Trips to the dump

I thought of my grandpa the other day as a baby bee brushed against my fingers.

Things fell apart the summer I turned 13. My grandpa fell trying to get out of bed in the morning and spent the summer in the hospital trying to walk again. It was the year after my brother Matt spent the summer in the hospital. My grandpa wasn’t the same after that. He was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. Before he came home a wheelchair ramp was added and the bathroom was remodeled to accommodate a wheelchair. He never walked again.

Maybe that was the year things got harder for me. My grandma was one of Matt’s biggest caregivers and now she needed to take care of my grandpa. That put a lot of pressure on me and I stopped my social life before it really even started to help take care of my brother.

But before grandpa got sick, we had some good times together. He used to take me fishing. I must have talked his ear off because he told me I was scaring the fish away with my incessant chatter. Many years later I found out this wasn’t true.

We also had our occasional Saturday morning trips to the dump. Grandpa would back his truck into our driveway to pick up our garbage which wasn’t a lot since we had a burning barrel and a compost pile. My parents are hoarders, so only true garbage was thrown away like used cat litter. Although sometimes that was used in the winter on the ice. Everything had a use or purpose even when it didn’t. Some rooms of the house and even the garage were dedicated junk piles. It was one of the zillion reasons I didn’t have friends over often. Apparently most people seem to find hoarding off-putting.

But anyway, the trips to the dump with my grandpa were wonderful. He was friends with the dump man who was also a hoarder. I swear the guy would go through everyone’s garbage to find treasures to take home. There were bags of garbage everywhere, some were burning in a big pit.

The dump was sandy and smoky. It wasn’t a good place to be on a windy day. But when there wasn’t wind, there were bees. The dump man said I didn’t need to be afraid of the bees. He told me to put out my finger and the little bees would land on it. I did and they tickled my finger. Since then I’ve never been afraid of bees or wasps and they have never hurt me. Of all the things I am afraid of, I’m not generally afraid of animals. My dad was afraid of spiders so he never used them to terrify me. Win, win I guess.

My grandpa and I made several trips to the dump because we were looking for the perfect bike. The dump man started setting aside the bikes for us that others threw away. Then one day we found the perfect piece of junk. Grandpa lovingly painted it purple, my favorite color. He put on a new chain, new tires, and a new sparkly purple banana seat.

One day I outgrew the little one speed bike. My last birthday before grandpa got sick, he took me to the store to buy a bike kit so he could put a ten speed together for me. It meant a lot because he bought it new and also because he took me to the store to buy it. That was the first and last time I remember my grandpa going inside a public place. He refused to leave the house after he was wheelchair bound. We had to fight with him to go to the doctor when he needed to go. He didn’t even go to my wedding. He would even panic if grandma was gone for more than an hour or two.

So when I saw the little bee buzz by the other day, I put out my finger to say hello. It instantly took me back to the trips to the dump. How crazy to have the trips to the dump be one of my fondest childhood memories. I am thankful for that though. My younger brothers barely remember the good times with grandpa before he was in a wheelchair.

 

 

Lilacs, mushrooms, roadkill, and dandelion wine 

Every year when the lilacs bloom, I think of Darryl.

Darryl is my husband’s step-dad. He is a rugged outdoors man of the wild north woods. He doesn’t even have (gasp) internet. Except for being a non smoker, he is reminiscent of the Marlboro man of old. He is tall, lean, and ruggedly handsome for a man in his early 60’s. He has a head full of thick wavy hair. He works full-time as a forklift driver. He is a hard worker and has many other side jobs such as janitor, chimney sweep, and lumberjack. In the winter, he hooks up a plow to his pick up truck to earn some extra money. In the summer, he works in his massive garden.

Darryl lives off the land. In the fall, he is a deer hunter. He even goes black powder hunting. He processes his own venison. He takes the hides from the deer and sews his own clothing. In the winter, he goes ice fishing. In summer, he fishes from his boat. Life for Darryl is simple yet satisfying.

Darryl also picks up roadkill. One time he picked up a dead raccoon off the side of the road. He threw it into a crock pot and served it to my kids telling them it was chicken. They loved it.

I have learned over the years not to eat any of Darryl’s food. He has been known to leave brats in the fridge for months then serve them. Sometimes his food has a funny taste to it. He seems to have a strong constitution though.

Darryl also makes his own wine. He never follows a recipe when he makes his wine out of unusual ingredients such as potatoes or dandelions. It doesn’t always taste the greatest and sometimes has a high alcohol content. People have been known to spend the evening sick after a few glasses. In fact, a couple of weeks ago Paul and Darryl shared a bottle of wine while out fishing. Darryl lost his balance and fell out of the boat. Then he fell several more times on his walk back home. If Darryl offers me his wine, I tell him that I am strictly a beer drinker which isn’t entirely true.

Darryl says that every year when the lilacs bloom, the morel mushrooms are ready. Morel mushrooms are a very expensive delicacy in these parts. One year, he asked us if we wanted to go mushroom hunting with him. It sounded like an adventure, so we went. We combed the woods and found a few. On the car ride home, my skin was crawling with ticks. Darryl and Paul decided to fry up their mushrooms for supper that night. I don’t like mushrooms and was a tad bit worried when they wanted to eat their find since there is a false morel mushroom which is similar but poisonous. Darryl was fixated on mushrooms for awhile and even started carving a large intricate mushroom out of wood.

By far the most interesting story I heard about Darryl happened the time that he cut his leg open with a chain saw. Now Darryl is the cheapest guy that I know. He has been known to dumpster dive or collect items that others don’t want. In fact, he is a bit of a hoarder. His house is decorated in vintage 1970’s mismatched furniture. He has two refrigerators in his kitchen, one works and the other he uses for storage. After he cut his leg with a chain saw, he was too cheap to go to the doctor to get his leg stitched up. So he did it himself. He took a needle and some fish line and sewed it right up. He could win a survival competition hands down (or even tied behind his back)!

Darryl sure is an eccentric fellow. 

 

 

What frozen tundra?

It has been raining a lot since yesterday. Water pools on the green grass and harvested fields. Wait, what? Green grass? Isn’t the tundra supposed to be frozen this time of year in Wisconsin?

The constant dripping of the rain like a tapping on little drums awakens me from my slumber. Yesterday I awoke to the rumble of distant thunder. It was as if my grandpa woke me up on the 15th anniversary of his death to reminisce about summer. Think of the better days…the days when we were all together, not of the dark days that I have been gone..

I have never heard of a thunderstorm here in December. It should’ve been a blizzard. On very rare occasion, I have witnessed snow thunder probably two or three times in my life. Snow storms and thunderstorms usually don’t mix. But we didn’t get any snow yet, just rain. It has been very warm for this time of year. This month we broke some record high temps and are on schedule to have the 5th warmest year ever recorded. Yesterday I even saw geese flying north. The birds seem as confused as we are. I am not complaining. I was able to run outside several times already this December. I have never been able to run outside in December before.

The ice fishermen are complaining though. In about two weeks, the ice should be thick enough to walk on. In January, you should be able to drive a truck on the ice. But this year the ice hasn’t started forming yet. Some people have been desperate enough to get their boats out of storage. It’s a shame, we could’ve gone sailing. I’m sorry, if I’d known that buying cross country skis last year would have this kind of effect on our winters, I wouldn’t have done it. Geez.

On these dreary days, I just want to sleep or curl up next to the fireplace with a good book. Except I don’t have a fireplace. So I will settle with curling up next to the Christmas tree with a good blog.

Christmas with the in-laws

It is Christmas Eve in the year 2000, my baby and I are sick. I haven’t been able to leave the house. That prompted me to write in this journal even though it has been almost 5 years since the last time I wrote. It has been a hard Christmas this year. Aside from having a 2 year old and a baby, my grandpa passed away a week and a half ago. I haven’t been able to sing in church this year because I lost my voice and ended up changing a lot of plans for the funeral.

Tonight my in-laws came over for a Christmas Eve supper. We made cornish hens, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, bread, bars, and cheesecake for the meal. My in-laws arrived over two hours late. They brought their outdoor dog with them because it is very cold outside tonight. While I was eating supper, I found a dead flea like bug in my corn. It made me lose my appetite, but I didn’t say anything. Later I threw out my corn.

After dishes and presents, it was time to put the kids to bed. While I was doing that, their dog peed all over the carpeting in our new house. My in-laws fought about can openers. Then my mother-in-law said she wasn’t going to church for Christmas because she needed to make slippers. Her husband told her that she needed to get her G. damn priorities straight then promptly fell asleep while Paul read the Christmas story out of the book of Matthew.

They finally left around 11:30 PM. We spent a half an hour cleaning up the 2 big piles of dog crap that we found. After this Christmas, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Cool, warmth

It has been a warm October. The jack ‘o lanterns that the kids carved at the harvest party earlier this month turned to squash. They rotted and melted like a witch getting doused in water. I am not complaining. It has allowed me to continue with my summer isn’t over delusion a little bit longer. My grandpa would have had his birthday earlier this month. Usually right around my grandpa’s birthday, my grandma would write flurries on her calendar when the first trace of snow swirled. Her calendar was completely empty except for the word flurries. Sometimes it’s the little things that I miss the most.

I haven’t had to change my running schedule at all due to the weather. I haven’t dusted off the treadmill yet either. Running this time of year does have its challenges though. Earlier this week I ran by a farmer harvesting his corn field. He spooked out a huge rabbit and it ran straight towards me. Difficult decisions ensued for that rabbit once he noticed me. There was nowhere for him to run.

Today I had my monthly 18 mile run. The last few miles were painful and hard to endure. Every muscle was screaming at me to stop. I made it though. It took me 2 months to recover from my knee pain from the marathon. I have been running the last 2 weeks relatively pain free. This gives me hope that next spring I can sign up for another marathon and beat the crap out of myself again. Whoo hoo!

Confirmed, part 1 

I am sitting inside watching the rain fall like little tears from heaven. I sit and think. Thinking again. I am waiting. Waiting for the rain to stop. Waiting for a large Saturday morning cup of coffee out in my hot tub. It is my tradition. 

When I think of church, I think of traditions. Rituals always done the same way. But what if it rains? What if things change? I have been to many different denominations. Even non traditional churches have their routines. The same similar structures every week. The way it starts, the way things end. The time it ends always the same. Ritualistic, though intending not to be. 

Tomorrow my son is being confirmed in the church we have chosen. It almost didn’t happen. Remember a couple of weeks back when I still wished my grandpa was here with us? He still is here. I see him reflected every day in my son. My son didn’t want to just go along with the rest of the group. He has so many questions, more than answers. Like his great grandpa, he is so full of piss and vinegar to be agreeable to conform. He felt too imperfect to be a Christian. He is honest and I respect that. 

We ended up having a long conversation with our pastor. It came down to my son having to make a decision. Are you with us or not? My husband talked to my son about leaving the door open for God. Faith is not a perfect all or nothing compartment that my son wanted to put it in. He struggles, don’t we all? He questions, shouldn’t we all? 

He decided to get confirmed. He is leaving the God door open. He made a drawing of Jesus carrying a cross through an open door. He also picked the verse of Revelation 3:20. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 

Whether we choose to believe or not, shouldn’t we always be seeking to answer the questions we have in life. To not be stagnant. To not just go with the flow. Life is meaningless without having meaning in it. 

The rain clouds parted, time for my Saturday morning ritual. Then I will put on my Martha apron, cooking and cleaning for the party tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I will be Mary. Always a work in progress….

Gramps, his later years

My grandpa’s life interwove with mine for a total of 26 years. I wish I could weave a story that makes the last half as magical as the first half, but I can’t. Right at the midpoint, the summer of my 13th year, my grandpa developed a rare form of polio. One morning while trying to get out of bed, my grandpa fell to the floor. My dad and great uncle tried to lift him without success. An ambulance came to the house and took him to the hospital where he spent the next couple of months learning how to move again. It was a scary place to go as a child. I saw many people struggling to make simple body movements. The scariest was a teen boy who became paralyzed after a deer went through the windshield of his car. 

After a couple of months, my grandpa came home in a wheelchair. He no longer drove. He didn’t walk and he didn’t leave the house. He spent the early years making Christmas ornaments and clocks.  He also carved fish and ducks. His carvings were so life like that people mistook them for a taxidermists work. Then one day, my grandpa became so frustrated that he told my grandma to put all of his carvings in a box and burn them. She didn’t. I think at this time his arthritis was making it painful for him to continue. It bothered him to not be able to do anything anymore. He would sit in his wheelchair and instruct others how to do their work properly. 

To make matters worse, he needed surgery for prostate cancer, lost his vision due to cataracts, and developed diabetes. My grandma never once complained about being his caregiver. He was very demanding. At times, I would sit with him so grandma could get a ride to the grocery store. He was very panicky if she was not back right away. He wanted me to call the police to see if something happened to her. 

After time, most of my grandpa’s friends and family passed away. The only visitors he got were the Jehovah witnesses. They were kind to him and shared fishing stories. I visited at least once a week. Many times I would sit with my grandpa in silence. After I had kids, he loved to visit with them. He would smile, hold their little hands, and cry. He loved visits with my dog too. 

After 13 years of sickness and struggle, my grandpa went to his final home. He was ready. A few years after that, I was waiting to sing my first solo in church. I saw a man who looked exactly like my grandpa sitting in the back. For a few minutes, I imagined that he was still alive right there with me. I miss our time together. 

Gramps, my young years

If my grandpa was still living, he would have celebrated his 95th birthday today. He was a good man, but full of piss and vinegar. He spent his working life as a mechanic for his parent’s business. Before my time, he owed a Harley but had a hard time with it because he was so short. His friends called him stub, not because of his small stature. They called him that because he was a very stubborn man. A trait that I also have. 

For the first two years of my life, my parents lived with my grandparents. My grandpa was always up at the very crack of dawn drinking his coffee, clanging his spoon on the side of the mug. Rumor has it that he would wake me up and carry me around. But that is not a trait I possess, being a morning person. My grandma and dad were extreme night owls, so it seemed like someone was always awake in that house. I have always been conflicted in this area, I hate getting up early and don’t like staying up late. What does that make me? 

I want to tell you that my grandpa was the most influential man in my life. But for good or bad, my dad probably was. My dad never spent any time with me, but my grandpa did. He took me fishing. He always told me to quiet down or I would scare the fish away. It took me many years to find out that wasn’t true. 

On Saturday morning, he would pick me up and take me to the dump with him. The dump man was his friend and he would always ask if anyone dropped off any bike parts. Then my grandpa would take home the parts and make bikes for me. It was quite impressive. One day my grandpa took me to a store with him to pick out a bike kit. He put together a lovely new bike for me. This meant a lot because my grandpa did not go to public places. This was the only public place I remember him going to willingly, not out of obligation. My grandparents did pick me up to go out to eat, but we always went through the drive thru and ate our meals by the lake. He always drove 10 mph under the speed limit, he was never in a hurry. His life was simple in those days. My grandma didn’t drive so my grandpa would take her into town and wait for her in the truck. 

My grandpa owned a little tree nursery. One day he was going to throw out a dead tree. I wanted to rescue it. I watered it a lot hoping to revive it. Then one day a healthy green tree was there. I saved it. Or so I thought at the time since grandpa put a healthy tree in its place. Too bad I still think overwatering is the answer after a long period of not watering. I don’t have grandpa’s green thumb. He also picked ground cherries for grandma to can. He would take us in the woods to go berry picking. 

My grandpa made an ice shack with Mark. He also made a waiting house for us so that we wouldn’t have to wait at the bottom of our long driveway for the bus in the winter. One day when I was supposed to be in it, the waiting house blew into the ditch from the strong winter winds. I was feverish, mom thought I was hallucinating. Sure enough, it blew into the ditch right before the bus went by. Later this became a cat house for my cat colony. 

Some days I wonder what my grandparents would think of the busy life I created. At times I covet the simple life of the unhurried. The time to sit and talk over a cup of tea. Or other things that don’t happen anymore…unannounced guests. My grandparents always had friends or family stop by to visit. I can’t remember a time where I stopped by to visit someone unannounced. I could probably get together with you in January. Oh wait, sorry my weekends are fully booked until March. Perhaps it will be this way some day when I am a grandparent.