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Uno

There were but a few empty chairs in the waiting room. An elderly man was wrapped in a blanket and nestled into a wheelchair. A little girl held up one finger and said “uno” when I asked her how old she was. She was as precocious as a one-year-old can be. A man with a voice as big and round as his body conversed on his cell phone, working on what appeared to be the deal of the century with someone named Tony who required an ample amount of convincing, though his voice was mercifully muted on the other end of the cell phone line. I sat with a paperback book in my hand. It was a small bit of a mystery situated in a tearoom in Santa Fe. The book could have used the expertise of a better editor, but the story was crafted with a well-honed sense of place – and tea!  What better companion to have in the palm of my hand to pass the time while waiting?

Just as an aria was being performed in the parlor of my book’s historically significant tearoom, the door from the examining rooms burst open. A woman, sobbing audibly, came rushing out. The waiting room stilled. Not a murmur, a hiccup, or word was spoken as the  visibly distraught woman rushed past patients waiting in chairs. She swayed around a corner and landed into what sounded like a couch. I took a deep breath, wondering for a few seconds if I should check on her. I started to rise when another woman got up from her chair and hurried around the corner to comfort the woman and make sure she was okay.

“Can I help you? Are you okay?”

“I just found out that . . . “

In between heart-wrenching sobs, the kind stranger asked what she could do and should she get a doctor. In what seemed like hours but was only a few minutes, the sobbing stopped and the two women walked back toward the examining room door, as someone else offered a tissue. The good Samaritan returned to her chair and softly cried.

“That was a kind thing for you to do. Are you okay?”

“Yes. Thank you. I hate to see someone bear bad news alone. I hope she will be okay.”

Just then, the little girl who had earlier charmed me looked over, held up a finger and said “uno”.

Uno. One. Just one.

We never know when one act of kindness might ease someone’s sadness during dark moments. I hope that there will be someone to ease any dark moments you might experience and I hope that I might be the light to someone in theirs.

 

 

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I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. 

Henry David Thoreau

I am not sure that I would actually sit on a pumpkin, but, Tom and I did recently rest upon a log at the Morton Arboretum’s Glass Pumpkin Patch on a rather blustery autumnal afternoon. The glass pumpkins were quite intricate and lovely and the log was actually comfortable so we did not feel at all like bumps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinderella did hitch a ride in a mouse drawn coach fashioned from a pumpkin and Peter, that infamous pumpkin eater, notoriously put his wife in a pumpkin shell. Despite tales told long ago, I truly doubt that he kept her there very well! Pumpkin pie would have been a much better choice for Peter’s pumpkin and much more pleasant for his ill-kept wife. Such are the ways of nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

Hereabouts, pumpkin patches in produce stands are much diminished as we near the end of October. The days grow shorter and the shadows longer as the nights close in and we edge toward the first true frost of the season.

I find myself leafing through cookbooks and magazines looking for new recipes and reviving tried and true favorites at this time of year. Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaves (pumpkin bread) and potato soup, hearty stews and warm, crusty bread nourish our bodies in the flickering glow of candlelight. Russet and amber hues replace the sun filled rooms and bright colors of summer as warm jackets appear and socks and sturdier shoes replace summer’s sandals.

Walden Pond

When I happened across Thoreau’s quote it reminded as much of the Glass Pumpkin Patch as it did of a long-ago visit to Walden’s Pond. On a crisp and sunny October day, Tom and I sat on Walden’s shore eating a simple picnic lunch as we watched rowers and swimmers glide across the pond. A scattering of writers and artists and others worked at their crafts as we wandered a well-worn path to the site of Thoreau’s cabin. There, I imagined, as I do now, the short but notable life of a man whose words continue to inspire in this still new and quite troubled century. It is not such a bad thing to be content with the simpler things in life rather than the crowded velvet cushions. I think I’ll pick up my current read, have a cup of tea sweetened with local honey and settle in for the night here along the Cutoff.

 

 

Romeo

The moment I saw them in the produce department I knew exactly what they were! I rushed over, my grocery cart making an abrupt left. My squeal of delight must have sounded like a siren as other shoppers pulled over and let me pass causing a gapers’ block in between the peaches and plums!

Olives!

If you live in a Mediterranean climate, you likely see fresh olives in season. If you live in the midwest, you probably have never seen them. Olive trees do not grow in our erratic climate with our harsh, cold winters, long, dry spells, temperature fluctuations, etc. I knew what this box was because once, just once that I can recall, they sat on the small counter of our kitchen.

My cart – and I – came to a screeching halt. I reached into the box and felt the olives, still hard, rolling them around and through my hand like marbles. Memories came flooding back to that small kitchen in Maywood where I felt the love and security of family, where everyone gathered, and where I watched and waited and learned the magic of food in my grandmother’s hands.

The story begins with Romeo, a friend of my father’s who came to our house several times a week. Romeo wore baggy pants and sweaters and shirts that had seen better days. He and Daddy would talk fishing, the news, family and such as they sat at the kitchen table, drank coffee and ate whatever sweets my Yia Yia (my grandmother) or my mother would set before them. Romeo had a kind manner and gentle laugh. If Daddy wasn’t home, Romeo would stay until he returned, helping me with homework, curious as to what I was learning, chatting with Ma or Yia Yia, comfortable at our table.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that Daddy told me that Romeo was very rich. His family owned real-estate in the city and a chain of stores. He also told me that Romeo had scars all the way down his back from wounds he suffered in WWII. Much later, long after my father passed away, when I had children of my own, that Romeo died. Many in my family went to the wake to pay respects to his wife and children, then sat and quietly talked as people tend to do at wakes. I sat reading the memorial card and was surprised at the name, which was NOT Romeo! Bewildered, we wondered aloud over how the name Romeo came about, certain there was an interesting story  that we would never know, but, I digress. This isn’t so much about Romeo as it is about olives, except that it was Romeo who brought my grandmother the fruit of the gods.

I came home one day to see a crate of  hard, green fruit sitting on the kitchen counter. I remember my grandmother’s happiness and appreciation over the contents that came all the way from California. Romeo had been on vacation there where family members lived. He brought the olives back. Did he have them shipped or did he bring them himself? I am not certain, but, I think he personally carried them on the plane!

What I do remember is the hammering as each olive was split open, revealing but not extracting the pit. What a racket that was! I remember days, or was it weeks, of the olives sitting in salty water on the countertop, then in bowls with seasonings in the refrigerator. I would sneak an olive here and there when no one was looking. I ate enough that my face broke out in hives. All that olive oil!  My thievery was exposed and my olive caper was up! They were on to me. Daddy gently but firmly said “Penny, these aren’t candy and if you eat too many you will be sick.” 

In those mere moments in the grocery store, I remembered the summer of Greek olives; the flavors, that crisp first bite followed by the tasty inner flesh and the lingering sensation that seemed to last long after the olive was consumed. I imagined the hard pit placed on the side of my plate, but only after I’d eaten every bit of olive on it, with family or friends or both gathered in that small kitchen with a large welcoming feel – and I remembered a kind man’s gift and a gifted woman’s talents.

My cart once again rolling, I checked off items on my list and then headed over to the olive bar, making a selection of green olives that would not last long in our own refrigerator.Romeo, oh Romeo . . .

 

 

On being fortunate

How fortunate I was to have had these trusty engines stowed safely behind the driver’s seat. They kept me company and pushed me forward as I chug, chug, chugged along on my long ride home past farmland and forests, mists and moisture, sunshine and shadows in the peaks and valleys of landscape. At times it felt as if I had been dropped into a bowl of candy corn, the panorama of fall colors following me with views I never tire of.

While our Up North family has graciously travelled down several times in the past year, I have not had the opportunity to visit them until recently. Packed with pumpkin muffins and assorted granny goodies, I was anxious for a few precious days. I wasn’t disappointed.

One fine day, we spent a delightful afternoon on an island.

Nicolette Island is located on the Mississippi River which flows through Minneapolis. The island houses restored Victorian dwellings, De Lasalle High School, the Nicolette Island Park, an impressive pavilion, the Bell of Two Friends, the Nicolette Island Inn, and winding paths that afford amazing scenery and opportunities for young ones to explore, pretend, and appreciate nature. Our daughter and son-in-law, Katy and Tom, have instilled a healthy appreciation and respect for nature in their children and are to be commended for their efforts and example.

 

As we approached the Bell of Two Friends, we giggled a bit as the backside looked a bit like, well, like a backside. Once we went under and around the sculpture we were amazed at this stunning monument of peace.

Fall had come to Nicolette Island on what was a crisp, overcast day, displaying colorful splendor on this lovely island.

 

 

We walked and wandered, St. Anthony Falls and industry sharing the space, before crossing back into downtown Minneapolis and Penny’s Cafe.

 


The chef made our crepes on a large, heated wheel, across from the table we chose to sit. We all watched in awe as he balanced the orders, spreading crepe batter on the wheel, filling and folding, making sandwiches and other delectables on another slab to his right.

I chose a crepe fromage, which exceeded expectations! It was outstanding. Ezra, who chose what the woman who took our orders described as special, wholeheartedly agreed, saying it was special, as he energetically tackled his grilled cheese sandwich. Kezzie’s little stuffed fawn, stuffed in his special way, snuggled for warmth next to Katy’s coffee as we all enjoyed the food and the ambiance of Penny’s Cafe.

What a balm for the soul this little adventure was, with an attentive and caring mommy, two darling, inquisitive grandkids, nature and even nourishment in an establishment bearing my name. There were so many other moments of joy during my brief  trip; too many to mention in an already long post. I was grateful for my time with our Up North family and appreciate Ezra’s sharing of his engines as I wended my way home.

October 10

October 10

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
Loud — landmark — now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.

From  New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

Plop

It sounded like a raindrop.

Plop.

The rusty colored grasses and spent blooms danced in the sun-dried breeze.

Plop.

The cloudless sky’s likeness reflected on the water of the expansive slough which had receded considerably from its banks during the long dry spell.

Plop.

The distinctive smell of rain, petrichor, was non-existent; the earth dry as a bone. We needed rain.

Plop.

 Then there it was,  the gentle folding of a stem, a leaf, a flower gone to seed.

Plop.

It was the weight of grasshoppers landing on the leaves and stems and faded flower past their prime that were making the sound; a prelude to Autumn’s splendor.

I sat on a bench for a bit, listening to this primal sound of nature. I never heard it before – or had I forgotten what I heard? I remembered catching grasshoppers as a child, wondering if it was really tar that grasshoppers ejected, but, not this sound. The simple pleasure of discovery on an October afternoon.

As I rested on the bench, I continued to hear the plop, plop, plop of grasshoppers. I thought of the plague of grasshoppers that wiped out all of Pa’s wheat in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, “By the Shores of Plum Creek”.  The grasshoppers, which were actually Rocky Mountain locusts, first appeared as a black cloud on the horizon. They dropped down and decimated the Ingalls’ crops and neighbors’ crops, destroying all of that year’s wheat harvest. Then, they laid eggs which meant more grasshoppers the next spring. They destroyed the following year’s crops. To make matters worse, the grasshoppers flew into the little house, down the chimney, through cracks in the chinking, covering the floor, clothing, everything. A natural disaster, for certain, and one I would not want to experience.

I arose and continued on my walk. Yellow finch flitted past, here and there with their distinctive, dipping flight pattern, darts of golden energy. Bees hummed on their nectar finding missions and a flock of geese came in for a landing, honking like harried cab drivers in the Loop. Geese never arrive unannounced, unlike the great blue heron that swooped in without a sound and landed on the reedy shore.

My walk ended, but not my amazement as I noticed that the maples were starting to turn color. I held the hope in my heart that we just might have a colorful fall after all.

Plop!

 

 

 

Once Upon a Walk

Once upon a little walk – okay, it was just the other day, not once upon a time. I’m just in a lyrical, fairy tale spinning sort of mood. Bear with me – and no, there are no bears in this tale, but, there is a little Goldilocks.

Whilst wandering about with a purpose to the post office, grocer, library and such, I turned off the noise of the news on the car radio and turned into one of the forest preserves near here. I needed to clear my head, work a few things out and flit about with the bees, the butterflies, the falling leaves and my thoughts.

I usually veer to the left to loop around the particular path I was on, but, this was the sort of day that dictated a change in course. I veered to the right instead. It was unseasonably hot and quite humid as the temperature loomed toward 90 degrees. Goldfinch hosted a seed gathering orgy and grasshoppers leaped about in an erratic fashion for reasons known only to them. Pollinators of all stripes, hues and shapes imbibed on the nectar of zinnias, asters, and goldenrod.

As I reached a bend in the path, the tall, late season flowers and grasses towered over me, and I heard the sound of youthful laughter. Momentarily, a young girl and her granny appeared. The child looked up at me, I smiled. In a sweet, childish voice she asked “what’s your name?”. “My name is Penny. Thank you for asking.” She bounced around in a Tigger-ish sort of way as her grandmother said “Why don’t you tell this nice lady your name?”  “My name is Violet” said my new, young friendI squealed, as I tend to do, and said “Violet was my mother’s name. There were many people who said she was Sweet Violet – and she was!“. “Oh” said my new friend “I am sweet, too” – and she was!

Young Violet skipped down the path in the direction from which I just came. Her granny followed her and smiled as grannies do when out for a walk with a grandchild.

I smiled as well, thinking of my own grandkids with the hope of an upcoming visit. My thoughts turned to my mom, missing her. I realized, just then, that I had just received an unanticipated gift on this once upon a little walk. The gift was Ma’s name, Violet, uttered from a sweet child. It brought a moment of clarity to the thoughts in my head as I returned to my car and headed home.

The End.

Jill Weatherholt

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