Seismic moments


The box with our Christmas Dearborn ham

My drive south to Nino Salvagio’s fabulous market in Troy usually takes thirty to forty minutes. Yesterday afternoon, however, Rochester Road south of Tienken teemed with what we locals know as “Light Show traffic.”

Incidentally, the town of Rochester erected a sign to alert southbound motorists just in case we didn’t notice the storefronts alight in brilliant colors. Having observed the swelling popularity of this Christmas spectacle the past decade, I surmised the sunny, mild December day lured folk downtown early for a parking spot.

As my car rolled down Main Street, families and couples strolled sidewalks looking into windows and waiting at corners to cross.

A young couple caught my eye at Fourth Street. I admired her mastery of four-inch heels (perhaps five); his confident stride in skinny jeans. My romantic streak detected obvious signs that the blonde and her date were sweet on one another.

At last I parked close to Nino’s entrance, eager to choose our Dearborn ham and other specialties one finds inside the mammoth store. Of Southern heritage, I dare not attempt to bake biscotti for guests and gifts. Mom’s fruitcake, yes. Her recipe yields three loaves wrapped in brandied cheesecloth: one for my husband and me, and one each for our two daughters.

Perfectamente, as my high-school Spanish teacher would say.

In this joyful mood, I entered the paradise of fruits and vegetables piled high on tables. Praise God for fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries out of season! And pineapple to garnish our main course! For red, green, and orange bell peppers!

Concerned Nino’s might run out of Dearborn boxes, I aimed for the meat department and promptly placed a ten pounder in my cart. Congenial laughter behind the fish counter drew me to the Lake Superior whitefish, my husband’s favorite of all fresh and saltwater food.

“Can I help you?” asked one of the many fish guys.

“Yes, thank you. How many whitefish filets do you recommend for two?”

“Well,” he said, holding up a sample, “whitefish is thin, so I’d say one for each.”

“I’ll take two, please.”

Forty-five minutes later, the check-out bagger packed my order including fresh-baked croissants, Great Northern beans, molasses, and ingredients for Buckeyes (AKA Peanut Butter Balls) and Magic Pan Cookie Bars. Finally, I unloaded the ham box and whitefish and paid my bill.  

Home from the northbound Light Show, I unpacked my groceries and discovered the bagger overlooked our featured dish for Christmas dinner.

“We have it in the cooler,” customer service said when I called.

Now, for almost two years, We the People have experienced a bombardment of unprecedented seismic moments that challenged our equilibrium—our trust in God, neighbor, and government. Another roundtrip to Nino’s didn’t faze my emotional Richter scale.

Indeed, dear Reader, our traditional Christmas ham presented another chance to join again fellow pilgrims in the midst of celebrating this most wonderful season.

Joy to the world! The Light came to us two thousand years ago. Let Heaven and Earth receive their King!

Sublime fury and tender mercies

My daughter Ruth and I on the steps of the Beethoven Platz monument, Vienna, Austria, May 1990

"We mortals with immortal minds are only born for sufferings and joys, and one could almost say that the most excellent receive joy through sufferings.” Ludwig van Beethoven (December 16, 1770 – March 26, 1827) 

If you tuned in to WRCJ’s Dave Wagner and Peter Whorf this past week, you learned a few things.

“Dr. Dave” said Beethoven’s December natal date remains contested. Therefore, they broadcasted the station’s tribute to Ludwig Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, December 15 and 16.

               Brilliant idea—a double portion of my favorite classical composer.

              In honor of his contributions to the symphonic orchestra, Wagner and Whorf included WRCJ’s year-end fundraiser in their programing. In the spirit of good humor, they offered a Beethoven bobble-head and socks. For a small monthly donation, they covered the patron “from head to toe,” as Wagner jested.

             Wednesday, I parked my car behind Romeo Printing as Wagner introduced what I consider the most tender and merciful of the composer’s works. Forgetting its title, the slow piano score nonetheless called me into a hallowed place of rest and reconciliation; comforted me much like King David’s Psalm 23.

“You can feel and hear Beethoven’s tenderness in this slow sonata,” Wagner confirmed at the conclusion. Whorf agreed.

I paid the printer for my order and drove up to Dryden for tea with friends, both excellent vocalists. “Did you know Beethoven was born December 15 or 16?” I asked.

“No,” they replied.

Later, while dabbling in curiosity, I discovered Jane Austen shared Beethoven’s commonly accepted birthdate.

Remarkable. My favorite female novelist took her first breath December 16, 1775. Did Miss Austen hear her contemporary perform his sonata of tender mercies? Was it Beethoven’s sublime piano that provoked Austen to write, “There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart”?

              More fiddling on the web answered, “probably not.” Ludwig and Jane walked in different spheres five hundred miles apart.

Austen left this world on July 18, 1817, ten years before the maestro. At age forty-one, she bequeathed future, world-wide readers a collection of six novels, still best sellers today. A model for every aspiring novelist.

I find it fascinating that Beethoven described the opening four notes of his Fifth symphony as "death knocking upon the door." Although deaf, the musician’s heart heard clearly the human condition surrounding him.

Accordingly, soldiers directed more than 20,000 grieving fans the day the Austrian’s funeral bier passed through the streets of Vienna. I imagine those infamous death notes also knocked upon the hearts of those who mourned.

Most remarkably, documentation confirms the four beats of the Fifth symphony, unintentionally Morse Code for the letter “V” for Victory, played a significant role during Allied broadcasts during WW2.

Ever relevant to our human predicaments, I see in part Beethoven’s journey from suffering to his “Ode to Joy.”

Lastly, dear Reader, this brilliant, often tormented man left all who would hear these wise words: “Do not only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets.”

Ah, to know those mysteries within sublime fury and tender mercies.

Wind in the firs


Somewhere along the Christmas season, Johanna Spyri’s Heidi emerges from memory. Not my blue two-wheeler Dad taught me to ride on Detroit’s Joann Street before he bought his first movie camera—meaning there’s no evidence of my prowess in mastering independence from training wheels.

And not my first pair of roller skates, or the matching baby dolls Santa left under the Christmas tree for my two sisters and me.

            Although I adored these presents with reckless affection, the story of the orphan Heidi and her devoted Grandfather holds the strongest significance of a well-given gift.

For Heidi came to me on a mountainside of my natal home in Kentucky which my family had left several years prior for Dad to barber in Detroit.

Possibly the Yuletide of my tenth year, my sisters, cousins, and I played outdoors in peddle-pushers and shirtsleeves. Dad filmed us mothering our new dolls, the main attraction my cousin Candy’s Patti Playpal—the heart’s desire of every girl in 1959.

Sometime in daylight of that ideal holiday reunion with my McCoy kinfolk—and what would be the last time I would stand in the presence of my pretty cousin Candy—she offered me a package wrapped in red paper.

I remember her smile, the embarrassing contrast of her long, dark ponytail and frilly  dress to my tangled bob and dirty play clothes. With regret, I consider again my disappointment when I opened a box to find a thick book titled Heidi.

I’d enjoyed Heidi’s happy ending in the movie starring Shirley Temple, but I wasn’t a good reader. I can only hope I mustered enough manners to return a “thank you” to my thoughtful and long-forgotten cousin for her long-lost gift.

Typical post WW II parents, neither my mother nor father read literature or took my sisters and me to a local library. They entrusted our reading skills and literary education to our public schools.

Although I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, many Shel Silverstein’s books, and every Christmas Eve Twas the Night Before Christmas to my daughters, I failed to read them Heidi.

Several years ago approaching another Christmas, I at last purchased a 1925 edition of Johanna Spyri’s best seller. One of those lonely Christmases without my children, Heidi, Grandfather, Peter and his goats, Clara, and the wind in the firs kept me in good company.                                                                                               Those jagged peaks that loomed up austere and even terrible in their harsh barrenness became ever more familiar to her as she gazed at them, until they were no longer terrible, but friendly, and it seemed to her that she had known and loved them all her life. (Chapter One, page 42)

Heidi takes me back to the mountainside and grandmother I have known and loved all my life. I hope and pray my cousin Candy knows the same affection.

Dear Reader, inscribed inside my vintage copy of Heidi I find, “Merry Xmas, Uncle Pete and Aunt Tray.”

Christmas. Time to give the gift of the wind in the firs.


Blessings of longevity and purpose


L-R: Iris, co-chair Jeanette Farley, Nancy Schliebe, Lois Koltunowicz

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 KJV

In search of Mom’s Pecan Sandie cookie recipe, I flipped through the “DESSERTS” section of my blue, tattered box. A Christmas gift from our three girls in the early eighties, the lid disintegrated years ago.

I found the card in the very back where I placed it last December for easy access. Every year, I barely recognize my penmanship of forty years ago compared to my cursive today.

Desserts occupy more than 50% of the box’s contents, which represents my favorite course in a meal. However, I’ve also abused my Quiche Lorraine, Mexican Skillet, and Chicken Fricassee recipes.

For these dishes most influenced our family table and history. For instance, Kelly, my California daughter, once suffered the stomach flu after I served Mexican Skillet for dinner. To this day, she cannot think Mexican Skillet without gagging.

Then again, her father and younger sister still crave the simple blend of elbow macaroni and hamburger (or ground venison), flavored with chili powder, homegrown canned tomatoes, and sour cream.

And no savory flavor satisfies our hunger like hot biscuit steamed in lemony Chicken Fricassee sauce.

Yet, Mom’s Pecan Sandie shortbread with my chopped chocolate chip addition remains the supreme Christmas cookie in my household.

A tradition, I carried my Christmas cookie tin to our small Seven Ponds Friends of Herb meeting last Friday. After we assembled fresh, festive decorations for the building, we cleaned up our mess and brewed herbal tea.

L-R: Iris' tin bucket of Pecan Sandies, Jeanette's Golden Cups, Nancy's Caramel Walnut Cookies

Aware of the awful losses within a local community, we shared our sweets and memories they signify—Betty Crocker’s Caramel Walnut Refrigerator Cookie created with the working mother in mind.

And Golden Cups our group’s co-chair learned to master with a sister in their mother’s kitchen where they pressed the dough into mini-cupcake tins. She later embellished the walnut filling with tiny holly and berries for her children.

We lifted one another with blessings of long-lived flavors and meaning. We dared speak our sorrow for the parents of the lost.

For in the midst of oppressive darkness, we evoked the Christmas story and the goodness and light given to us in our childhoods.

God so loved us that He gave us our parents, and His only begotten Son that if we believed in Him we wouldn’t perish but have everlasting life.

A life that perpetuates from a tin bucket my mother purchased for me after a special Christmas Day—all her children and grandchildren gathered within her Kentucky home for supper, fruitcake, and Pecan Sandies.

Gifts given with love, purpose, and longevity.

None of my family foresaw that Christmas Day would be the last we would share with our daughter Becky.

Dear Reader, I believe God sent His Son into the world to heal our brokenness, not condemn us.

              May the eternal light of the babe Jesus bless you with peace, joy, and salvation. 

Camaraderie of love and hope


L-R: Ruth, Miles, Mary, Iris, and Mel Underwood, Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2021

I hummed along to Glenn Miller’s “String of Pearls” and set the dining room table for Thanksgiving Day dinner guests: our daughter Ruth, and Mel’s younger brother Miles and his wife Mary from Whitefish Lake.

Miller’s sliding trombone provoked memories of 18960 Joann Street in Detroit. There, my sisters and I danced and shouted “Pennsylvania six, five thousand!”

                Three tender Appalachian transplants, we had no clue Pennsylvania was another state in the United States of America. We also didn’t know “Pennsylvania six, five thousand” was a phone number.

Where we came from along the banks of Peter Creek in Kentucky, only post offices, stores, and a few rich people had phones. Everyone else hollered up and down the hills to their neighbors.

                Thanksgiving Day on Joann Street, Dad took home movies of my sisters and me and our cousins. We danced to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and the silly “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” More places we didn’t know.

Meanwhile, Mom’s huge, stuffed turkey baked in her oven. Her light rolls rose in muffin tins on the back of her stove. Her pecan, apple, and pumpkin pies cooled on the kitchen counter while she mashed potatoes and baked candied yams with marshmallows.

At last, Dad filmed Mom’s candlelit table. Elbow to elbow, our father’s kinfolk passed platters and bowls in gratitude of Mom’s good, home cookin’.

In this reflective mood, I laid my eyes upon the sparkling, crystal glasses I inherited from my mother and listened to Glenn Miller’s lyrics. The meaning of the words illumined my understanding.

As a child, I’d danced in oblivious bliss of my father’s part in the Allied Forces’ victory of World War II. Now, at the age of Dad’s death, I at last comprehended his reverence for Glen Miller’s music—songs that spoke the camaraderie of love and hope for his safe return to Peter Creek from overseas.

I woke rested and enthused to a drizzly Thanksgiving morning, thinking of Ruth walking in the Detroit parade.

Miles and Mary arrived around nine o’clock and unloaded the turkey in a roasting pan.

“Miles’ mom gave me the roaster,” Mary said.  

“She filled my kitchen with her gifts, too,” I replied.

“When do you expect Ruth?” she asked.

“The parade ends at noon. So between two and three.”

My first co-op traditional Thanksgiving dinner, Mary also provided the dressing and gravy and her homemade pecan pie (per Ruth’s request), with a can of Reddi-Whip.

Ruth and our grand-dog Lily walked in while Miles carved the turkey. He obliged samplings for Lily.

Unlike the bygone Thanksgivings of our childhoods and our children’s, we passed platters and bowls with ample elbow room. No children jitterbugged to Glenn Miller’s swing, nor played touch football outdoors.

Yet, to my chagrin, this Thanksgiving dinner owns one unforgettable bungle: my repulsive green bean casserole.

It’s confirmed, dear Reader, the expiration date on the French-fried onion can read 2017.

Food. Family. Story. Thus began another blessed Advent season.

Heroes and Milestones


Uncle Herm, the elder brother, and Uncle Tab, now gone to Glory (photo March 2018)

Pardon me, dear Reader, for this hurried letter. You see, my beloved Uncle Tab, the baby of Floyd and Ollie McCoy’s children, passed away last Sunday at age eighty-nine. His funeral is in two days in Lexington, Kentucky. 

My four sisters and I now have one older surviving hero on my mother’s side. Uncle Herm. I’ve introduced you to these brothers and Appalachian coal miners before.

I hope I didn’t neglect to tell you that when I was a child, they took turns bouncing me on their knee and recited, “Ars Lee caught a flea sitting on her daddy’s knee.”

The root of my love for stories, I believe.

For there’s more to the tale than that. When my mother, the eldest in her family, was a child, her daddy bounced her on his knee and said, “Sadie Lee caught a flea sitting on her daddy’s knee.”

Imagine how such affection and inheritance bonds an uncle and niece.

Our summer vacation surrogate fathers, Uncles Tab and Herm ran leg races with us around the Homeplace in the McCoy Bottom, a flatland between the bosoms of surrounding mountains. The first to touch the snowball bush from where we started, won the race.

Uncle Tab would insist I beat him and Uncle Herm the summer of my twelfth year. I think they rigged the race.

Uncle Tab makes chicken and dumplings for dinner (photo 2017)

Meanwhile, our daddy, an O’Brien, barbered in his shop on Seven Mile Road and Joann Street in Detroit as Mommy helped Granny put up her garden in canning jars at her house in Phelps.

As they wiped sweat from their brows, my sisters and I played in Phelps’ alleys with the Charles children. A lady named Beulah who wore too much makeup owned a store and roller rink that Granny forbad us to enter.

The baby of ten children, our father’s brothers were older and played baseball instead of running races. After the mine fell in on Uncle Ed and crippled him, the men stopped playing baseball in the Bottom.

My sisters and I called Uncle Ed our Uncle Daddy because they looked so much alike. Sadly, there’s not one O’Brien alive of their generation to say good-bye to Uncle Tab. Since my sisters and I are half O’Brien, we’ll stand in for them.

After we received the expected news about Uncle Tab, my husband and I celebrated the forty-fifth birthday of our baby, Ruth. After she read the birthday letters we wrote, she said, “If I live to ninety, I’ve spent half my life.”

Milestones such as this cause a mother to linger in the moment. “If I live to be ninety, I’m in the last quarter of my life,” I replied.

Last night, our daughter Kelly called from California. “Mom, was it Uncle Tab or Herm who paid all us kids $20 for standing on our heads in Nana’s family room?”

“Uncle Herm. So, you remember?”

“Who could forget an uncle shelling out twenty-dollar bills to his nieces and nephews for standing on their heads?”

House plans


Becky accepts her First Place medal in the 200 meter with the Second and Third Place winners

When Mel and I visited Angie and El in Saline last March, they removed their robot vacuum from the coat closet for a demo.

“A Christmas gift from the grandkids,” Angie said.

Although impressed with the cute and mute machine, I was inclined to use what we have. Our Miele vacuum cleaner, specifically.

            However, the idea of a compact, cordless vacuum concealed in a bedroom closet upstairs grew on me. We wouldn’t have to carry the Miele canister with its long hose and attachment up and down thirteen steps.

Considering our age, inflation, and product shortages, the sooner the purchase the better. Mel’s birthday this week offered the perfect occasion.

            So I called Angie for her maid’s manufacturer and model. This led to mention of her first granddaughter, a college freshman and one of many grand-stars who orbit Angie and El’s immaculate household.

            “Madi asked us to come visit her at Purdue. Of course we’re going,” Angie said.

            Madi’s mother, Christa, ran track with Becky, our eldest and deceased daughter. When Becky won the Class D State Track Championship in the 200 and 400 meters in 1987, Angie and El sat with us in the stands.

The fall of 1987, Christa’s and Becky’s cross country team won the Class D State Championship. Angie, El, Mel, and I waited at the finish line with other fans.

Joy unspeakable.

Proud parents hold the trophy of the Girls' Class D State Cross Country Championship 

Soon afterward, we sold our house in Detroit and moved our family into an apartment in Sterling Heights before Christmas. Our three girls shared the master bedroom and bath for fifteen months without one spat. Meanwhile, Mel and I saved for and purchased property in Addison Township.

            Remember the hot, muggy July of 1988 with an average temperature of 88.9 degrees? Our daughters spent hours in Shoal Creek’s swimming pool while I sat in the shade and studied house plans for our little Cape Cod. 

            “It’s like we’re on vacation,” Becky once said at the dinner table.

            With Angie and El’s home three minutes from our temporary residence, we often shared Becky’s and Christa’s college plans. Thirty-three years later, Angie 79 miles away, we reflected upon that year of 1988.

“If you had a chance to do it over again, would you do anything differently with your house?” Angie asked.

I answered without hesitation. “I’d follow the blueprint with the entrance from the garage into a mudroom with a door to the hall. But Becky needed a closet for the first floor bedroom, so we opted to put the garage door entering the kitchen. We never thought Becky wouldn’t claim her room.”

Angie, a daughter and mother who endures her blows with peace and patience, said, “We can plan all we want, but our children must live their own plans.”    

True, dear Reader. The door to the garage in our kitchen reminds me of my folly in revising house plans for a teenager’s bedroom.

However, I plan to turn loose our maid in my first-floor study-library and the closet we built for Becky.

A light in the darkness


The Big Dipper almost as I saw it (courtesy of the internet)

When we moved our family from Detroit’s streetlights to a country road in February 1989, we learned the phrase, “We’ll keep a light on for you.”

Under a new moon, we couldn’t find our way to our neighbor’s house on the corner without their lights to guide us. Beyond the beam of our porch lamps, we couldn’t see our hands before our face.

            Come springtime, our little women, ages 19, 14, and 12, sat on their bedroom floor in the evening, looking into the black void beyond an open window. A heinous scream shivered through me.

Terrified eyes turned to me. “Mom, what’s that awful sound?” they asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve never heard it before.”

            A neighbor down the road later said, “Oh, that’s a rabbit cyrin’ out ‘cause a coyote’s after it.”

“Coyotes?” I asked, appalled at the severe code of the food chain.

He laughed. “Welcome to the country!”

Within two growing seasons of rabbit-nibbled perennials and tree saplings, I better understood God’s wisdom and began keeping tomcats. First P.J., then Mo, short for Mozart, a musical, fierce feline. Mo hunted and consumed my number one garden pest with impunity.

I’ve learned to protect the perimeter of our vegetable garden with an eight foot deer-proof fence and chicken wire at the base to deter hopping critters. Still, I mend that fence annually, gnawed by another generation of Peter Rabbit.

The other night when I took our grand-dog Lily out on her leash, a cottontail skittered into the road’s windrow. Thankfully, Lily didn’t see or scent the creature.

 Rather, she stood facing west under a black, starlit sky, her Labrador nose the only muscle moving on her sleek body.


We couldn’t see them on the other side of the valley, but Lily didn’t budge. She growled low and long. I griped her leash and turned her toward the perennial island.

Above the garden’s crabapple tree, the Big Dipper hung upside down, poised on the end star of the ladle! The bowl poured northward. I gazed skyward in the silent, cold atmosphere, amazed to see the seven stars in this position as Earth rotated within the heavens.

After a good night’s rest under the Big Dipper, Lily and I returned to the same place outside our front door the following morning. Dim rays of dawn glistened on the frost-covered lawn and leaves.

Lily sniffed while one by one, stems of heart-shaped redbud leaves detached from branches and fell upon a cushion of papery leaves with a soft sound of finality. Leaf by leaf, they offered up their last breath.

In the lifetime of this lovely tree, I’d never witnessed this sacred farewell. I have Lily to thank for her perfect potty timing.

Dear Reader, if I lived a thousand years, I think it a fraction of time to adequately partake in a small portion of the changing seasons.

Of one thing I am confident. My loving God will always keep a light on in the darkness.

The who, where, what, why, when of life


A birthday card from my childhood scrapbook

Today I lunched on asparagus soup as October shed her wet and windblown clothes. Another season concludes, the divide wider between my childhood and present day. A challenge for a writer devoted to memoir, to sustain authenticity of times, places, things, and people.

Memory often serves me well. Yet, as we all know, she’s prone to embellish the truth. Just ask my four sisters and I to tell you the same story we all experienced in the same place at the same time, and you’ll see my point.

We human beings perceive specifics differently: who, where, what, why, and when. If we misrepresent one of the five w’s, we slant our history.

Most readers understand memory’s limitations. They forgive an author’s minor embellishments in such remarkable memoirs as Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.

Nonetheless, at times I grope for the right word to describe the person, emotion, and circumstance. For me, this condition is not writer’s block, rather, fussing over uncertainties. God forbid I misspeak.

Although I couldn’t recall Camille Makuch’s siblings, that didn’t confirm my childhood lookalike and best friend was an only child. My online searches the past ten years led nowhere but discouragement.

Until yesterday.

Glory hallelujah! While puzzling out a memoir passage from patchy mental pictures of Camille’s mother, the still, small voice I’ve come to trust suggested I open my red scrapbook again.

Most likely provided and preserved by my mother, I can’t recall who placed the fragile, abused keepsake into my hands after her death. Splotches of dry glue on many pages indicate someone tore mementoes from my treasure.

My object of pursuit was a birthday card which says “Making a birthday call to say Hello!” illustrated with three kittens and a telephone. Inside, Mrs. Makuch signed, “Happy Birthday Iris! Camille Makuch & her parents.”

Unaware of Mrs. Makuch’s first name, I searched online for Camille Makuch’s obituary, which delivered Eleanor Makuch’s obituary, Camille’s mother.

Born the same year as my mother, Mrs. Makuch’s children included Camille and two siblings who live in Michigan. They lauded their mother as a marvelous Polish cook who retired at age 81 from the Detroit Public Schools.

Yes, this made sense. Camille and I rode our bikes together on Joann Street south of Seven Mile Road. Our mothers forbade us to leave our block.

Several online links confirmed Camille’s occupation as an RN in the Okemos area. And one link provided her home address.

Thrilled with these revelations, I retrieved a greeting card from my mother’s secretary. Ceremoniously, I introduced myself to the playmate who also wore her hair in a bob.

If the address is correct, Camille should receive her card Monday, November 1.

Dear Reader, Mrs. Makuch’s birthday card and others from Granny, my Sunday school teacher, and Pioneer Girls leader bridge the divide of time.

Perhaps this explains why I love kittens and have accumulated plastic bins of cards I’ve received throughout my life. What better way to review the five w’s of my personal history in my sunset years?


Gone to the dog park


My daughter Ruth with Lily (L) and Layla at the Orion Oaks Dog Park

Absence makes my heart grow fonder of my grand-dog Lily. I didn’t realize the depth of my affection until my daughter Ruth emailed a week ago Friday. “Want to meet us at the dog park tomorrow morning?”

            I glanced at October 16 on my desk calendar. Wide open. “What time?”


            I’d been curious about the Orion Oaks Dog Park from the day a friend said, “Amy loves to play on the beach and jump off the dock.” A longtime cat owner, I had no occasion to visit the park.

            Until Lily came along.

            Ruth soon found their “heaven on earth,” a 24-acre plot with a spacious parking lot, paddocks (one for small dogs), woods, trails, lake, picnic shelters, hose to spray dirty dogs, and clean bathrooms for humans. Only twenty minutes from home on Joslyn Road.

            A beautiful fall morning, I spied Ruth’s blue sweatshirt within a ring of fellow canine owners of all ages. She held a coffee cup while tracking Lily’s red collar and other dogs chasing one another willy-nilly in and out of the circle.

            I hollered for Lily. She raced toward me with a stick in her mouth. After two months of no Lily time, she still recognized my voice. I could’ve cried.

            In a tangle of black lab muzzles and paws, Lily and her best buddy Layla blind-sided me. But I didn’t go down.

            “Mom, don’t lock your knees. Bend them, or you’ll fall,” Ruth said.

Ruth and Lily with Layla and Joe, her owner

            To observe numerous dogs of all breeds play in one communal space is to witness much sniffing, stick stealing, barking, ball fetching, and conversations between adults who stand with bent knees.

            Although I cherish the quiet, low-impact companionship of our two cats, and appreciate our mouse-free house, Mittens and Cuddles suddenly seemed boring. Especially when Ruth and I walked a trail with Lily and Layla. They disappeared into the woods and returned with twigs clenched between their teeth. More trophies.

            “Lily’s such a sweetheart,” Ruth said.

            “I’d forgotten how much fun a dog can be,” I confessed.

            We passed a young couple with two Great Danes. Lily and Layla, both one year old, aimed for the leggy Danes.

            “This is our first time here,” the man said.

            “We just moved from Connecticut,” said the woman. “This place is amazing.”

            Yesterday, a week later, I emailed Ruth. “Going to the dog park tomorrow morning?”

            “Yes. You coming?”

            “What time?”

            “I’ll call when I leave for the park.”

            Lily and Layla didn’t notice a sparser crowd this damp, chilly morning at Orion Oaks. They rolled and growled and chewed each other’s ears just the same.

            Dear Reader, this time of year on Saturday mornings in the early nineties, I followed Ruth on Cross Country courses when she competed for Romeo Schools. Fellow parents cheered on our girls to the finish line.

            Nowadays, whenever Ruth calls a Saturday morning, I’m gone to the dog park. For Ruth’s and Lily’s presence also makes my heart grow fonder of my daughter and grand-dog.

Synchronization of the seasons


Our bar wood benches and tables stowed away for winter

Season: n 1: suitable or natural time or occasion: 2: a period of the year associated with some phase or activity of agriculture (as growth or harvesting) Season vb 1: to make palatable by adding salt or condiment 2: to make fit by experience

Considering what might be the last fine day in 2021, yesterday we stowed away the pavilion furniture inside my former gift shop—one of many outdoor projects we aim to complete before snow flies.

                Since April, we’ve hefted mulch, compost, and garden waste which conditioned our bodies for this ritual of putting summer to bed.

I confess, lifting and stacking eleven barn wood tables and twenty-two benches claims every bit of our physical and mental fortitude. Yet, in the exercise of this annual task the past eight years, we’ve mastered a pattern for maximum space economy.

Our procession of preserving our belongings began last month when I parked my golf cart inside the pavilion’s storage room. For the first winter in twelve years, she won’t be left out in the cold.

                Betsy, my Club Car, hasn’t seen a golfer since I purchased her as my garden buddy—my back and step saver to and from beehives, and up and down hills from gardens to burn piles.

                Now Betsy rests amongst harvest baskets, coolers, bins of hot and cold cups, and other acquisitions.

Betsy, my golf cart, with garden companions 
                Rest. That’s exactly what my body craved when I closed the pavilion doors upon our completed chore. Instead, I asked my husband “What’s the weather forecast for this afternoon?”


                “Better plant my garlic,” I said and fetched my buckets of compost and oak leaves.

                On my knees with trowel in hand, I mused at the brevity of summer’s companionship with friends, flora, and honeybees.  

                The sun on my shoulders and the sore spot between, I tamped soil and oak leaves above forty-two garlic cloves. At last, I sat back on the heels of my chicken boots. “Finished! Praise God!”          

Oh yes, I’m surfeited of gardens. Their needs to meet my needs: beauty, fragrance, food.

                Indeed, homegrown garlic waits in our basement on the shelf with canned tomatoes, peach butter and jam, and currant compote. Squash and asparagus soup and raspberries fill our freezer.

                God is good. Faithful.

This is why we gather with family and friends to give thanks. Why we will soon find our bottles of sage and allspice in our spice racks.

For our hearts praise God in seed time and harvest for our land, food, and liberty.

Glad and exhausted, I carried my empty buckets, swinging by my sides in synchronization of the seasons, to the greenhouse.

Come suppertime, hungry with plates of barbequed pulled pork and roasted garlic, red potatoes, and broccoli before us, rain fell fast and hard.

Dear Reader, if you know the meaning of the Yiddish word “verklempt”, you grasp my emotional condition. If you grow food and are over seventy years old, you’ve been there and will be again.

Yes, I slept well last night.



A memorial to my Sweetie dog

Sweetie in my garden at last

You never know what you’ll stumble upon when browsing The Weed Lady’s place. As we drove north toward Fenton, I assured my friend Maureen something beautiful and valuable would call our names.  

     My two previous visits to this gardener’s paradise dated to more than a decade ago. Maureen’s recent birthday presented the perfect occasion to return. We’d spend the afternoon celebrating with plants and dine on beef tenderloin afterward at Lucky’s.

     “They have the best steak,” a friend of Maureen’s and Fenton resident had said. And I’d heard the same vote of confidence from Imlay City friends.  

    Maureen’s phone guided us to our destination on Fenton Road. I didn’t recognize the area for all the recent development. At last, The Weed Lady’s wooden house appeared on our right.

     As I remembered, the scent of every square inch surrounding the landmark welcomed us. A gurgling pool and begonias of various varieties sat amidst repurposed furniture and garden structures.

     Urns of all sizes and prices and succulent plants led us into the gift shop. Maureen spied Italian terracotta pots. Mama and Papa pots with offspring of all sizes waiting for a sunny window or garden. And our adventure had just begun.

     “Ready for the greenhouse?” I asked.

     “Yes! I’d like to find a succulent for my kitchen window.”

     On our path to the greenhouse, every garden structure imaginable sat arranged with like kinds. Again, the urns tempted me.

     “I cannot buy what I cannot carry to the car and into my gardens,” I said.

     Maureen smiled. “Good idea.”

     I spied a group of dog statues lounging under a huge tree. “I wonder if they have a Lab,” I said, thinking of my grand-dog, Lily.

     Approaching the odd doggie park, my heart leapt at the sight of a small collection of cocker spaniel figurines. Their sad, puppy-dog eyes reminded me of my ginger-colored pet named Sweetie Lee.

     I lost Sweetie forty-five years ago and had since searched for a proper memorial to place in my gardens. The price on the cocker spaniel was right. I lifted my little Sweetie with no effort and carried her while Maureen and I browsed tables of succulents in the greenhouse.

     “Look at the pattern on this urn,” Maureen said, pointing beneath the table where we stood.

     The vase, embellished with wine-colored flowers and filled with wet potting soil, appeared to have been abandoned. Again, the price compelled me to purchase the unique treasure. But I couldn’t lift it on my own.

     My birthday friend and I selected our succulents and made our purchases, including the rejected vase the clerk emptied for me.

     Dear Reader, I placed my Sweetie dog in a garden today to view from my kitchen window. Her sad puppy-dog eyes drew loving tears.

     For as Maureen and I dined on Lucky’s steak, I recalled my boyfriend who bought Sweetie for me, for she became my confidant during my parents’ divorce.

     Thanks to Maureen and The Weed Lady, I at last found the proper memorial to my beloved and faithful pet. 

All the trees of the world


The white pine above my three hives

A youngster born near the border between eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, I imagined all the world resembled mine—green mountains, far as my eyes could see. 

     Within these mountains lay flatlands Appalachians named “bottoms”. My folks called our home the McCoy Bottom, and our farmhouse the “homeplace”.

     My mother’s grandfather, Lark McCoy, had cleared the bottom’s timber for crops and built his homeplace, barn, smokehouse, henhouse, two cabins, and beehives.  

     Mom’s father Floyd, however, had built his homeplace with a Sears kit on the opposite end of the McCoy Bottom. The roads being too narrow, Sears delivered the shipment via Peter Creek.

     A tributary formed by the runoff of rain flowing down mountain hollows, Peter Creek divides the bottom. My grandfather tended his honeybees along his side of the creek, and grew corn on a hillside on the other until his untimely death.

     From my earliest memories, Mom would point to the hill where young trees grew and say sadly, “That’s where Dad planted corn.”

    My grandfather also grew green apple trees along the path between his homeplace and my great-grandfather’s. The barn with bats in the haymow faced the orchard from the other side of the lane.

     Just when I learned to find toeholds in their gnarly trunks, Mom and Dad packed up our household and drove away. The mountains slowly shrunk into flat cornfields that endured throughout the eternal state named Ohio.

     After Dad crossed another river and drove into Detroit, I couldn’t believe the straight, paved streets lined with houses and driveways far as my eyes could see. Then he turned his car into one of those driveways and unloaded the trunk.

     Feeling sorely homesick for the bosoms of my green mountains, I found consolation sitting under the shade of the one tree in our front yard. Impossibly huge to climb, however.

     One school day I cried again to stay home.  Mom said, “Iris, you have to go to school. You won’t pass to first grade if you miss much more.”

     I walked down the porch steps to the tree and sat beneath it facing the street, out of Mom’s sight from inside the house. I fell asleep and awoke to find bird droppings on my head. Mom led me to the bathroom and scrubbed and rinsed my hair and scalp in angry justification of delivering my discipline.

     To my mother’s dismay, the incident encouraged me all the more to climb and sit beneath trees.

     The other day when I failed to spy the queens in my three hives, I laid down under a pine to stretch my back and put life in perspective.

     My goodness, dear Reader! I wish you could’ve seen what I saw. Under the clear, blue sky and sparkling boughs of the white pine, and the sound of bees restoring order in their home, their queens didn’t matter.

     The cool, green grass upon my neck, my Lord whispered, “I will never leave or forsake you.”

     All the trees of the world are His.