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Close to Home: Short shorts first installment

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When did I first look at my mom’s hands and think, “She has old hands?” Perhaps it was the year my parents moved from their home in Green Bay to a rustic cabin in northern Wisconsin, away from the house they had built 38 years before, in a neighborhood full of young families. At the time it was the last house on the block, with ample fields beyond for children to run and play in. By the time they moved, the street had been put through, lined with houses occupied by people they didn’t know. Most of their old neighbors had moved away. It was their turn to go, the first time they had done something radically different from the life I had watched them live. Maybe it was the first time I really looked at my mother. She was just two years older than I am, now. I look at my hands. My veins are pronounced. I grasp one hand with the other, and feel hands that are hard and strong. I have old hands.

***

We were the only boat on Sidie Hollow Lake, enjoying the quiet, casting our lines over and over, not getting even a nibble. We tend to fish toward shore, and so I looked for places a crappie or bluegill might hide — a log, a little dark corner, perhaps, and tried to land my lure there. My eye caught a patch of deep purple among the dried, dull grasses on shore. I soaked in the color of the wild violets while casting my line. If anyone questions the wisdom of looking at the spot they want their lure to land while casting, just as they would look at the place they want their ball to land when they throw it, this is a good illustration. Some time later, as we passed that lovely clump of violets, I said to Dave. “Oh, that’s where I got my line snagged,” and confessed my distraction with the violets on the shore. He smiled. He hasn’t always understood my fondness for flowers.

***

That familiar bird call. Could it be a Baltimore oriole? I followed the sound and found the beautiful man singing away in our crabapple tree, which was bursting with snowy blossoms. What a lovely sight. Orange and black and white. Instead of standing still and watching, I ran to the house for my camera. He was gone when I got back. When will I stop photographing my life, and just live it? And yet, and yet — I just came in from a Pheasant Back mushroom hunt, kicking myself all the while. I had come within two feet of a hen turkey on her nest. Her head was turned, piercing black eye watching me. “Oh,” I told her. “Sorry,” and backed off, giving her a wide berth, and made my way down the hill. Why didn’t I have my camera?

***

I’m in the habit of looping my mask around my ears and tucking it under my chin while driving around town, running errands. It’s easy, then, to pull it over my nose on my way into the grocery store, and down again on my way to the car, in preparation for my next stop. I noticed that the wrinkly skin on my neck doesn’t show as long as the mask is tucked down there. It occurred to me that this could be the new fashion statement for we women of a certain age.

***

In late winter while preparing for maple syrup season, I found daily evidence of a nightly visitor to my sugar house. Seems that a bird perched there each night just above my chair. I would clean off the chair, only to find that my mystery visitor would sleep over again. This went on for days. One dark morning I went to the sugar house to light the boiler under my first pan of sap. SQUACK! There, in the light of the hog lamp was a bright red cardinal, wings spread, little body flattened against the wall in terror. Poor guy. I didn’t expect him back again after that. He came, though, as evidence on my chair proved. Perhaps he is the same cardinal I see on my deck from time to time, pecking away at the bread crumbs I wipe off of my cutting board. Perhaps he is the one who sounds the morning wake up call at 4:32.

***

I was sitting on the bed with 3-year-old Amelia on one side and 5-year-old Harper on the other, ready to read books before bed. SCREAM! A bug! Amelia had a deer tick running up her arm. That’s good. It was still moving. Deer ticks usually bury their head so fast, it’s difficult to detect them until it’s too late. A reminder to spray my boots and pant legs before venturing into the woods.

Doreen moved to the woods from Green Bay in 1984, married back-to-the-lander Steve O’Donnell, and stayed to raise their three children after he died in 1997. Dave Short joined her there in 2016. Doreen welcomes feedback at dmshort1984@gmail.com.

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