Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My One And Only Valentine Celebration

Jim and I were married in April so a whole ten months passed before we celebrated our first Valentine's Day as man and wife. I'd gotten him a lovey, smoochy card and I waited to see what he would give me. We had little money so I knew it wouldn't be much--but I knew there would be something.

He didn't disappoint. First thing Valentine's morning, before I was even out of bed, he crept into the bedroom with his hands behind his back. I grinned impatiently. He thrust his hands forward, holding onto a huge heart-shaped box filled with chocolates. I was ecstatic. I LOVED chocolate candy. But mostly I loved that Jim had thought to buy it for me.

After hugs and kisses, he went off to work and I began my day as a stay-at-home wife. There were dishes to wash, clothes to fold, floors to scrub--all those things that make for a relatively tidy home. I say relatively because I'm a relatively good housekeeper. But I'm not, nor have I ever been, a June Clever.

During the day I chomped on a chocolate here and a chocolate there and another one here and another one there and....well, you get the picture. By the time Jim was home from work and the supper dishes were finished, we sat together on the couch, all snuggled up, enjoying one another's company. "Can I have some of your candy?" he asked. I replied, sheepishly, "It's all gone."

"Gone?" Jim said incredulously. "You ate two pounds of candy in one day?" I admitted my guilt. "I'm never buying you candy again," he said with a good-natured grin. "You can't resist it."  He kept his word. In the fifty-three years we were married before he passed, I never again received even one tiny bit of chocolate candy from him. Truth be told, we never celebrated another Valentine's Day with anything more than a card. And it wasn't even an edible one. Life is hard.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hole In The Lake

There was no doubt about it. The lake, huge as it was, was frozen. All the way down. Or at least that was my impression. This same lake that I would swim in all summer long, was now not only walkable, but studded with all sorts of tiny shacks.

Young as I was, I couldn't figure out why anyone would put a little house on the lake, but my eyes knew it for a fact. What's more, smoke spiraled out of each tiny chimney. Puzzled, I questioned my mom as to what was going on. "They're fishing shacks," she told me. I hate to say it, but I didn't believe her. I suspected she was teasing me because of my never-ending bout of questions that went her way.

"No, really," I said, "what are they?" She repeated her answer. I decided to ask my dad. I knew he'd tell me the truth. He always was quick with explanations of things that puzzled me. "Dad's fishing," was all my mom said. Now I really didn't believe her. While we fished all summer on that lake, there could be no fishing now. The fish were probably all dead anyway. Frozen to death. That was my take on what happened each winter. What could live frozen inside ice?

"Do you see that little house right there?" my mom said as she pointed at the lake. "The brown one with the red door?" I saw it. It seemed to be far out on the lake, a couple blocks or so, and no real path to it other than footprints already in the snow. "That's where you dad is," she said. "Why don't you go visit him and see if he's caught any fish for supper."

With snow boots, winter coat, scarf around my neck and another around the lower part of my face and mittens on my hands, I began the trek to the red door. I was nervous. Last winter, a skater had fallen through the supposedly frozen river that ran behind our house and had drown. People said he skated too long past safe as the river was beginning to thaw. As a kid, that made a real impression on me. How can one tell if the ice is starting to thaw? Maybe dad wasn't safe in that little house. Maybe I should tell him to get out of there and back on frozen dirt. It was surely safer than frozen ice.

Not sure if dad was in the shack, I timidly knocked on the door. I knew my dad's voice. It was a distinctive voice that once heard, was seldom forgotten. I heard him say "Come in." So I pulled the red door open a notch, just to make sure things weren't melting and dad wasn't floating around in ice water. All seemed safe. So in I went.

He was sitting in a small chair, fishing pole dangling into a hole in the ice that looked to be about a foot across. At his feet lay three fish. Big ones. Walleye's and northern pike is what they looked like to me. The same kind we caught in the summer. I did wonder how one caught dead fish, but didn't have time to voice my question because dad's pole was bobbing in the water.

"Pull up a chair," is what dad said. "Do you want to fish with me?" I told him I'd only come to watch and why did he want to catch dead fish anyway?" He snickered. Then, like always, he carefully explained that deep lakes, like this one, never froze all the way to the bottom so the fish had plenty of space to swim around. I was dumbfounded. Another one of my theories tramped into dust.

I noticed a small stove in the corner and asked why it didn't melt the ice with its heat. "It isn't big enough," my dad replied. It only heats the air so it's comfortable in here. It isn't able to melt the ice." I looked around for signs of water puddles on the floor but there weren't any. I knew what melting ice looked like. Since I didn't see any evidence, I sat on the tiny stool and watched dad fish.

It was boring.

But hey, I was a little kid. I loved summer fishing. There was always a lot to see, even if the fish weren't biting. The shoreline, the waves, the old house on the island a mile offshore, birds, and flying bugs--especially my all time favorite--the dragonfly. They were such  pretty colors and always landing right on my rod where I could see them up close. But in this little house, there was nothing exciting to look at. Not once I'd pretty much memorized it.

Now, after all these years, I confess to the truth of the whole matter:  I knew all the while I was sitting in that little house that the hole in the ice wasn't big enough for my dad to fall through. But in my imagination, it was big enough for me. Better to high tail it while the getting was good because what if I stood up, lost my balance, and went head first into that hole? The horrors of it overcame my sense of well-being.

So I got the heck out of there and followed the footprints back to where I knew the land was. My Mamma didn't raise no dummies.