Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

Little things: the tendril

I watch the green baby each day as he twines his way up, clutching onto the rungs I’ve provided. He’d grab onto me too, if I stayed still long enough. Then he claws at the air in front of our back door. Maybe he thinks coming inside the house with me is a good idea.

“Oh, you don’t want what’s in there.” I brush him away from the doorway and poke him back into his trellis with Mama Morning Glory. “You’re better off out here.”

But soon I can see he doesn’t believe me.

I think of a little girl who once stayed with us. Her plate was always filled with food at our table, but she still reached for more. At one meal, she scooped up a man-sized serving of chili and circled an arm around the big—and only—bag of corn chips, pulling it to her chest. My family gazed at her scramble to have it all.

“How about eating what’s on your plate?” I said, hoping not to embarrass her, making sure a smile lifted my words. “You can always have seconds. And thirds. I’ll make sure you get full.”

But the look on her face told me she didn’t believe me.

The morning glories’ tendrils grasp for more when they have what they need. The little girl snatches another helping when her plate’s already full. But when I choose to live in the future—in the fear of scarcity—so I can’t even see the enough of today, am I so different?

… Be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

Little things: the height pole

Sometimes life is tracked in pen or pencil; sometimes it’s scribbled in Sharpie marker. But no matter what, it’s art. And it shows us we’re growing.

On a supporting beam in our basement is artwork in progress, evidence of lengthening bones and stretching skin. Most days, I’m too busy folding the laundry or shelving new rolls of toilet paper to notice it. But the days I open my eyes, I see its messy beauty, and I wonder about the methods used to draw the lines. I’ve even witnessed the shoddy approach of the artists involved, their markings imprecise and inconsistent. And I’m glad I’ve never made rules around it that could’ve quashed the fun.

We’re not the only ones who have marked the height pole. Our visitors want to see if they’ve grown too, and they have, I exclaim, when they go in for another measurement months—or even years—later. Except for our friend Melissa, who in her thirties has probably topped out at her 5’11”.   

With the height pole, as in other parts of our lives, we compare ourselves to others when it doesn’t matter. “Flicka was taller than Dicka at that age, but not as tall as Ricka.” Who cares anyway? We’re all growing, aren’t we? Even those of us whose inseams have stayed the same.

I think of another mother millennia ago. Did she have a special way to measure her boy who grew outside of space and time? Her measuring tape went in all directions: before and in, over and through. And her son’s purpose made him the tallest of us all.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

National Night Out

I tied the yellow CAUTION tape around the tree at the corner and stretched it across the street to the stop sign on the other side. The other end of the block got the same treatment. But would drivers really obey my flimsy blockade? Or would cars blast through anyway?

“It’s official now,” a neighbor said, eyeing my work as she watered her boulevard garden.

I laughed. “I guess so.”

“I’ll be over soon with my tabbouleh salad.”

My first year as the block leader. My first National Night Out running the thing. We had always enjoyed the annual invitation from the next block, but it was time to host the event on our own street. Now who would come?

We set up the table in the middle of the road and toted out the hotdogs, chips, and rhubarb cake. Over the years, I had seen pictures of the event from other block parties in North Minneapolis: water balloon fights, door prizes, streamers, tables crowded with potluck dishes, and laughing neighbors-turned-friends. But at our place, we had simple food, camp chairs, a bucket of chalk. And room at the table for all of us.

A few neighbors sauntered over, then several more. Our gracious hosts from previous years popped by with hugs and a pan of curried rice. Some kids rolled in. I recognized one boy—no more than thirteen now—who had played basketball in our driveway a couple of years ago. His most recent adventures were captured on our back yard security camera one night in April when he and his buddies rifled through our Jetta, swiping our cell phone charging cords.

“Here you go,” Husband said, handing the kid a hotdog.

More children—minus their adults—swooped in and out. A five-year-old boy lingered to doodle chalk designs on the pavement with our teenage girls.

And then came the stories. One neighbor, now in his sixties, had once been the young guy on the block, surrounded by senior citizens. From inside his house one winter night long ago, he had heard someone call his name. He peered through the window to find an elderly woman splayed out on his front walk. He provided her with company and a warm blanket until the paramedics arrived. One of our girls shared a creepy light rail story from her day, and a neighbor gave her sound public transit advice: when in doubt, hit the emergency call button. Another neighbor’s meal with us was interrupted when she was notified that her fifty-four-year-old brother had died unexpectedly.

We packed up our evening with old and new friends, putting the bocce balls to bed in their case and leaving the chalk art to sing in the dark. There was nothing glamorous about sharing a hotdog with a kid who had ripped us off or with a neighbor whose life was sliced open by sudden loss, but it was real. Like family-real.

Some celebrate National Night Out as a festive event with all the sparkles. But on our block, we don’t get cleaned up for the party. We come as we are.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

The proposal: She said

Husband proposed to me on January 8, 1992. We married on July 18 that same year.

Every story has two sides. This week, I tell mine.

***

“We’re here,” Boyfriend said. “You can look now.”

I peeled off the bandana blindfold. The University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus.  

He hopped out of the driver’s seat and came around to the passenger side to open my door. He guided me through January’s winds into the student center, down the stairs, and into the bowling alley in the basement. Then he plunked down cash for one game and two pairs of shoes. I frowned, eyeing my too-snug dress.

When I had taken the day off from my job at the Marie Sandvik Center at Boyfriend’s request, it was for a visit to a special exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. For some reason, though, the plan had fizzled. Was this the alternative? Bowling?

Boyfriend waved a hand for me to throw the first ball. One, two, three, slide—just like the old 1950s instructional video in gym class, only 100% less impressive. Unable to bend over much in my dress, I squatted awkwardly, and as I released the ball, I remembered my thumb, its skin bubbled from a run-in with a searing pan of curly fries the previous night at Kids’ Club at work. The blister ripped away, and I gasped. Gutter ball.

“No big deal,” Boyfriend said, gazing at my still-standing pins.

“I don’t really care about my score.” I raised my raw thumb for him to see.

He sucked air through his teeth. “Ouch.”

For nine more frames, I tried to bowl without using the finger holes, and he tried to play while walking on eggshells.   

“Let’s go to dinner,” he said, his tone flat.

Our reserved table at Muffuletta in the Park was dim and intimate. Music from a violinist and a cellist soothed my stinging thumb, and the decadent food spirited away the evening’s bumpy start.

I dabbed my mouth and gazed at Boyfriend over the flickering candle. We had talked about marrying in the near future. Would tonight be the night for the proposal? Should I chew more carefully to avoid chomping down on an engagement ring in the dessert?

“Too bad things started out the way they did,” I said.

“You weren’t too happy.”

“I wish I had known about the bowling. I could’ve dressed for it.”

“You told me you wanted to dress up and go bowling sometime.” He set down his glass. “Remember?”

I narrowed my eyes. “When?”

“Forget it.” Boyfriend waved down our server and asked for our check and for a to-go box for the dessert I was too full to finish. “Maybe we call it a night?”

A museum trip canceled in favor of bowling, and now a beautiful dinner that seemed like a precursor to a gift of jewelry, but no proposal? Was he canceling that too?

“Already? It’s too early to go home.”

The server returned with a tinfoil swan that had swallowed my carrot cake.

“So what then? A movie?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

But on the way to the movie theater, the car filled with old and new thorns, and the more we struggled through them, the more they tore at our attitudes. My thumb throbbed.

At the theater, Boyfriend shoved some cash under the little window. “Two tickets for The Last Boy Scout,” he said, not looking at me.

On the screen, Bruce Willis strutted around with a gun, doing something heroic for almost two hours, but I rewound the mental footage from our date. Maybe Boyfriend’s request that I take the day off from work on a Wednesday for a day full of surprises didn’t have any special meaning attached to it. Maybe it was just a date.

On the ride home, silence blasted us. We pulled into the driveway of my house in Dinkytown. Regret—heavier than my winter coat—settled on my shoulders. The thorns from earlier were really only prickles, and I should’ve seen it then.

Boyfriend came around to my side again and opened the door. He held out a gloved hand, and I took it. He scooped me up into his arms.

“So you won’t ruin your shoes,” he said.

And I thought of his nice shoes as he carried me through the driveway’s slushy snow.

Inside the house, he set me down in the foyer and kissed me. He opened the door to my room, letting me enter first. Candlelight warmed the space. By the window was a painting—of me.

My vision blurred. “You did this?” I spun to face him.

But he was already on one knee, offering me his future.

 

A week before our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Husband told me not to schedule anything on the big day.

“I have plans. And don’t even try guessing,” he said, “but pick a dress you can move in.”

I tried to nibble away a smile. “I think I know where this is going.”

The morning of our anniversary, we bowled a game at the student center at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus. My dress felt good—and so did my thumb. Lunch at Muffuletta was just right, and the movie Lost in Paris made us laugh. We drove by my old place in Dinkytown and asked the renter’s permission to snap a picture in the driveway. Husband scooped me up in his arms again.

When we returned home, Husband kissed me and opened the door to our house, letting me enter first. No candles needed today; our years together warmed the space. On the wall was a new painting—of me.

“I had it commissioned,” he said. “This was the inspiration.”

He showed me a photo on his cell phone. Me in the purple dress from our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary.

My vision blurred. Life was bigger and better than the too-tight skirts, the blisters, the thorns, and the prickles along the way.

I turned to face him. And there he was, still offering me his future.

The anniversary painting. Oil on canvas, 15" x 30", by artist Rachel Orman

The anniversary painting. Oil on canvas, 15" x 30", by artist Rachel Orman

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

 

The proposal: He said

Husband proposed to me on January 8, 1992. We married on July 18 that same year.

Every story has two sides. This week, he tells his.

***

“You need to take the day off from work January 8,” I said, “because that’s the last day of a special showing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.”

Tamara acted like she was excited. I had spent several weeks painting her picture, and I was going to see if the Minneapolis Institute of Art would let me prop it in a corner somewhere, so I would walk by and let her see it, and when she did, I would propose to her. But when I made these plans, I didn’t have permission from the MIA yet. After she had already taken the day off, I found out they wouldn’t let me do it for insurance reasons, so I had to come up with a new plan. Since I had to kill a couple hours before our dinner reservations now and we were already dressed up, and Tamara had told me at one time it would be fun to get dressed up and go bowling, I decided that’s what we would do.

And that’s where everything started to go wrong.

On the big day, I picked Tamara up and explained the special showing was no longer in existence, and that we couldn’t go. She was unhappy because she had taken the day off from work for that specific reason. I told her I had a different surprise. I blindfolded her, and we headed for the bowling alley. But when we got there, she saw where we were, and I could tell this wasn’t going to be a good replacement for the art museum. Even though at one point she said it was something that would’ve been fun, it wasn’t something fun today, because she had a blister and was wearing a really tight skirt. So we bowled one unhappy game. Finally it was time for dinner, and I thought, “Maybe things will be better from here on out.”

It didn’t get better.

“Maybe we end it here and go home,” I said.

“But I took the day off,” she said. “I don’t want to go home this early.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t care. Something.”

“Fine. Let’s go to a movie. What movie?”

“I don’t care,” she said.

Out of spite, I picked Bruce Willis’ The Last Boy Scout.

When the movie was over, our moods were still as dark as the theater. She, because she didn’t like the movie or anything that had happened during the date, and I, because nothing had turned out the way I hoped.

We drove back to her house in Dinkytown. I was trying to decide what to do, because this seemed like a really poor proposal date, but when we got to her house, I saw the painting propped in her window surrounded by candles lit by her brother. She hadn’t noticed it, so I thought I could salvage the date by carrying her through the slush and snow so she didn’t ruin her shoes. I would take her into her room, so she could see the painting, I decided, and then I would ask her to marry me.

She said ‘yes’, and everything’s been better since.

The proposal painting. Oil on canvas, 20" x 26"

The proposal painting. Oil on canvas, 20" x 26"

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The Good Neighbor Meal

Are you looking for a volunteer activity for a group?

The Good Neighbor Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is a building that houses a couple of churches, but the owners also use it to benefit the city through a kids’ tutoring program and a meal program, The Good Neighbor Meal, where volunteers host a meal and feed those in need.

Last Saturday, our family hosted the meal, and the following volunteers served 130 plates of food and/or donated to the cause:

Micara and Todd Baker

Diane Barvels

Elisabeth Blees

Jeff, Sherry, and Bethany Bogenholm

Cindy Brown

Mother Minnie Brown

Lisa Carlson

Joe Courtemanche

Alvaro Domenighi

Deborah McDaniel Dunn and Trevor Dunn

Heidi, Mark, Adeline, and Ilya Edwards

Jon Gordon

Colleen Grewenow

Karyn Hansen

Joan Jacobson

Marie and Greg Johnson

Shelby Lanning

Joe Loftus

Susan, Ryan, Milo, and Lucy MacDonald

Connie Nelson

Jessica and Ava Nielson

Sidney Orchard

Ann Rubin and Sandy Almquist

Lynette and Mike Simser

Sandy and Chris Tutka

Thank you, everyone! And a special thank you to our North Minneapolis friends at The Thirsty Whale Bakery who donated and delivered cupcakes for all.

If you’d like to get involved too, meals are hosted/served the second and last Saturdays of each month. Send me a private message here so I can connect you with the coordinator to reserve your date.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

More eavesdropping

Last week, I asked you about a time you eavesdropped and what you overheard. Here are some of my readers' responses:

***

On a flight from London to Minneapolis, I sat directly in front of a couple in their sixties. Everything the woman said she would yell to her husband because she had earbuds in.

“ARE YOU GOING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE?” she said. “IT’S A ROMANCE. I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’LL LIKE IT.”

The husband just sat there.

Later, she commented on the flight attendants and how they were really nice. “I THINK I REMEMBER SOME OF THEM FROM THE EARLIER FLIGHT.”

Still no words from the husband.

I had a broken seat, so every time I sat up, the seat would move up. And when I sat back, the seat would lean back.

Halfway through the flight, the woman yelled to her husband. “THIS GUY’S DRIVING ME CRAZY WITH HIS SEAT.”

I didn’t tell her she was driving me crazy with her voice.

 

Scott, Minneapolis, Minnesota

***

A spook haiku or spaiku (haiku for and by Intel people, a term invented by Lee Bishop of the Defense Language Institute.)

long slow night of noise
voices from the other side of good
messages i must hear

 

Joe, St. Paul, Minnesota

***

The fence around our back yard is perfect for eavesdropping. Walkers deep in conversation rarely see me gardening on the other side of the fence. Our neighbor, almost 8 years old walked along the fence. He turned to his 11-year old sister after July 4th boomers were heard in our neighborhood.

“That was shotguns,” he said matter-of-factly.

His sister corrected him. It was fireworks.

The two walked on, flip flops softening their steps.

Those children volunteer in the community garden.  I thank them and hand out popsicles for their work.

Our neighborhood is prone to gunshots. I work to stop it, knowing that we don’t have to live with gun violence.

In the meantime, those young children are living the experience. Gunshots are normal in their everyday lives. They don’t run at the sound of it. They saunter.

That’s a scary thought.

 

Monica, North Minneapolis, Minnesota

***

Not my experience, but my husband and our daughter who were eating at a fairly nice restaurant in Bismarck.  They told me their story of a couple on a date, and the gentleman asked for an item no longer on the menu, and of how the chef could prepare it.  Turns out the main chef was not working that night, but could be called, the dish explained to today's chef, and if that would be acceptable.  It was.  After this intense amount of work, phone calls, and manager's help.  Then, the waiter turned to the lady and asked what she would like to dine on.

"That's for her,” the man replied.  “Nothing for me, I've already eaten."

 

Jen, Grand Forks, North Dakota

***

Board an airplane. Get stuck in the aisle as a middle aged lady struggles to wedge her oversized carryon into a small overhead bin. It has no chance of fitting.

She starts complaining that, "It fit in the last plane." Over and over. She finally yells to the flight attendant, "Why won't my bag fit?!"

Without thinking I decided to stop eavesdropping and accidentally mentioned that she "shouldn't have packed so much crap in it".

Judging by the laughter, turned out everyone else sitting around there was eavesdropping also.

 

Trevor, Hudson, Wisconsin

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Eavesdropping

Today, I want to hear from you.

“There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.” Thornton Wilder

“Any place is good for eavesdropping, if you know how to eavesdrop.” Tom Waits

We’ve all done it. What have you overheard? And where?

Write a note or poem about a time you eavesdropped on someone. Send it to me here (or if you’re a subscriber, simply hit reply to this email.) I will publish your writing in next week’s blog installment. (Please include your first name and location with your submission.)

 *Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Travel stories: the Poconos

We cranked down the car windows, letting the hot summer air blast our faces.

“Ready?” Husband said, glancing in the rear view mirror.

“Yeah!” Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka, ages seven, five, and three, hollered from the back seat.

“On the road again,” we belted out, “Just can’t wait to get on the road again, the life I love is making music with my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

We sang the next part of Willie Nelson’s song with Husband’s amended lyrics. “Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway, we’re the best of friends as long as we do things my way, on the highway, on the road again.”

We had already spent a week in New York City at my brother’s place in Queens, venturing out each day to perform our touristy duties of consuming pasta in Little Italy and making Flicka’s wishes for a funky haircut come true in a basement salon somewhere in Greenwich Village. We narrowly escaped the temptation to purchase miniature turtles at a shop in Chinatown, opting instead for paper parasols and silk pajamas. And we took the Staten Island ferry to Lady Liberty’s place to say hi.

The car now gobbled up the miles along I-80 until we caught sight of a chalet, our timeshare for the week, nestled in the Pocono Mountains.

“‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’,” I quoted Patrick Swayze’s famous line from the 1987 flick. “Fun that the movie was set here.”

“Pretty sure it was the Catskills,” Husband said.

I circled back to the eighties. “I think you’re right.”

We climbed forty-plus steps to our lodging, dumped our luggage on the living room floor, and the girls scattered to their new rooms. But Dicka took a spill, catching her nasal septum on the edge of the coffee table. Blood pulsed from her nose.

“Oh, wonderful.” I darted into the kitchen, grabbed swaths of paper towels, and returned to the scene of the accident where Husband was cupping his hands under the deluge.

The bleeding finally stanched, we tugged on our swimsuits and set out for water. We located the pool, teeming with vacationers, and jumped in. My ducklings, clad in swim wings and goggles, bobbed in the deep end with Husband and me.

New York accents mingled with Southern drawls. And was that German? Italian too? A sampling of the world floated in the pool along with us.

“I’ve never seen a suit like that before,” Flicka said, gazing at a Muslim girl in full-body swimwear.

I nodded. Then I peered at the water and wrinkled my nose. “And I’ve never seen so much hair in a pool before.”

Husband cringed. “Can’t be good for the pool’s filter.”

The next morning in the fitness center, I lowered myself into another pool for aqua aerobics class. My classmates, a handful of older ladies decked in floral swim caps and Long Island accents, chattered amongst themselves, their raspy voices betraying their habit which I had seen them stub out into the ashtray by the door.

We worked our arms using Styrofoam noodles, gripped the edge of the pool for our leg lifts, and hop-twisted—Jack LaLanne style—through a few songs. The women chitchatted again during the cool-down, and I wondered if I could: 1. say ‘Larry’ in a Long Island accent like the woman who so often mentioned her husband, and 2. find a swim cap as cute as any of theirs.

“Let’s run to Blockbuster,” Husband said when I returned to the chalet.

Since the family was ready to go, I slipped on my long grey sweater over my swimsuit and trekked out the door with them. We drove to a nearby town, but as I stepped inside the video store, reality smacked me: we were no longer in a resort, and my attire was utterly inappropriate for the setting. What was I thinking, not getting dressed? I squared my shoulders, closing my sweater tightly around me while we perused movie titles.

We found more than an afternoon’s worth of entertainment and proceeded to the checkout line. A male voice wafted to me from behind.

“Ma’am? Ma’am?” said the voice.

Was he calling me? I turned to face a young man. “Hm?”

“Your dress is up, ma’am,” he said, like he was pleased to save me from embarrassment.

My face heated. I extricated the hem of my sweater from the leg hole of my swimsuit—how had it gotten there anyway?—with a harrumph. “Thanks.”

I whirled to face forward again. ‘Your dress’? It’s a sweater, thank you very much, I felt like saying. To cover my swimsuit, if you don’t mind.

 

We remember our trip to the Poconos in 2007 as one of our favorites. We’ve still never witnessed a nose gusher like Dicka’s. “Ma’am? Ma’am? Your dress is up, ma’am” is a well-worn quote in our house now. And I shudder every time we recount stories of the hairy pool.

But would we go back to that timeshare in the Poconos? In a heartbeat.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Kris

I met her the day Prince died.

My phone pinged the alert of the celebrity’s death as I pulled up a chair at a table in the banquet room of a suburban church. What had happened to the musician whose work marked my teen years? He had collapsed in an elevator in his home, a news source said, but the cause of death was unknown. I slipped my phone into my purse, turning my thoughts back to the luncheon honoring Safe Families for Children host moms.

Kris sat at my table. And other women settled in too. Over lunch, we spoke of the unpredictability of nurturing kids who didn’t belong to us. Advanced cases of head lice, trips to Urgent Care for fungus or urinary tract infections, burs stuck in Afros, cussing two-year-olds. Because the call to be Jesus’ hands on this earth isn’t exactly glamorous business.

We talked about why we did it.

“I grew up in fear,” Kris said. “Fear of violence, but mostly the fear of never knowing what would happen to me and my mom.”

There was no space in her skin for self-pity. But from across the table, I could feel her resolve; over and over again, she gave kids a respite from fear.

“Let’s get together sometime,” she said to me when the event ended.

We exchanged numbers. Between us, ideas swirled. We both had our own older children, but we could arrange play dates for our new ones. And in a pinch, we could do childcare for each other.

We’re out shopping, Kris texted one day, attaching a picture of a tiny sweater dress on a store hanger. Then came a picture of the recipient of the dress—her newest little houseguest—riding in a shopping cart. The toddler, clutching a toy, peered out of the picture with wide brown eyes.

Cutie, I texted back. I want that dress.

I’ll grab you one.

Can I live at your house for a few weeks? And you can buy me toys too?

Well, yeah.

Kris’ place was Noah’s ark. Two retired senior greyhounds, a chubby brown dog, two big-boned cats, and a sassy bunny. And when little ones climbed on board to safety too, she used healthy food and a sensible schedule to turn them into happy kids in two days flat.

Kris and I met for lunches and chats and grew a friendship beyond the kids.

Do you like U2? she texted me one day in May. Her husband had a conflict and couldn’t travel with her to Miami for the concert anymore. All expenses are covered. Wanna go?

I used one full breath to think about it. I’m in! What do I owe you?

Just your life.

But she wouldn’t have had to say it.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Stuck

I frittered away two hours on the phone last night, struggling to communicate with a customer service person. English was her second language, and I tried to follow the important string of numbers she rattled off. I asked again, but still missed it. Could she repeat it a third time? We were disconnected, and I called back. This time, a new person came on the line. English wasn’t his specialty either.  

Stuck.

Garbage was strewn around the alley this morning again. More bills for co-pays arrived, reminding me we’re healthy in spite of our eight doctor visits in the past six weeks. Today the grocery list by the fridge spilled over, even though I shopped yesterday. A damp bath towel skulked around that one kid’s room—never mind my reminders over the years to not let damp bath towels skulk around her room.

Stuck.

My manuscript has its own special folder for rejections. “You’re an excellent writer, but we’ll have to pass”, “Don’t let this particular ‘no’ discourage you, and please consider us for your future stories”, “Your work is clever and has merit, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for at this time.”

Stuck.

My companion since high school—the pain in my back in that little spot under my right scapula—reminds me I’m made of flesh. And I clench my teeth at night, my dentist says. Probably because I can’t control my life during the day.

Stuck.

For years, I’ve battered the throne room of heaven for certain people I love, begging for their financial freedom, spiritual transformation, physical healing. On this side of eternity, though, I don’t see anything new.

Stuck.

But each new day has new mercies, so I sit with my French Roast now, asking for a reset, a fresh outlook. An unstuck attitude.

And then comes the soft reminder: it’s not what it looks like.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

 

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The goodbye

“Can I bring over a bottle of wine?” our next door neighbor, Dallas, said on the phone one evening in March. “I have something to tell you guys, and I want to do it in person.”

“Noooooo!” I said. “I know what you’re going to say.”

Husband eyed me, furrowing his brow.

Dallas chuckled. “So now’s good?”

“Of course. Come.”

Dallas came to the front door, his six-foot-six-inch frame towering on our front porch—always a welcome sight. He handed me a Cabernet, and I motioned for him to sit at the dining room table with us. Soon, my fear was confirmed.

Dallas was moving.

The day we brought newborn Dicka home from the hospital in 2004 was the day Dallas moved in next door. He had intended to fix up the house and flip it within two years, but had stayed for thirteen instead.

Husband and I listened to the details of his new house just a mile away in Robbinsdale. It was his dream—another place to renovate, away from the inner city and its intricacies.

Over the following weeks, Dallas painted and repaired and tidied the property. He passed from his garage to the house and back again, and I heard the voices of my little girls from summers past.

“Hi, Dallas!” they called to our neighbor as he emerged from his house and headed for the garage. They scrambled around our back yard in princess costumes, waving wands, or in swimsuits, toting squirt guns.

He hollered hi back and waved, disappearing into his garage. He reappeared with tools or materials, pointed for the house again.

“Hi, Dallas!” they shouted a second time.

He laughed and yelled hello. Into the house and back out for more supplies.

“Hi, Dallas!”

I cringed. “Oh girls.” Would their constant hooting get on his nerves?

Later I found out he hadn’t minded all the attention. He hadn’t minded one bit.

Over the years, Dallas accepted our last-minute invitations for pizza nights or fires in the fire pit. He insisted we snip his tulips or forage his gardens for berries, tomatoes, rhubarb, and more. If his yard was a polished adult, ours was an awkward teenager, but he was patient with us. We played the eternal game of Who Can Get Out and Shovel the Other’s Snow First? with him. He usually won. In 2006, I cried when I told him about Dad dying; in 2014, he cried when he told me about his dad passing away.

After a busy weekend of running loads over to the new place, Dallas phoned me on Monday morning.

“Well, this is it. I’m leaving now.”

“I’ll be right out,” I said. “I need a picture of us.”

We posed in front of his house, and my friend snapped our photo. Behind us, his tulips had finished blooming.

Later, I texted him: The only reason I didn’t cry when you left today was because I know we’ll see you soon.

He texted back: Love you too.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The piano: Part 2

Flicka perched on the piano bench, squinting at a page of music.

“I can’t do it,” she said, flopping her hands onto the keyboard. She mashed the keys with her forehead. My girl’s drama skills dazzled me. Maybe she was better suited for the stage.

“You can do it,” I said. “But not all at once. Take one measure at a time.”

Four years of instruction were mandatory in our house. And each year, Flicka wrote No more piano lessons on her birthday and Christmas lists. Finally, her wish came true.

“Okay, you’re off the hook,” I announced.

She nearly squeezed out my innards. “Thank you, Mama. Thank you.”

Her sisters shared her opinion. Daily, I encouraged and cajoled and bribed them to practice. And most days, their tears dripped onto the keys. Where was their love of piano? Or their passion for making music?

Safe Families kids we hosted gravitated to the musical antique, and other guests sometimes plinked out melodies or showcased their talents on it too.  

But mostly, the giant sat in silence.

It acted as a shelf for artwork and mail, coffee cups and car keys. It served as a backdrop for photos and a surface for dust. I needed its bench sometimes, which I scooted to the dining room table for extra seating.

“We should get rid of the piano,” Husband said after fifteen years of ownership. “No one’s playing it, and it just takes up space.”

“What?” My eyes widened. “No! Every house needs a piano.”

“Okay.”

But I mulled over Husband’s suggestion as I chauffeured girls to badminton, volleyball, and softball. The thought of the piano’s absence rattled me, but the truth shook me more: We were a sports—and not music—family. My girls had traded scales for serves, chords for courts, and clefs for cleats. And by default, so had I. In spite of all my childhood piano lessons, I neglected the instrument too. It needed love and attention again.

I emailed Clark: We’re ready to let the piano go. Any idea who might want it?

He connected me with my second cousin Lars who lived with his family in a new house on the old homestead once belonging to Lars' grandparents, Chester and Helga, the original owners of the piano. Yes, Lars wanted the piano. Yes, he and his boys could come and get it. And yes, it would once again make a trip the length of Minnesota in an open trailer.

“Ready to make some music?” Husband said to Lars and his boys.

They inched the oak monstrosity through our front door and down the steps.

“Don’tletanyonegetcrushedDon’tletanyonegetcrushed,” I whispered, peeking through my fingers at their progress.

At last, our roommate of fifteen years creaked onto the trailer. The guys swaddled it in blankets and straps, tucking it in for the highway.

Goodbye, sweet tunes. Have a safe trip home.

Left photo: The piano looking on at story time. Right photo: The piano posing behind a masked Clark with a young Lars (the piano's new owner, left) and Maren (right).

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

The piano: Part 1

Moorhead, Minnesota; summer of 1988

Clark rubbed a knot out of his neck as he rode shotgun in the Suburban. It had been a long day, culminating in near calamity. He and his buddy Dick had muscled Clark’s childhood piano—a Kingsbury upright, manufactured in 1913—from the Moorhead American Legion’s barmaid’s sister’s house where the piano had stayed for a few years and helped out her kids. But as the two men hefted it out, the eight-hundred pound instrument pinned Clark’s leg to the stairs. Finally free of the weight and minus lasting injuries, he and Dick heaved it outside and onto a snowmobile trailer. They covered it with blankets and tarps and ran three straps lengthwise and two from top to bottom, securing it for the trip.   

Now at 10:30 p.m. on a warm June night, the musical giant was on the move again, headed for Clark’s apartment in the Twin Cities.  

Behind the wheel, Dick flipped through radio stations, clicking past some classical music: Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. Clark eased out a breath. Music from his past. After his father Chester passed away in 1975, he moved—at the age of twenty-nine—back to the homestead outside of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, to where his mother Helga lived in the early stages of dementia. Those were the piano years, and the most time Clark had ever spent playing the old Kingsbury.

As a young woman, Helga knew how to chord on the piano to accompany musicians, but she had never learned to read music, so she determined her children would. Now that Clark was home again, music swirled throughout the house. She beamed when her son worked hymns from the piano’s old keys; even when he played scales, Helga smiled. And he learned the first two movements of Sonata Pathétique, especially focusing on the slower one—the part he thought was the most beautiful music ever written.

“Not lookin’ so good back there,” Dick said, squinting into the rearview mirror.

Clark flicked his gaze to the trailer. The piano swayed from side to side. Dick signaled and took the next exit. The men checked their work.

“The straps are still tight,” Clark said.

“Seems so.”

“Let’s just go. If it makes it, it makes it. If not, fine.”

Dick slid behind the wheel again and Clark hopped into his seat. As they traveled along the freeway in the pale moonlight, Dick fiddled with the radio again, and they listened to the Twins playing a game in Oakland until after midnight.

They finished their trek from Moorhead to Minneapolis without another look back.

 

Minneapolis, Minnesota; fall of 2002

The phone rang. I glanced at the display: my dad’s first cousin, Clark. I hushed Ricka and Flicka, ages one and two years old, scampering around my feet.

“You never call me anymore,” I said into the receiver.

Clark’s laugh reverberated across the phone lines. “Say, I have an offer for you.”

“Oh, good.”

“Do you want a piano?”

My eyes pooled. Every house needed a piano, and our new-to-us home in north Minneapolis was no exception. But I had never dreamed I would have one—or at least this soon. “Yes.”

“Come and get it.”

Husband solicited the help of a piano moving company to collect the behemoth beauty from Clark’s place across town. It sprawled the length of one wall in our living room, as if it had been created for the space. As I ran a hand along its oak expanse, I smiled at the piano’s restoration. In the early nineties, Clark had paid to have the keyboard and hammers replaced after a Jerry Lee Lewis wannabe had given the ivories a good pounding.

I settled onto the bench, and my hands hovered above the keys. The first chord.

“Me, me.” Ricka had pulled herself to standing and now smacked the piano bench with her palms.

“Of course,” I said, drawing her into my lap. “This is for you.”

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

7 Mile

I posted a picture on the North Minneapolis virtual garage sale page along with the following plea:

ISO a belt like this one that I can buy or borrow for the Def Leppard concert Friday night.

“If no one comes through, check out 7 Mile,” said an administrator of the site. “They have belts like that for about $8.00.”

The next day, Husband and I set out for 7 Mile in North Minneapolis in search of my rock ‘n’ roll belt.

One foot in the store and I spied the belts hanging in the back, but clothing racks along my route snagged my attention.

“Nice,” I said, pulling out a pair of running leggings. “Thicker than I would've guessed. And only $11.99?”

Husband plucked a Dickie’s work shirt from a nearby shelf.

“That looks like you,” I said.

Then I spotted a romper in the next aisle and picked up a hat to go with it. “I want this outfit. Take a picture of it, will you?”

Husband snapped a photo, but then I remembered my many trips around the sun. Maybe three decades ago…

I headed for the belts, but the next aisles lured me. Wigs, weaves, and extensions of all kinds. I poked through the goods. I had always imagined showing up at an event with a ponytail as long as Marcia Brady’s. Two women who spoke Somali peered at the same packages I was eyeing. Maybe they had the same idea too.

Lost in the varying hair shades, but finding none that matched my particular blonde, I stopped myself. What was I doing? I had come for a belt.

I made a beeline to the back of the store. Belts of all colors hung like party streamers, and I grinned like a six year old as I sifted through the array, sparkles and studs abounding. My gaze landed on The One. Black genuine leather with grommets. Only $5.99. Then I frowned.

“Do you have any more sizes than these?” I asked the manager.

“Sorry.” He rattled off something in Spanish into his headset, then turned back to me. “We’re getting more in two weeks.”

An employee approached him. “A guy just stole a t-shirt.”

The manager jogged away.

“I can trim the belt for you at home,” said Husband.

At the checkout counter brimmed more temptations.

Husband pointed to some phone charging cords. “Only $3.99. We should get a couple of these to replace the ones that were stolen.”

Several nights earlier, our security camera had captured six guys rifling through our Jetta in the driveway. The only time we had forgotten to lock the car and just like that, our charging cords had flitted from our lives.

I wrinkled my nose. “Oh, that’s right.”

At least 7 Mile had us covered. We paid for our goodies and exited the store.

“I’m coming back here,” I said, smiling at Husband.

“I know you are.”

7 Mile Discount Clothing and Beauty Supply is located at 611 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis, MN, 55411

 

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Still more windows

A few weeks ago, I invited my readers to share what they see from their windows. Twelve people submitted their views. You can read the first six here. Enjoy the final six today!

 

*****

Today, like many days, I stood at my kitchen window and watched a goofy pitbull bark fiercely at something. Lala comes out my neighbor's back door and barks. Barks some more. Does her dog stuff. Goes back inside. I like to hope she's barking at the squirrels who have taken up residence in my attic. I yell at them when I'm outside, too. And when I see Lala, I tell her that she's a good dog and to keep up the good work.

 

Paula, Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

*****

Windows - I love them! We are so thankful our new home/apartment has many of them. They serve many functions: to protect from heat, cold, rain, snow, wind. They also serve to let the world into one’s home. The first thing I do each morning is open the blinds. Without doing that I can start to feel claustrophobic. I need the light, the sun, and the breezes when they are open. They serve to refresh a person. I cannot understand how people can leave the shades or curtains closed all day. Just think of all they are missing out on in letting a bit of the world in to ones inside world. At our new home we discovered that during the winter months we get to see both the sunrise (through the window over the kitchen sink) and the sunset (through the window in the living room and in the two bedroom windows.) It is absolutely amazing to see God's beauty with such incredible colors and formations. We are very grateful for our windows.

 

Arleen, Fergus Falls, Minnesota

 

*****

Usually I look out on a brownish lawn seeing cars flash by as people begin their way to work. Today, there is a heavy, heavy fog down to the road itself. I see the brake lights on a car from my home waiting to get onto the road. I have watched it rise over the last 2 hours. It brightens up as the fog lifts. However, there is still no sun in the sky. Maybe later.

 

Amy, New Hope, Minnesota

 

*****

My kitchen has two walls of windows, covered with prints of so many little fingers and slobber from an overly eager black lab. But the view beyond is beautiful and not too different, I imagine, from what it was 150 years ago when the house was new. And everything I see—children on the playset, hummingbirds at the feeder, the line of poplars we planted a few years back—is placed in front of a watery backdrop. The millpond. The river running through it ending in a waterfall not far from the house. The pond is the first thing I notice each morning. It can be smooth as glass or flowing swiftly. It can be stirred up brown and muddy after a thunderstorm, occasionally even washing over the top of the dock after a particularly heavy rain. Or littered with colorful autumn leaves. In the winter it is white, flat, and dead. But in the spring it comes alive. As the ice breaks into white chunks, river otters slide and dive, chasing each other in the icy cold water. Eventually the Canada geese land and stay for a day or two on their way back north. The blue heron stands majestically in the early morning mist gulping down baby rainbow trout the DNR has just released into the pond. And bald eagles swoop low to snag daring fish swimming too close to the surface. The view through my windows is always beautiful. Always peaceful. Always serene. Unlike the view on the inside.

 

Hope, Cataract, Wisconsin

 

*****

After reading your piece, Windows, I looked out and spotted my first robin this spring. Here’s my morning view. Always looking up!

 

Emily, Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

*****

One of my views to the world this spring comes through a yet-to-be-washed window. The gnarled willow tree has witnessed events and people (family reunions, grandkids home for a short visit, even an outdoor wedding!) over many years here at the farm, long before we moved to this place. Now I see an unoccupied tire swing moving gently in today’s breeze. Like the faintly drawn balloons floating above the heads of the characters in the Family Circus cartoons, I also imagine people who once stood or played in that spot or climbed that gnarled tree. But that mind picture does not make me either melancholy or sad. Although I am frustrated after a strong wind which brings down more willow branches than I care to pick up, that tree makes my view a treasured memories scrapbook.

 

Avis, Newfolden, Minnesota

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

Finished

A local publication, The Lutheran Ambassador, asked me to write a story about the women of Easter, based on the account in the Gospel of Mark. This piece was published in the April 2017 issue (Vol. 55, No. 4). Enjoy!

*****

Jesus shifted on the iron spikes, and his head drooped. From a distance, my friends and I watched—and prayed. That morning, soldiers had shredded my Lord with their whips and strung him up on a cross to die, but now they laughed as if sharing a joke at the market instead of in this place where hell touched earth. My stomach roiled, and I took a deep breath to quell the nausea.  

Salome looped her arm around mine. “But he was going to be king.” Her features twisted, and she searched my face. “He can’t die, Mary. He can’t.”

Another Mary, the mother of James and Joses, peered at me, and her chin wobbled.

“Maybe we didn’t understand,” I said. “Maybe he knew something we didn’t. And it was better.” But my heart clenched like a fist, refusing to let go.

The one who is forgiven much, loves much.

Years earlier, I had loved nothing. My broken body had housed a shattered mind. Illnesses, accidents, and compulsions battered me. Once, I even thrashed into the flames of my cooking fire. Afterward, I writhed in the dirt in blistered skin; my hours melted into blackness.  

But then came Jesus. He rested his hand on me, calling out the seven demons that had tormented me.

“Mary Magdalene,” he said. And for the first time, my name had sounded like beauty. “It is finished.”

And it was.

The crowds at the cross scattered, exposing us women, huddled far from where the masses had jeered or sobbed. Many of Jesus’ followers had vanished too. But my heart anchored me to the soil. How could I leave my Lord to his pain when he had saved me from mine?

Jesus struggled against his nails and scanned the meager gathering. Then his gaze rested on me. Those eyes that had once seen through my affliction still saw me.

“It is finished,” he cried out.

The same words that had made me new.

His muscles twitched; his head slumped. The sky darkened, and although only mid-afternoon, shadows draped the body of my Savior. Jesus was gone.

A rich man named Joseph carried Jesus’ body to a tomb in his garden. Mary and I trailed him and hid behind a tree as we watched the man spread ointment and spices onto fresh linens. And then he wrapped our friend. The burial complete, Joseph heaved a stone into place to seal the entrance to the grave. Dusk was approaching; the Sabbath was near. And I had work to do.

I scurried home and scooped sweet spices into a bowl, my hands trembling. I thumbed away tears as I stirred. The day before, I had prepared the meal for Jesus’ supper in the upper room with his followers. If only I were mixing oil into the flour for bread tonight instead of oil with perfumes to anoint my friend’s body. If only I were roasting the lamb with thyme and rosemary instead of blending my tears with myrrh and aloes. If only I had known then what was to come.

 

On the first day of the week, I squinted at the early rays of light that sliced through the darkness of my house. The start of a new week without my Jesus. How would I live without him?

A knock at the door. I unlatched it. Mary and Salome stood outside, each holding a bowl. Grief had stripped their faces of color and rimmed their eyes with purple.

“I’m ready,” I said, my own bowl of spices cradled in one arm.

Gravel crunched under our sandals, and dew drenched the hems of our tunics as we trudged to the garden.

“Oh no,” said Salome. “How will we anoint his body? Remember the stone? It’s too big for us.” A sob jostled her words. “Who will move it?”

I inhaled a shaky breath. “I don’t know.”

Mary gripped her bowl in both hands. She stared into the distance, her mouth a straight line.

In the garden, the crocuses exploded in yellow and the hyacinths in pink. White narcissus curled around our path. Where were these flowers two days ago? Or had our sadness hidden them? They bloomed now—the bougainvillea as profuse as forgiveness and the lilies as fragrant as hope. 

We neared the grave. But what was that up ahead?

I gasped. “The stone’s already been moved.”

I hurried into the tomb, and my friends followed. A young man, in a robe whiter than light, sat inside. Salome shrieked. My heart hammered, and my bowl clattered onto the stone floor, spilling the spices. Terror clawed its way up my throat. Mary splayed a hand over her mouth.

“Don’t be afraid,” said the young man. “You’re looking for Jesus who was crucified. But he’s not here. He’s risen.” He stood and gestured toward the door. “Go and tell his disciples.”

My friends and I clambered from the tomb and scrambled back onto the path. We clutched the fabric of our skirts and ran. Blinded by joy, we forgot all about our tear-soaked beds, our morning’s task at the tomb, and the spices we had abandoned somewhere along the way.

Because it didn’t matter anymore.

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

 

More windows

Last week, I asked you what you saw through your windows. Here are some of my readers’ views:

*****

There is a funeral home outside my office window. Most of the time the parking lot is empty, but occasionally it will fill with cars. Sometimes it’s only a few and other times the lot will be full. Invariably, people step out, women typically in dresses and men in suits or sport coats. You can easily tell which of the men aren’t used to wearing such attire by the fuss they make with their ties and their stiff gait walking in. The younger and middle-aged adults try to stall the inevitable: they check to make sure every door is locked, examine their reflection in the car window, look around (maybe for the nearest Menard’s?) and mourn the remainder of the cigarette they have to stamp out. Most of the seniors park in the front spaces as if they were reserved for them ahead of time. They walk in with a sense of duty. Children never seem to know the difference; they race up to the doors of the funeral home as if they were going to Target. I wonder if they know their chances of getting an Icee or a soft pretzel is pretty low...

One of the coolest things I’ve seen is a group of 20 or more Harley Davidson motorcycles pull in and form a ‘color guard’ of sorts around the parking lot. Without a word each of the leather-vested riders left their bikes and holding various flags, stood sentry along the sidewalks leading up to the doors. The flow of how this unfolded made me pretty sure they’ve done this before. Interestingly, a few of the riders did not go in for the service but remained standing, holding their flags. I wonder if that day, they were one biker short.

Jason, Plymouth, Minnesota

*****

My office is in the finished attic of our garage. Windows look out in three directions. From my desk I can look to the south to the road the ambulance came down the morning my forty-eight-year-old neighbor, an enthusiastic weekend visitor to our lake, dropped dead with a heart attack. Two windows look toward the lake—one to the left of my desk, the other over the little table where I refill my tea mug while I ponder the next scene of my work-in-progress. Today there are no leaves, and the water is steel-gray through the bare tree trunks. Soon it will be warm enough to open all four windows and catch the breeze along with the scents and sounds of the Northwoods, but by then my view of the lake will be obscured with leaves. One autumn evening a few years ago, I came out of my office and glimpsed the glow of sunset on the houses across the lake. I shot this with my phone. 

LeAnne, northwestern Wisconsin

*****

I’ll miss my bedroom window view from the homestead of my folks. It is beautiful with rolling hills, perfect for sledding, apple trees where the cows and we kids liked to munch, and the ever mysterious and beckoning woods. The next several weeks will be bittersweet as we clear everything out after the sale. The view in the near future will be a natural gas plant.

Today’s view, from my kitchen sink, is the trees (including a transplanted spruce from the homestead), the trampoline, now set up for summer, and the fort with the door and windows wide open.

Linda, Eben Junction, Michigan

*****

I notice as I look out of my dining room window this March morning that the dust and dirt from 5 long months of winter needs to be cleaned off.  The sun is coming up and promises a beautiful spring day. Because I am concentrating on the beautiful sunrise, I don’t immediately notice all the branches the winter wind has blown all over my yard. The snow is almost all melted except for a few small patches along the north side of the barn.  There was a time as a young wife and mother that I looked forward to the warm spring weather that is promised to me today. The children loved to be outside with me and “clean” the yard.  We would have such fun while we worked and the fresh air promised they would take a long nap that afternoon.  The farm fields I see from my window are now black with ribbons of water in the ditches waiting for the huge road ditches to thaw so all the water can drain to the river two miles away. My husband has lined his tractors, cultivators, and seeder in a row in the yard by the shop.  Each one is ready to be used as the sun and wind dry the many fields he needs to plant.  I watch him out there, with his cup of coffee, walking around each machine checking to see that it is ready to be used this spring. This is the 43rd spring that I have watched this ritual. I am grateful and I am weary.

Barb, Thief River Falls, Minnesota

*****

On the rare March evening when the jungle kingdom of northern Thailand drops below one hundred degrees, I abandon the dim cool netherworld of air conditioning and blackout curtains for the fan-propelled humidity of the city. Around six a.m., the room fills with the brilliant pink-and-mango glow of the sun—that relentless orange beast, friendly and excessive, with which we are so familiar here—and the neighborhood is greeted with the almost-musical cacophony of motorbikes and tropical birds. They wrench off in a blur of noise to start their days, and my eyes creak open. So much for sleeping late.

I sit down to my desk and peer out the front-facing window. Behind the stretch of balconied houses and banana trees rise the mountains in a wall of smoke-dappled violet. The burning has just finished. I think of my friend's parents, among the farmers who have harvested their rice fields and lit the chaff, filling the city with smoke. Most days we only notice for the slight tickling sensation in our noses, and even that, we don't mind much. It is a time of celebration, when skinny students bring back massive bags of their parents' crop and eat freely for months. And now has come the earned reward of long sleep, perfect for lethargic hot season—if you can sleep through the tireless beauty of this place. 

Dori, Chiang Mai, Thailand

*****

Love my big back yard

Two plus hours to beautify

Very worth the wait

 

Jay, Humble, Texas

*****

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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