of the compost bin. Patrick was thrilled to see them, and answered “Yes!” he’d like to touch one and later “Please!” could he hold it, too.

I had done this before.

No problem.

First the chance to touch the snake, to feel his muscles tense and wiggle, so there are no surprises. Then, see how I hold the snake, just behind his head, firmly but not too tight. With your other hand, support his twisting body.

Good.

The transfer is the only tricky part. I move my fingers back just a little, so the child can get their fingers just behind the head, then help them get a feel for the right amount of grip, then watch their eyes get big and face break out in smile at the wonderment of the strength and movement contained in that small animal…and then we gently release the snake, and watch him move away.

I’d done it dozens of times.

Nothing to worry about.

Patrick did everything perfectly.

A born snake handler!

Then, for just a second, he relaxed his grip.

In the blink of an eye, that snake turned and bit him on the hand!

Two fangs actually punctured his tender three-year-old skin!

Released, the snaked wiggled away into the tall grass.

I was surprised.

Patrick was even more surprised.

And insulted!

He let out a yell.

I grabbed him up and brought him into the house. We examined his wound, and cleaned it good with soap and water. I made several calls…to the Medical Center, the veterinarian and the nurse-line at the hospital on the mainland… to reassure myself that I had done everything I should, and that I didn’t have to worry about salmonella or anything like that.

We related the story to Patrick’s mom, when she got back.

Later, it was told again, to Patrick’s Dad (who is afraid of snakes!).

Then, we all stored it in our minds as an important legend in the history of Grandma Cindy’s house on Beaver Island, the grand-children’s visits there, and Patrick’s childhood.

We bring out this story on special occasions…like today, on his ten-year-old birthday.

Happy Birthday, Patrick!

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Toll the Bell…

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My Aunt Katie telephoned early today to let me know that her old dog, Baxter, died this morning.

Baxter wasn’t well last night. He came to greet me, as usual, when I pulled into the driveway, but his walk was stiff and there was no enthusiasm in his manner. I coaxed him into the house.

We discussed it over dinner. Aunt Katie thought he’d gotten something bad to eat. He’d been sick, and hadn’t eaten yesterday. I thought his stiff-legged walk indicated that he’d perhaps been bruised by a vehicle. If he wasn’t better today, we agreed, we’d take him in to see the vet.

Baxter came to live at my aunt’s house in a roundabout way, through my family downstate.

My sister, Cheryl, had bred her Brittany Spaniel; Baxter was one of her houseful of puppies. She called him “Red Dot” because of a mark on his forehead.

My sister, Amy, had recently married her husband, Dennis. His older daughter, Danielle, adopted the puppy, and named him Baxter. First he was just a weekend visitor to my sister’s house. A bit wild and unruly, but well-loved. Then, Danielle and her sister, Jessica, came to live with their dad full time. Baxter came, too.

He was a wild puppy! The yard was not large enough for all the energy he had. Amy would dress for work and before she could make it out the door, Baxter would have shredded her stockings. Dennis took him to obedience school. The girls took him on long walks. They all worked with him. Still, he was a bundle of pent-up energy, frustrated in a household where everyone went to work or school. Amy approached Aunt Katie about giving him a home on Beaver Island.

My aunt had recently lost her old dog, Alex, so the timing was right.

Aunt Katie was nearly seventy years old at the time, slowing down in many ways. A wild, untrained Brittany puppy was the last thing she needed. But, she has always loved the companionship of a dog.

Coming to live on the farm with Aunt Katie was the best thing in the world for Baxter!

Eighty acres of yard and field to run!

Beaches!

Woods to explore!

Chipmunks and birds and squirrels to chase!

Still, he was a wild dog.

He could run forever, it seemed. Aunt Katie would get calls from the far reaches of the island, to come and pick up Baxter. He’d be out on the East Side, worrying John’s cows, or downtown annoying Mary Minor’s dog, or chasing the logging truck down Sloptown Road. We finally contained him in her large yard with an electronic fence. That was supplemented with daily walks with me, and drives to the pond with Aunt Katie.

Baxter was not polite with company. He’d jump all over visitors, muddying their clothes and licking their faces. My grandsons were terrified, when they were small, and had to be coached each year on how to “be the boss” when approaching Aunt Katie’s dog. The once-in-a-million times when Baxter did “sit” when asked, or “get down” when commanded, Aunt Katie and I would nod at each other as if we weren’t shocked. “After all, he has been to Obedience School,” one of us would say.

Baxter loved a ride in the car, and accompanied Aunt Katie to the gas station or grocery store, to her job at the museum on Thursdays and to church on Sunday. He’d stay in the vehicle, parked in the shade with windows down, while she went about her business. A ride to the pond was for his sake alone, so that he could take a swim, chase the geese away, or play with the tadpoles.

Baxter always enjoyed a good walk. I walked; he ran. If I went my usual two mile route, I’d estimate that he traveled at least ten miles, zig-zagging through the woods and down the trails. Even a simple stroll down to the pond, for Baxter, involved a jaunt through the apple trees to see if deer had been there and a run all around the water when we arrived.

Baxter had mellowed over the years. Age had slowed him down. Still, to the end, he enjoyed having visitors come, could still get excited over the chance for a walk or a ride, and loved a treat after dinner.

Today, at fifteen years old, Baxter is at rest.

Golden

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Color is a big topic up here on Beaver Island, in the Fall of the year.

People who want to come here to experience the colors ask, trying to plan their visit for the optimal time.

Folks who have seen the spectacular Autumn show in other years ask, to see how this year is shaping up in comparison.

People who live here talk about it, and report on their own experiences with the colors. If you’ve been up in a plane, or driven around the island, or stopped at Miller’s Marsh or Barney’s Lake, or if you’ve driven down the King’s Highway or Paid Een Ogg’s Road or the West Side Drive…you have something to talk about.

We tell of our experience to anyone who asks, assisting those who are trying to plan a trip or make a comparison.

We tell about it just for the sake of relating our own experience.

“Not as good as in other years…still pretty.”

“I’m not seeing those bright reds this year.”

“From the air, it looks like they’re at their peak!”

“Not so much contrast as we’ve had in the past.”

“Beautiful color around the Fox Lake area!”

“A little past their prime, but the colors are still pretty.”

Our colors reach their peak just a bit later than they do on the mainland, most years.

Weather makes a difference. The amount of moisture in the earth determines the intensity and longevity of the Autumn hues. A few days of wind or rain can strip the trees and change the color of the landscape entirely.

This year, the Autumn colors come to us after two very mild Winters and at least one dry Summer. They come when lake levels are down lower than anyone here can remember. They still show up, though we’ve had weeks of wind and rain.

The Fall colors are here!

Back in Time

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My youngest sister, Amy, and her husband, Dennis, raised four beautiful daughters in their blended family.

Two of those girls are getting married this Fall.

I traveled last weekend back to my hometown for the first of these weddings.

Lapeer, Michigan.

Immaculate Conception Church.

It’s October. Of course there were ghosts.

Ghosts, in the form of memories and feelings and deja vu moments.

Immaculate Conception Church sits on the main street downtown, just a couple blocks from the business district, and next to Bishop Kelley Catholic School, where I attended first through eighth grade. Every school day started at the church, for morning Mass.

The church has changed over the years.

I’m old enough to remember when the Mass was said in Latin. I can still recite some of the prayers, and I still think “et cum spiri tu tuo” has a nicer ring to it than the modern, “and with your spirit”. The altar faced the back wall, then, and most of the Mass was said with the priest facing the altar, away from the congregation. A long communion rail divided the altar from the rest of the church. I made my First Communion kneeling on the velvet covered bench at that rail.

Though marbles were strictly forbidden at school, we brought them anyway. For secret games of “Odd, Even or Nothing” or for trading on the way to school, or elaborate games with the public school kids while we waited for the bus. Once, during the quietest, most solemn part of the Mass, the clasp on my clutch purse gave way, allowing one hundred and twenty marbles to spill out, bounce onto the bench and floor, and roll out in every direction. Every student turned to look. The peaceful expression of a nun at prayer changed to the scowl of a predatory bird. Even the priest turned to see what the noise was. Still, it may not have been completely clear that I was the cause of the ruckus…except for my best friend collapsing in giggles beside me, as I turned fifty shades of red.

Once, when Mom was indisposed, having just had a new baby, Dad brought us to church. We were a bit late in arriving, so stood in the side aisle. My sister, Brenda, and I – oblivious to our surroundings – were deep in whispered conversation when Dad poked us. Startled, we looked back at him. He was agitated, whispering angrily, gesturing wildly toward the front of the church. “Oh!” we thought – in unison – “Did we miss something? Were we supposed to go to the front?” And we proceeded to walk up the aisle to the front of the church…where we realized our mistake. The ride home that day was filled with my father’s loud voice accompanied by exasperated head shakes about how we talked as if nothing was going on and didn’t pay attention or help with the little kids and when he told us to look to the front, we walked to the front…

When President Kennedy was shot, we all left our classes and walked to the church to pray. It was there that we learned he had died.

Death was not a stranger to us. When a person died without family or friends to pray for them, the kids from Bishop Kelley School were gathered in the church – like paid mourners – to attend the funeral and pray for the deceased.

Our family has had its share of funerals there. I was twelve, I think, when my baby sister, Darla, died. I kept my eyes on my mother, one pew ahead. Though her back was bent, her head bowed and her shoulders quaked with her sobs, Mom was the best anchor I had in this strange new world of grief.

We’ve had a few weddings at Immaculate Conception.

My Dad walked me down the aisle there, dressed in his suit and tie, with a flask in his pocket as security against his nervousness. He pulled it out, on the church steps after the ceremony, to offer the priest a swig.

Of all my sisters married in that church, Sheila’s wedding was the most memorable. She wore the dress and veil I’d been married in. Dad walked her up the aisle. When Sheila let go of his arm to walk, with her future husband, up onto the high altar, Dad’s foot was on the end of the fabric train behind her. The entire church gasped. Sheila stepped up. The six hook and eyes that secured the train to the waistline at the back of the dress gave way. The train dropped to the floor. My father – I will never forget the look of near panic on his face – picked up the fabric, hung it over the pew in front of my mother…and went to sit on the groom’s side of the church. This was only one in a whole unbelievable string of unfortunate events that made Sheila’s wedding a legend in our family. We were still reminiscing – and giggling – about it last weekend!

My friend, Linda, was married there. I – eight months pregnant and dominating every picture with my large belly – stood up with her.

My daughter, Jennifer, was baptized there, with my parents acting as her godparents.

The church has had several remodels. The confessionals – there used to be two – are reduced to one, with a real door instead of the velvet curtain from my childhood. Cameras, facing the altar, perch on top of the small room. The stations of the cross have been given a bright new paint job; the pillars have the look of marble; gold and aqua patterns adorn the ceiling over the altar.

The stained glass windows remain the same. On the left, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove; on the right, the Lamb of God, both surrounded by sun rays and bordered with gray clouds. Leaf shapes and fleur-de-lis patterns in shades of gold and red and green fill the smaller surrounding panels. So many memories bask in the filtered light from those windows!

Last weekend, we added a few more.

Winding Down

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Autumn.

The wind is shaking leaves from the trees so steadily it sometimes sounds like rain.

There’s a chill in the air. Nights have gotten downright cold! I’m not yet ready to turn on the propane, but I’ve conceded to having the electric heater on a low setting, just to take the chill off.

I’ve cut back the iris into little fans just above ground level and pulled the daylily stalks. I dug up and moved the last of the daylilies from the border. I’ve pulled up all of my tomato plants, stored their wire cages and turned over the soil. I cut out all the dead raspberry canes and pruned and thinned the rest. I cleared and prepared a bed for the rest of the strawberry plants.

I dug the last of the potatoes and brought in five small winter squash. I have a bag of mixed peppers in the refrigerator that I’ll dice and freeze tomorrow. I have beans, summer squash and plenty of berries in the freezer already. My aunt (bless her heart) canned tomatoes for me: twelve perfect quarts.

I moved my T-shirts and sleeveless shirts to the small dresser upstairs, and brought down my long sleeves and sweaters.

I bought yeast, though I haven’t had time or inclination to make a batch of bread yet. Home-made soup and warm, fresh bread is a weekly ritual in the months of cold weather.

The little gallery I worked at is now closed for the season. The restaurant at the Lodge served it’s last dinner of the season last Friday. I am now down to one job, at the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub downtown. Until next marking period, when I’ll teach two art classes at the school as well. Business is still steady, but it’s an easier pace than it was even two weeks ago.

I think I’m done with Jonathan Kellerman! His books were good summer reading, with characters that became familiar and story lines that were not overly strenuous. I’ve been looking over my bookshelf, and am ready for something quite different. I’ve already started The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker, and am thoroughly enjoying her beautiful prose. I’m looking forward to Sacre’ Bleu by Christopher Moore, his take on the Impressionist artists. I love his irreverent humor and imagination! Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, Revelation in the Cave by Nancy Flinchbaugh and Yonnondio by Tillie Olsen are also on my stack.

I’ve been doing some rearranging and organizing in the studio. I have a few paintings underway that I’m anxious to finish, now that I have time for making art. I want to get the printing press adjusted and ready, too, as I plan to do some collagraph print-making this winter.

Autumn was always my mother’s favorite season. I didn’t understand it when I was younger. I liked Spring, with its new growth and fresh starts and Summer’s heat and busy-ness.

Now, I understand!