Christmas mysteries

 

Sue Balabuch, Erna Hermann, Diana Dinverno, Iris, Marilyn Dean, and MaryEllen Hammarlund
Meadowbrook Hall, December 16, 2022

Christmas is all about mystery—the advent of Jesus, the Savior of mankind born of a virgin. Somehow, later came Santa Claus, the jolly man who drives an airborne sleigh by the power of magical reindeer and delivers presents to obedient children.

            I believed in Jesus and knew Christmas celebrates His birth. And I also believed in Santa to see him as many children said they did. Perhaps an unfulfilled anticipation of spying Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve bred the desire for my children to see Santa. For I promised my three little girls their father would take them to see St. Nick. They would tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

A risky plan, indeed.

Nonetheless, my husband drove our girls downtown to Detroit’s J.L. Hudson’s, took escalators up to the twelfth floor to Santa’s Wonderland. A photograph ever memorializes our youngest daughter in tears, Santa forcing a smile under his mustache.

Years later, Christmas joy languished during the long sorrow of our firstborn’s substance abuse and death. Graciously, Amy Grant performed at the Palace the December my broken family needed her most. A surprise gift to my husband and daughters, we adored every minute of Amy’s show, a lovely voice we all knew well.

In 2008, I planned a trip for the wonderful women who offered to serve on my lavender farm’s advisory board and staff. After a festive breakfast, wouldn’t it be fun to drive them to individual mystery destinations to celebrate Christmas?

Oh yes, both groups loved the surprise entirely. Several advent seasons later, I blended both advisors and staff for all to enjoy a new mystery trip.

Friday, December 16, the lavender ladies and I met again around my dining room table. I served currant lemon lavender scones, Ensalada Nochebuena, Quiche Lorraine, Quiche Nicoise, tea and coffee to those who helped build my lavender farm.

After our gift exchange and stories of cherished Christmas memories, I said, “Time to leave for our first destination!”

“What about Erna’s cake?” a guest asked.

“Oh no! I forgot the cake!” And Erna’s beautiful chocolate layer torte is not to be overlooked.

I closed the door to my study and called our second destination, my favorite restaurant close by our first stop. “I have reservations for six at four p.m. today. Will you permit us to bring our own dessert to the table?”

“Yes,” the employee said.

I led the convoy down Rochester Road, across Tienken, and down Adams Road with one red traffic light. The ladies and I parked in the lot for Meadowbrook Hall and entered the stately doors on time for our self-guided tour.

Dear Reader, nearly two hours we strolled decorated, palatial halls and rooms where another family suffered tragedy, and left their remarkable legacy for public view.

 From four to almost six p.m., we dined at Kruse & Muer, our final stop. Justin, our server, plated our cake while the pleasure of friendship and another road trip witnessed God with us. The ultimate mystery.

 


Circle of merriment

 

Jeanette, Friends of Herb co-chair

 The merry heart makes a cheerful countenance. Proverbs 15:13

 As I drove north to Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden, I hoped to see Teresa Rolland and Rhonda Kaltz, fellow long-term members of the center’s Friends of Herbs group.

Our paths cross sporadically throughout the year as volunteers beautifying the center’s herb garden, and joining in monthly winter meetings indoors.

This meeting marked my seventeenth annual Christmas decorating, cookie exchange, and lunch with a band of women who take healthy living and laughter seriously.

We first followed the leadership of our former co-chairs, Ruthanne Morningstar and Jan Burns. Since they retired several years ago, Jeanette Farley and Kelly Poole have perpetuated the herb garden and led hands-on botanic and culinary programs.

However, today’s meeting offered a heightened sense of anticipation. The first Friday of December means preserving a tradition: creating swags and wreaths of greens to deck the halls and entrance of the building for the Seven Ponds Holiday Auction and Christmas Dinner.

Glory be! Teresa and I parked in the lot simultaneously. “Can I carry the bag of greens for you?” she asked.

“It’s bulkier than heavy. I can handle it, thanks. I’ll take a hug, though,” I said.

We carried our contributions of greens and goodies down the steps and onto adjoining tables in the building’s basement. Jeanette and Kelly had set up the cookie, food, and beverage tables, and those with supplies for creating wreaths and swags embellished with festive red bows.

Conversation and fun began. We wired and zip-tied together spruce, pine, and cedar boughs in various arrangements while catching up on family happenings. Some spoke of grown, married children living in different states, those coming home for Christmas, and those who are aren’t.

Kelly, the other Friends of Herbs co-hair

The joyful season of reunion and crafting together lifted us from the separation of the past two years, into the light of companionship and common ground we’ve known long enough to appreciate what we’d missed.

At last, one by one, we held up our finished product for one last look and photos before we carried them upstairs for hanging.

“What do you think?” Jeanette said, posing with the wreath she designed for the Holiday Auction.

“I think you need to pose for a picture,” Rhonda said.

Jeanette framed her face within the circle of the woven twigs for the perfect smile of the day.

We placed the greens into the staff’s hands for hanging and returned downstairs for cleanup. Afterward, Jeanette and Kelly set up their home-made chicken taco and salsa lunch for our herb group. Jeanette provided her colorful and delicious Ensalada Nochebuena, or Mexican Christmas Eve Salad.

For the first time in three Decembers, the Seven Ponds team joined us. Another reunion. We met the new, young naturalist named Madison.

Dear Reader, at last my fellow herb members and I lifted the lids to our cookie containers. Some a deliciously healthy assortment of chocolate and coconut. One, my mother’s Chocolate Pecan Sandie.

For nothing makes a cheerful countenance like friends and delicious traditions.


The stories African violets tell

 

My very much-loved African violet

My granny grew the prettiest variety of African violets on her kitchen’s windowsill. I could never keep one alive. Until December 2020.

          Dinner guests arrived bearing a beautiful basket filled with an arrangement of miniature perennials, the main attraction a light purple African violet.

As I placed the thoughtful gift on my kitchen table, I hoped the flowers would survive until Valentine’s Day.

          To my glad surprise, the two red mums and African violet bloomed through Easter weekend. I watered them just enough with our drinking water to keep the soil damp until frost no longer appeared in the forecast.

Then I said a little prayer and transplanted the mums under a French lilac tree in a sunny spot in the backyard.

The small, green pot I found for the African violet fit perfectly on the windowsill above my kitchen sink between two orchids—one pink, and one yellow. There, facing southward, the colorful companions thrived in direct sunlight, and humidity from the kitchen faucet.

Now, Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia experts say the violet prefers indirect sunlight. Yet, velvety leaves kept sprouting and growing into another winter. Stems, buds, and blooms followed. I never thought of fertilizing the plant.

Thankfully, I did know to clip off the spent blooms to cheer on new growth. Pruning seems a steadfast principle for all living things.

African violet experts also say the plant blooms in spring and summer. Not my girl. She’s in full bloom again—just in time for tea with my two friends Anne and Marilyn on a chilly, drippy November day.

Marilyn stood before the sink and counted five stems in full bloom. “My African violets always die,” she sighed.

“This is the first to survive in my care,” I replied.

“I don’t even try,” Anne said.

“Well, this plant came in a gift basket two Decembers ago. And for some unknown reason it’s flourishing.”

“There’s still some buds. She could bloom for another month,” Marilyn said.

“That would be wonderful.”

“I think of Gramma whenever I see a beautiful African violet,” Marilyn mused.

Anne and I waited for her story.

“I was visiting Gramma and wandered off and found flowers so deep and intense an iridescent purple they begged my naughty little fingers to pick them. So I did and carried them to Gramma.”

“What did she do?” I asked.

“She took the flowers from my hands and laid them on a table. We left the room and later returned. I sobbed when I saw the wilted blooms.”

“Did your gramma say anything?” Anne asked.

“Yes. She gently explained I must leave her flowers bloom for everyone to enjoy. She was the most wonderful person in my life.”

Dear Reader, I’m thankful my granny kept her African violets out of my reach for everyone to enjoy. The most wonderful person in my life had plenty experience with naughty little fingers.

Although my sisters and I banged her piano keys out of tune, we never touched her lovely African violets.

 

 


Gift from the egg lady

 

 

Our six Isa Browns ready to roost for the night

On these late autumn mornings, I wait for the fog to burn off before hen chores. This allows the ladies time to lay a handful or two of eggs for the freshest and most nutritious breakfast known to mankind.

            As I’d expected with the shorter days and cooler weather, our six Isa Browns have reduced production. No more ten eggs a day, nor a surprise dozen, handy for batches of summer’s potato salads.

Even so, half a dozen eggs a day are more than enough for meals and baking. The recipients of our surplus call me “The Egg Lady.”

The only friend who declined a carton said, “I’m sorry, Iris, but I’ve never been able to eat a brown egg.”

Astonished, I replied, “But they’re not brown inside! They’re the same as a white egg!”

She shook her head in all sincerity. “Give them to someone who will appreciate them.”

Very wise advice to a gift-giver.

Truly, when Andy, our late friend and handyman, built our henhouse, I had no experience with hen husbandry. Sure, my mother grew up on a farm and told stories about feisty roosters, broody hens, and fluffy baby chicks.

On summer vacations, when my sisters and I were young, we ran races and climbed apple trees where Uncle Herm’s chickens roamed in the McCoy Bottom. I knew hens didn’t need a rooster to lay eggs. Now, how the hen laid an egg with a chick inside remained a mystery.

However, Andy spoke frankly about the propensity of free range hens to do exactly that on a neighbor’s property.

“Keep it simple,” he said. “I’ll build an enclosed pen on wheels so you can move the hens around to range safely.”

He promptly delivered our “tractor pen” with “A Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow. “All you need to know about hens and eggs is in this book,” Andy said.

On page 150 is this piece of folk medicine: “To treat a wound and speed healing, the protein-rich membrane inside the shell is peeled away and bandaged in place over a cut. Raw eggs are also used as beauty aids—whites in facials, yolks in shampoos and hair conditioners.”

I cannot remember Mom using egg membranes for bandages or for her beautification. After years mucking their house, feeding, watering, doctoring, and gathering their eggs, I cannot imagine sacrificing an Isa Brown’s labor for my beauty.

However, that may change as my skin wrinkles and hair thins.

Meanwhile, I find my captive companions waiting at their chute, thank them for their food, and let them loose into their pen. They run to kitchen scraps and a head of cabbage they peck to the core.

Dear Reader, when I saunter back up the ridge these concluding, golden days of falling sugar maple leaves, I look to the west—wave to the long-legged shadow of the Egg Lady cast upon the bright red landscape.

“Keep it simple,” she says. “Give this goodness to someone who will appreciate it.”

  


To Country View and back

 

Northern Spy and Mutsu apples, two of many varieties you'll find at Country View

My husband aimed north for Country View Bulk Foods in Snover. We don’t keep a deep pantry, which concerns my friends who’ve dehydrated vegetables and fruit in preparation for a long-term food shortage.

            We’ve heard the repeated predictions since 2020 due to the broken supply chain due to Covid.  

Now we’re told to expect more empty shelves and higher prices this winter due to wars, rumors of wars, and fuel shortages that impact the price of fertilizers and packaging.

Thus, I considered the bounty of squash my husband grew now stored in the basement for soups and casseroles. Yet, Mel’s tomatoes failed again this past summer. Since man cannot live on squash alone, we needed canned tomatoes for spaghetti and soups.

And potatoes, Mel’s favorite vegetable he is yet to grow.

We drove further into farm country, past familiar farmsteads, some forsaken, and a few in the joyful condition of revival. The cloudless, blue sky shined down upon a new homestead’s freshly tilled furrows and a burn pile of expired vines and plants. We passed through the wafting smoke that reached the road.

Is there a more blessed scent upon this earth?

Oh yes, fresh apples! And Country View’s selection included Mutsu (Crispin), a cross between a ‘Golden Delicious’ and the ‘Indo’ cultivars of Japan. The Mutsu and I share the 1949 birth year, which I plan to celebrate with apple crisp flavored with NestlĂ©’s butterscotch chips.

Faithful to my mother’s favorite pie apple, the Northern Spy, I put a bag in our basket next to the Mutsu. I’ll test their compatibility in crisps, pies, and cakes.

For generations, my Appalachian folk have dried strings of sliced apples by hanging them from the roofs of their porches. My granny loved a Dried Apple Stack Cake, which took days to complete the six layers, fillings, and glazed topping.

Although I’ll most likely never bake the labor intensive Dried Apple Stack Cake, the dehydrated apple is a tasty compliment when tossed with salad greens, toasted pecans, red onion, fine olive oil, white wine vinegar, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper.

Hmm…why not dehydrate a few Mutsu and Northern Spy? Perhaps success will lead to delicious scalloped dehydrated potatoes like my mother baked.

I scanned my list before checking out at Country View. “I forgot organic rolled oats for crisps and granola,” I said to Mel. “Would you ask an employee where to find them?”

He sped off, yet didn’t return post haste as expected. I found him waiting by a door in the back of the store.

“A guy’s looking for your oats,” he said.

The owner of Country View emerged from the storage room with two bags and passed the oats to me. “Sorry for the wait.”

“Thank you!” I said. “This was well worth it.”

Dear Reader, we drove home between fields of harvested and standing stalks of corn glittering in sunlight. And the new homestead lay prepared for next spring.

The rhythm of love for seedtime and harvest unbroken.


Gold and silver benefits

 

Marilyn's cookbook inherited from her mother

On a sunny October day, the Townsend Tunnel shines like gold—one benefit to living on a former cow path that intersects Townsend Road, sometimes impassible due to ditches and potholes from rain and thawing snow flowing downhill.

However, whether descending or ascending the mile lined with ancient maples, the same awe catches me by surprise mid-October. Truly, who could not praise this remarkable biological miracle?

No matter the hours I invest in creating lovely landscapes, I cannot turn a maple leaf from green to gold—and I cannot stop frost from blanching my hostas overnight.

Now, no offence to hosta lovers, but my gardens and I would be entirely content without one plantain lily, another name for hosta. Their greedy leaves soon overcome peony blooms and low growers like primrose; and their puny blooms aren’t worthy of real-estate or a vase.

Yet, I left a pair of hostas by my front porch which frost claimed several drizzly nights ago. Afterward, Marilyn, a high-school friend, arrived at my door for lunch. “I cut back my hostas already. Was I supposed to wait until they turned color?” she asked.

“I don’t think it matters,” I said and gave her a long hug. After all, I hadn’t seen her in three years. And that was in Big Boy “for old time’s sake.”

I led her into the kitchen. She surveyed the room as a friend who spent many hours at my table, and stood by the sliding glass door. “Your yard looks so different.”

“It’s amazing how trees grow,” I said, the sugar maples in succession of peaking red and shedding leaves. “Do you like asparagus soup and spinach croissants? Apple crisp and ice cream is for dessert.”

“I’ll eat anything,” Marilyn said. “The boys love my pumpkin Blatchinda, similar to a croissant. It’s a German dessert my mother made. The boys asked if I could bake Blatchinda with apples.”

I’ve never met Marilyn’s twin grandsons, for their family lives near Kalamazoo. Several years ago, Marilyn and her husband Mike sold their home in Romeo and moved nearby their daughter, son-in-law, and boys Ben and Charlie.

Marilyn and I viewed the hill she once mowed for another lavender field soon after she retired from teaching. Later, she drove away to visit her baby brother who’d suffered a stroke. I remembered Jerome as a teenager whose siblings called “Varmint.”

I also recalled Marilyn’s mother, Rose, cooking in her kitchen. My friend uses the same Blatchinda recipe from her mother’s cookbook published by The North Dakota Historical Society of Germans from Russia.

That evening, I strolled down to the hen house in the dark. A star glittered in the east. Jupiter? Venus? Then the Big Dipper caught me by surprise in the north of heaven’s dark vault.

Dear Reader, I praised another benefit of living on a country road in October. As Joseph Parry wrote long ago, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other’s gold.”



Praise the color pink

Thirteen buds begin to bloom in succession in my backyard boulder garden 
My heart sank this past spring when I first noticed my nibbled pink Japanese anemones. Then experience reminded me to be patient. In this particular botanic situation, the timing of the deer’s munching was positive. It’s akin to the principle of pinching off the first buds on annuals to produce robust roots in a young plant.

            Buds eventually emerged again on the stems of Eriocapitella hupehensis, commonly known as windflower. And if distracted by other food, the deer might leave the anemones alone to flower. Exactly when that would happen also depended upon weather conditions.  

            To encourage healthy roots, I mixed the ingredients of my favorite, never fail foliar spray. As windflowers are prone to propagate, the deer had disbudded every offspring I’d transplanted throughout my backyard gardens.

            Therefore, roses, butterfly bushes, peonies, lupines, and other plants and shrubs neighboring windflowers received the benefit of a nutritious shower.  

            Then came two months of drought. I watered and watched for the promise of a bud on my dark pink anemones. Instead, a red “drifter” rose bush sprawling in my front yard perennial island never ceased blooming during growing season. Going on thirty years. I planted five. Two survived. One thrives. If only anemones grew thorns.

Early this summer I imagined cutting nosegays and bouquets of windflowers and roses throughout the fall. No matter how often I fed their foliage and roots, my rosebushes, even the hardy, prolific white and pink bushes in a boulder garden, floundered.

Be sure I whined about this when my daughter visited from California in August. Now, if you’ve ever visited San Francisco’s Japanese Garden and sipped tea with your grown child under the shelter of the outdoor teahouse, you might understand my disappointment.

For my heart desired to enjoy a cup of Earl Grey and lavender lemon currant scone with her under my wisteria-covered pergola—the Japanese anemones nodding amiably. Although the florets have no scent, “daughter of the wind,” as “anemone” translates in Greek, attracts the eye like a beautiful bird flitting by.

To my delight, buds swelled, and at last deep pink petals unfurled mid-September. Even the offspring now bloom. More to transplant come next spring.

And to my utmost surprise, as if for her grand finale, my favorite light pink rosebush planted in the lower garden grew a stem three feet long. Thirteen buds formed at the stem’s end. They now blossom in succession. With cooler days and nights, the petals remain vibrant for several days.

And the white and pink drifter have bloomed for two weeks! It’s as if all the roses and anemones conspired to produce this marvelous pageant.

Dear Reader, while I praise the color pink, I must mention the dusky blush of tall sedum outside my study window. After deadheading plants and removing invasive roots, vacancies in my front yard gardens cry for color.

Perfect sites for the “daughter of the winds” to nod prettily. To remind me to be patient when disappointed—the principle to feed their roots.



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.”               


The patience of a Blackberry lily

 

The first Blackberry lily bloom in my garden. 

As Mel and I walked the Polly Ann Trail, Char and Dan Sutherby relaxed in lawn chairs by their home in downtown Leonard. Char waved. “Stop for a visit on your way back,” she hollered.

            I’d met Char several times during events sponsored by the Friends of the Addison Township Library. However, I didn’t know Char’s home was the green, block cement house I admired on our walks. And I’d never met her husband.

            Now was my chance for an up-close look of their two-story farmhouse and spacious gardens. The cool, sunny fall day offered the perfect climate for congenial conversation.

            At last, Char announced, “The house and gardens have become too much for us. We’ll be moving up north within the year.”

            “Well, I’m happy for you two, but sad for us,” I replied.

            “Before we leave, I’ll give you some Blackberry lily seeds. The roots are prolific, so plant the seed where you want the flowers to steal the show. They’re small, but mighty,” Char said.

            When the Sutherbys moved, Char handed a bag of dried Blackberry lily stems to a friend who relayed them to me. The black seeds clustered on the stem’s end resembled blackberries, thus the common name for Iris domestica.

            Following “full sun” directions, I invested twenty-some seeds in the garden along the southern side of our garage. I also toyed with chance and sowed ten seeds in the backyard lower garden in part shade.

            I offered the remaining seeds to friends and forgot the Blackberry lily until springtime when I scouted for sprouts. 

            Nada. My fellow gardeners who planted Char’s seeds reported the same disappointing news.

            Another quick search on the internet recalled Blackberry lily seeds sometimes take three years to germinate. Flora must possess an independent spirit to find her place in my gardens. If this wee, orange blossom with red spots also known as “leopard lily” refused to bloom, so be it.

            Two summers later in the midst of a sustained drought, I turned the southern corner of the garage. There, a darling dark orange bloom lifted her little, red speckled face upward. A Blackberry lily! No, two blooms and several buds!

            Now, my eyes and hands know every inch of that little garden, what blooms in spring, summer, and fall. What I’d guessed a dropped and sprouted gladioli bulb had formed perfectly fanned flags unlike that of a glad.

         

            My solitary Blackberry lily is a member of the Iris family. This endears Char’s gift to me as another friend’s hand-me down purple irises do in the same garden. Successive bloom cheers a gardener’s heart.

            And more good news. These little freckled petals need no fertilization or winter protection, and are drought tolerant.

            Oh, what a pleasure to find a self-sufficient guest in my garden!

Dear Reader, the architecture of the spent bloom forms a perfect spiral, which later develops into a seed pod.

Patiently, I wait to observe this miracle. To harvest and share Blackberry lily seeds as Char did.