Love songs

 

Becky, Kelly, and Ruth (playing peek-a-boo) on her third birthday

Sunrise is lonesome these autumnal mornings. Birds now feed on what seed is left in neighboring fields, the chorus of mating and fledgling songbirds gone from our treetops. Why don’t flocks drop in our wildflower meadow for a feast?

     And they’ve yet to notice the crabapples hanging from branches above my perennial island. I hope to watch their wings descend when they at last return for their windfall.

     Robins, cardinals, and jays seldom visit the backyard birdbath in September. Perhaps they’ve wearied of our cats, Mittens and Cuddles, and losing their young to our predator’s paws.

     Mitty and Cuds seem bored to tears, eat and sleep the shorter days away to roam the longer nights like tigers in an African savanna. My husband loses sleep over our prowlers—Mitty gone one way, Cuddles the other.

     The neighbors across the road love Mittens, a frequent visitor who helps herself to their cats’ food. “Mittens has the most beautiful blue eyes,” the mother of the house says about our Siamese-tortoise shell mix.

     Truly, I worry about losing another mouser on our country road. Yet, Mel and I cannot deny our pets their independence and friends as we couldn’t refuse our children appropriate freedoms. 

    When young people of our generation, we sang songs like “Baby I Need Your Lovin’” with the Four Tops, and “I Heard It through the Grapevine” with Marvin Gaye. Two of many innocent mating songs Motown Record Company released in the Sixties, little did we know how fast they’d fall from fashion in the music industry.

     By the time our three fledglings left the nest in the Eighties and Nineties, love songs like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” had submitted to music videos, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” leading the pack.

     Enough to make parents of three young women nervous.

     Nonetheless, in faith and trust we released our firstborn to college in the fall of 1988 to gain an education and realize her dreams. She returned ten months later addicted to various substances.

     In 1996, while our second daughter studied on a different college campus, and the third attended our local university, our firstborn perished from a toxic reaction to alcohol and cocaine.  

    This long and silent season without birdsong is reminiscent of the years following Becky’s death. For in fall 1997, our middle daughter drove all her earthly belongings to San Francisco to pursue her teaching career. Several years later, our third daughter said she “had to leave this house of pain to thrive.”

     One reason why I left my broken home as a young woman.

     Dear Reader, obviously, birds behave according to their genome. They’ve no will to exercise. No eternal spirit to nurture. No capacity for compassion. Yet, I am grateful God created them to sing love songs during mating season.

     Meanwhile, I anticipate another fall and winter season, listen for the voice of my Comforter in the hour before sunrise. For His love song is everlasting, tender, and trustworthy in this world of pain.


The influence of Queen Elizabeth II upon the world

 

My pink hibiscus and Sweet Autumn clematis bloom in honor of Queen Elizabeth II

September 8 brought sad news to our world. Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealths left her charges. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve not known an equal to Her Majesty’s enduring integrity toward those within her realm. Most remarkably, England’s Sovereign remained on her feet until days before her death.

     As most American students of my generation, I learned the history of our independence from the tyranny of King George III. I also came to recognize Queen Elizabeth’s face while watching our black and white television. Contemporaries, the young queen’s dark eyes, hair, and full smile resembled my mother’s.

     While Sadie O’Brien’s coiffure gradually turned gray, so did Queen Elizabeth’s. Considering the extraordinary burdens she bore, I find it notable that the queen survived my mother by eleven years. While recent news reports alerted every tribe and nation of Her Majesty’s failing health, I at last allowed that England’s Queen is mortal.

     This afternoon, September 10, two days after her death, I stepped into my perennial island for some solace. There’s no better way and place to mourn a beloved departed than to tend a garden.

     I considered the weight of preparations upon the royal family and staff, civilizations bereft of Queen Elizabeth’s wisdom, love, and faith, and prayed—Lord Jesus, grant peace to her family and closest friends.

     I pruned lilies in view of a pink hibiscus before two tall structures bearing sweet autumn clematis. The Clematis terniflora, also known as virgin’s bower, now bloom masses of white stars on the sunny side of the towers laden with vines. Within a week in the night, the scent of sweet clematis will reach my study window.

     This timely gift symbolizes the lives of those who perished in New York City on the tragic day of September 11, 2001. Then, with fellow Americans safe in our homes, we watched the horror of suicide terrorists fly passenger jets into the towers of our World Trade Center.   

    How the heart and mind meditate when alone amongst flowering hibiscus and sweet autumn clematis!

     I’ve plenty more pruning to do and vegetables to freeze before September 19, the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.

     Meanwhile, of Scots-Irish ancestry, I’m curious. What established the late monarch’s affection for Scotland? What achievements did Queen Elizabeth leave behind for her homeland and the world’s posterity?

     Although I know little about Queen Elizabeth II’s life and times, I’m well familiar with the tasty Queen Cake, baked in Jinja town, Uganda, a British protectorate from 1894-1962.

     While I visited my daughter, her husband, and adopted son in Uganda, December 2010, we purchased Queen Cakes from the local bakery down the street from their house.

     Dear Reader, next Monday morning, in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, I shall bake Queen Cakes and brew English Breakfast Tea. Joining millions around this marvelous earth, I will observe her funeral—the lasting influence of her genteel life upon humankind.   

    Someday, we shall meet at the Supper of the Lamb, our eternal Sovereign and Lord Jesus Christ.      


Prized food traditions

Lisa Jaroch (L) and me, Labor Day weekend 
When the peach mecca of Michigan celebrates the fruit in downtown Romeo Labor Day weekend, the taste for pie and ice cream comes naturally. Alone for the holiday, I left laundry on the clothesline Saturday morning in pursuit of my slice a la mode.

In route, I turned south on Campground to Cold Frame Farm, making the most of my time and petro. Every Friday and Saturday morning, Lisa Jaroch, co-owner and operator, blends a bread recipe handed down from an elderly gentleman that she’s perfected with rosemary. Be advised; she’s prone to sell out before noon.

Lisa also kneads a garlic-parmesan version for the cheese and garlic lover, and an onion poppy baguette. She keeps the bread warm on a tray under a tea towel.

Our little vegetable garden produces our favorites, however, Lisa offers a host of tomatoes, squash, and greens I find deliciously different. She also sells sunflowers and mixed bouquets including gorgeous dahlias. I regret there’s not one dahlia blooming in my gardens.

Lisa and her husband Matt also keep beehives and sell their raw honey. They include other artisan foods such as coffee and natural body products to support small, local businesses—one branch of their vision as farmers.

The couple also established a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) whereby folk sign up and pay in advance for their weekly orders throughout the harvest season. While I admired Lisa’s dahlias, a mother and her three little girls walked single file into the back of the barn.

“They’ve come to pick up their CSA order,” Lisa said. “They’re the sweetest children.”

You never know. Someday, one of those little girls might find herself behind Cold Frame Farm’s beautiful service counter.

After a pose for a picture with Lisa for old times’ sake, I drove into Romeo, found a parking spot, and walked into Starkweather Arts Center. Their gift shop never fails to tempt me with small pieces of handmade artwork perfect for gifts. A bonus is the annual Thumb Area Artist Exhibition now on show in the lower and upper galleries.

With my purchase in hand, I browsed several shops on Main Street and searched for pie and ice cream and an available bench or chair without success. Why not drive to Verellen’s Orchard on Monday after the parade instead?

This afternoon at 1:30 I waited for the drumbeat of Romeo High’s marching band. Families lined the curbs on both sides of Main Street. If ever you doubt that children love candy, show up for the Romeo Peach Festival parade and see for yourself.

 At last, the large, perfectly synchronized band I remember from the mid 1990’s led the several marching bands from surrounding communities. The lovely Peach Festival Queen, Madison Janabet, waved like the Queen of England.

Dear Reader, it’s impossible to feel alone when you belong to a community that adores sweet little children—and sustains a tradition that prizes peaches with an annual parade.

By the way, Verellen’s pie and ice cream were well worth the wait. 


Light of a mother's life

 

My daughter Kelly on the lookout of the oldest lighthouse in Michigan, Port Huron

During my annual dental checkup May 12 in Imlay City, the dentist referred me to a periodontist in Port Huron. An unsightly white growth had emerged under the gum above my right front tooth and needed his expert evaluation.

Having chipped my front left tooth at nine-years old, teenage orthodontics, and every molar in my mouth crowned, I’m no stranger to pain.

May 31 I drove north to I-69 to Port Huron where the GPS directed me in circles around downtown until I called the doctor’s office for directions.

I completed my new patient papers as a young woman wearing a white tee shirt, short bib-overalls, and sandals walked in. She signed in and sat before a window.

The sun highlighted her abundant roll of auburn hair secured on the top of her head. I recalled the young assistant with a topknot of black hair who works for our family doctor in Romeo, and couldn’t restrain my inquisitive nature. “Pardon me.”

“Yes?”

“May I ask how you perfectly roll your hair on top of your head?”

She kicked her long, slender leg crossed over the other and smiled. “Oh, I’ve worn it like this so long I don’t think about it. My son loves to play with it. He calls it Slinky, like the boys did in high school, because of the way my hair separates and moves when I turn my head.”

“You have a son?” I asked incredulous.

“Yes. He’s two years old and the light of my life.”

I remembered that feeling with my firstborn. Second. Third.

The receptionist called my name. Within half an hour I left the surgical chair in minor discomfort and holding gauze under my lip. The young woman with the Slinky hair had left the waiting room.

Weeks later the periodontist called with good and unusual news. “The pathology examination of the gum tissue indicates tooth matter. I’ve never seen this before,” he said. “This should not happen again, but let me know if it does.”

Last Monday, August 8, I waited in Detroit Metro’s Delta arrivals terminal for my middle, California daughter. At last, she appeared with her beautiful smile. Orthodontics straightened her teeth as a teen, yet there’s not one crown in her mouth.

“Kelly, I’ve never seen your hair so long,” I said, and couldn’t help but touch her thick, wavy auburn strands.

We stopped at Ridley’s Bakery CafĂ© in Troy for a late lunch.

“Mom, are you still available for a Port Huron trip tomorrow?”

“Certainly. You must have your fresh water swim in Lake Huron.”

Kelly laughed when I told her about meeting the young mother with the Slinky hairdo in the periodontist office.

Dear Reader, my daughter didn’t brave the lake’s rowdy waves last Tuesday. Rather, we found several heart-shaped rocks along the beach for my collection. We visited the Thomas Edison Museum and climbed the ninety-two steps of Michigan’s oldest lighthouse.

Oh yes, no matter how old, children remain the light of their mother’s life.


The aroma of reunion

 

Lowell (Augie) Johnson, me, Marty Halaas

When April 2022 appeared on my calendar four months ago, I thought this a fine summer for another Lincoln High class reunion. The 55th, specifically.

            I emailed Marty, a neighbor I grew up with on Wagner Street in Warren. A retired teacher and assistant principal of the city’s Lincoln Junior High School, Marty masterfully directed our 50th class reunion in 2017. The event included a picnic at Stoney Creek a Friday in July, and a dinner dance the following night.

“Are you up to organizing a simple class reunion this summer? Perhaps a BYO food and drinks picnic?” I wrote Marty. 

            “We’re out west right now. I’ll get back to you in a few days,” he replied.

            Our 50th reunion’s attendance numbered in the eighties, many spouses joining our classmates. With over three hundred fellow graduates in 1967, we had fun identifying the matured faces compared to our 25th class reunion.

            Yet, I instantly recognized Al Newman’s smile in the picnic crowd. Al, my senior-year sweetheart, hit it off with my husband. Al’s wife answered my questions about his ongoing battle with Agent Orange consuming his body.

            “We could drive from Cheboygan to Detroit’s VA Medical Center and back on auto pilot,” she jested.

            We met the following morning for breakfast in Lake Orion before Al and Denise drove back home. “You’re welcome to come visit us in Cheboygan anytime, but I recommend the fall. It’s beautiful,” Al said.

Sadly, Mel and I attended Al’s funeral early last September before the colors emerged.

Perhaps Al’s passing prompted me to propose another class reunion to Marty. Or, did our mutual need to gather at picnic tables compel about thirty-five of our classmates and spouses to share the afternoon of August 4 together?

During the first boisterous thunderstorm of this summer in North Oakland County and Macomb Township, two by two and one by one, the hardy LHS folk found the Ridgewood campground. Exclamations, greetings, and bursts of laughter echoed under umbrellas and the pavilion.

Jane and me

Jane, also a friend from my Warren neighborhood, and her husband Michael, joined our table. Reminiscent of the 2017 picnic, we mentioned our missing classmate. “We have no guarantees for a long life,” Jane said.

Marty lit the grill for the gang who ordered hot dogs and hamburgers. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my chicken salad sandwich and Michigan’s fresh fruit, there’s nothing like the aroma of a charcoal barbeque to authorize a picnic.

And you would’ve thought the laughter and decibel level declined while we consumed our meal. Not so. Perhaps due to those amongst us who spent a small fortune on hearing aids refuse to wear them.

Dear Reader, as the sun broke through the clouds, a group of women formed a semi-circle of lawn chairs on the edge of the pavilion. A mix of spouses and LHS graduates, they caught up on life between class reunions.

“My wife and the other girls decided they want to repeat this every summer,” Marty said.

            “Count me in.”