The man who heals people and rebuilds tractors


Dad's 1959 Edsel Ranger he restored

My chiropractor and I share common family history. His father restored old tractors including a 1953 Ford Jubilee, and his mother hailed from Barbourville, Kentucky. My father rebuilt a 1953 Chrysler engine and restored a 1959 Edsel Ranger. And Granny praised Barbourville’s camp meeting as the best in Appalachia.

                I owe these trips down memory lane to painful and persistent sciatica. And that commenced when I dismissed smart body-mechanics I’d learned in my “Fundamental Movement” course at Central Michigan University, 1968.

                Although lower back aches afflicted my mother and two of my four sisters, I avoided bodily injuries and surgery. But when you’re a granddaughter of a farm wife who cooked and cleaned for company until she reached eighty, you’re prone to remain confident about what you can lift and carry when you’re seventy.

                In retrospect, a hard fall on snow-covered ice a decade ago, and lifting 37-pound boxes of books led me to a decisive moment in August 2019.

                “I think my chiropractor can help you,” my medical doctor said.

                Oh no. I didn’t want to add another name and phone number to my list of two doctors. And I guessed one adjustment wouldn’t undo my damage.

                However, my physician looked me in the eye and handed me a business card. “I suggest you make an appointment at your earliest convenience.”

An x-ray revealed arthritis in L4 and 5. I recalled Mom’s “arthur-itis’, her willpower to bear discomfort, and determined to trust my genetics and the chiropractor to untangle the mess I’d made of my body.

Within several months, the searing trauma subsided. I began morning sit-ups and pushups, working my way from twenty to a hundred sit ups and forty push-ups.

“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” my chiropractor said. “Remember, magnesium and heat are what your back needs. Not cold.”

Month by month I passed 2020 checking off another visit on my calendar, enjoying first-time-grandfather stories about his granddaughter.

“How is it someone so little can melt your heart in a second?” he said during a treatment.

On cue, his receptionist knocked on the door. “Your wife, daughter, and granddaughter stopped by to see you.”

“Would you like to meet my little angel?” he asked.

There’s more to healing someone’s suffering than ultrasounds, adjustments, and vitamins.

My chiropractor's 1953 Ford Jubilee tractor

And of all ancient occupations known to humankind, he said upon my last appointment, “I’m sowing buckwheat this spring on some of our acreage up north.”

“Then I think you might want a few beehives. I’ve read there’s nothing like dark, buckwheat honey,” I replied.

“That reminds me. Thanks for the eggs,” he said.

The man who can’t wait to turn the key on his tractor to plow and sow seed is also thinking of raising egg-layers when he retires.

Dear Reader, after building our friendship, I’ll miss my monthly adjustments of spine, soul, and spirit.

Perhaps the man who heals people and his little angel will appreciate some hen coaching.

And I’d love to see his father’s 1953 Ford Jubilee tractor.

The meaning of "garden"


Sarah Jane McCoy, circa 1930, the McCoy Bottom

According to my belated mother, Granny assigned her to cooking family dinners at age eleven. “Everything we ate was from our garden, except flour and sugar,” Mom would say.  

Her four younger brothers were almost grown men when they drove Grandpa’s buggy over the mountain into Pikeville, the closest city in Kentucky where they purchased staples. There, the McCoy boys first encountered rice.

Back home, while Granny traded with customers in her mercantile, her sons used every pot in the new homeplace with buckets of water to contain the swelling grain and finish what they started. The hogs consumed a good portion of their predicament, saving my uncles from their mother’s wrath over wasted food.

For centuries in Appalachia, if you couldn’t eat it, you didn’t need it. Great-granny Elizabeth’s calla lilies prevailed before the old homeplace only because the perennial red flowers asked nothing of anyone but admiration.

Years later in 1954, after my parents moved our household from the McCoy Bottom to Detroit, imagine our surprise when Mom found pink hollyhocks blooming in the backyard’s alley. She offered my sisters and me toothpicks to make ballerinas of the blossoms and buds.

The luxurious landscapes of our next rental house seemed like Paradise. Rocks painted white circled a large peach tree with tulips of all colors wide open beneath.

I know this because my father considered the sight so delightful he took home movies, a family treasure. Mom sits on the mowed grass in a dress weeding while my sisters and I play hide-n-seek amongst the floribunda. Perhaps this idyllic place inspired our mother to later try her hand with raising roses.

Yet, food came first when we moved into our new, little house Dad mortgaged with aid of the G.I. Bill. Mom grew her favorite stringed beans and tomatoes in the backyard while Dad sowed grass seed and later watered with a hose.

Mom added a maple tree to shade two bedrooms facing east. A fair-skinned woman, I don’t know how she endured the scorching summer days hanging clothes in a subdivision without one leafing tree.

A divorcee at age 52, my mother returned to Kentucky and built her dream home between the new homeplace and where her Granny Elizabeth’s calla lilies once flourished. Mom planted every southern vegetable imaginable including green apple trees similar to those I climbed with my sisters and cousins when we were youngsters.  

Next, Mom ordered tulip bulbs, roses, boxwood. A weeping cherry tree for the front yard. Pink hollyhocks for the back door in plain view from her bean-stringing chair.

After Granny passed, Mom inherited the framed photograph of her younger and departed sister Sarah Jane. Three years old, Sarah poses with a fan before Great-granny’s calla lilies.

Dear Reader, whenever I said to Mom, “I’ve been working in my garden,” I meant flowers while she thought beans and corn.

“Why, I didn’t know you grew a garden,” she’d reply.  

The root to Mom’s utilitarian meaning of the word ran deep and wide.


Mitty (L) and Cuddles (R) watch a male robin defend his territory

The season of the red-breasted robin calls our curiosity to the dining room window with a crash against the glass.

The bird’s instinct to protect his territory causes such bizarre behavior. He thinks his reflection is his foe. And his show’s running on two weeks now.

Mitty and Cuddles sit captivated before the window with whiskers upward, tail curling at the tip. Their carnivorous instinct sees a bird under their paw.

Poor kitties. At the sound of a hit, they run to the window and watch as long as the bird persists.

For several previous springtides, cardinal males dominated the upper branches of the same white pine. Meaning, for weeks the cardinal fought his reflection in the bedroom window upstairs. Now, the male robin claims the lower branches for his family’s nest.

                Mitty’s patience astounds me, watching the robin without a blink. Cuddles is the first to capitulate and take a long nap. It’s less effort to dream about catching a bird.

                I’m with Cuddles in one respect: the robin show is old.

I’d rather be outside weeding, planting, pruning, and spraying fruit trees. Tracing birdcalls and songs to bluebird boxes and fen.

Burning piles of yard waste to tidy up the back forty. Planting another magnolia tree to accompany my Mother’s Day magnolia from last year.  

And yes, the gratification of green garlic stems poking through oak leaves contrasts with woodpecker and carpenter bee damage done to the pavilion’s soffit.

There’s always something to do, and I’m glad of it.

For I remember the unsettled years of 1970 to 1975. Mel and I wandered with our two babies to rentals in Bay City, Rosebush, Clawson, Westland, and Warren before we purchased our first home in Berkley.

Never did I think of pulling one weed, planting a flower, or harvesting a basket full of homegrown asparagus until we moved into our little bungalow on Cummings Street.

There, our little backyard called my name. Changed my life.

That’s where I met Burt on the south side of our fence, Bud on the opposite, and their impeccable landscapes. Burt spent one summer tapping white bricks into a meticulous border along his prolific rose garden.

Tap, tap, tap, while my girls played in the sandbox, swung on the swing, and swam in the swimming pool.

Inspired by Burt’s roses and Bud’s vegetables, I mail-ordered one bare-root Tropicana hybrid tea and asparagus crowns from Jackson & Perkins. While waiting for their arrival, per directions on the morning glory seed package, I ran a serrated knife across the seeds and soaked them twenty-four hours before planting.  

My goodness! What fertile earth! Those blue morning glories draped the fence we shared with Bud.

“Berkley was once a bog,” he said one day over the fence. “We can grow anything.”

Dear Reader, I remember the asparagus ferns taller than Burt, the tangy scent of my Tropicana rose, her slips my neighbors took home to propagate under a quart canning jar.

I remember their instinct to grow.

April synonyms


Becky and Kelly Underwood Easter 1976

April is synonymous with birdsong­: pregnant robins who proudly carry the title of our State Bird. There’s nothing sweeter than waking before dawn to a cheerful chorus of red-breasted mothers-to-be.

             I related to their song this morning when a plump robin landed on a limb outside my study window. Wednesday, April 5, 1975, the morning I waddled into Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, came to mind.

Three weeks overdue with my second child, Dr. Johnson decided to induce labor. Since our family lived forty-five minutes south from the hospital, I agreed and packed for the night. Devoted to my first attempt with natural childbirth, Mel and I dropped off Rebecca, our four-year old daughter, with a sister in Troy.

              In 1970, the obstetrician who assisted in Rebecca’s birth ordered Twilight Sleep during my labor. She consequently preferred sleeping to nursing. Engorgement ensued, the first of many obstacles that foiled my commitment to breastfeed.

Second time around, older and wiser, I listened when a friend recommended Dr. Johnson and his OB-GYN team who offered Lamaze classes to their patients and husbands. What hooked Mel was the steak and lobster dinner the hospital staff served the father and mother before they left for home with their baby.

The Lamaze movement connected me to La Leche League, an international organization that advocates for breastfeeding mothers. The local group sustained a hotline and monthly meetings hosted in members’ residences.  

Rebecca, who chose the name Becky in kindergarten, enjoyed my Lamaze breathing exercises. She’d sit before me and close her eyes while I breathed into her face.

On our short drive from my sister’s house to the hospital, I asked Mel, “If it’s a girl, what do you want to name her?”

“Not another Bible name,” he said.

“You don’t like the sound of Rebecca and Rachel?”


Considering my Irish roots, I asked, “What about the name Kelly?”


I delivered Kelly that afternoon without sedatives. She nursed vigorously on the delivery table.

My husband suggested Elizabeth for Kelly’s middle name. Obviously, he didn’t recall the New Testament reference to John the Baptist’s mother.

That night, one of April’s ice storms blew in. Alone in my postnatal room, I couldn’t sleep for joy and longing to unwrap Kelly Elizabeth for Rebecca Jane to touch. I ached for my children, husband, and bed.

The fresh April air.

Today, mother robins revive these desires, remind me not all fledglings survive when they leave the nest. No matter our diligent feeding and watch over them, many snares await the wing in its flight for independence.

On the eve of Kelly’s birth, although she’s 2,000 miles away, I see and feel her in my arms when I look out our windows, or walk our little farm and along Stoney Creek. For wherever there is a tree or shrub, the atmosphere teems with life and song.

Dear Reader, April is synonymous with birth, a tear fallen for tenderness lost. Rebecca’s hand ever reaching for Kelly’s, and never touching.