Archives for : Savor the Moment

July Is the Month for…

July is the month we dust off the grill, wave the flag, and give a perfunctory nod to Freedom and Independence . . .   ~ By Sharon Sheppard

Ask an American third-grader (or maybe even a high-schooler) to define freedom, and she might say, “Freedom is the right to do whatever I want.”

The definition of Independence? “That’s when I’m on my own and don’t have to be under the thumb of my parents anymore,” a cocky sophomore might reply.

But neither Freedom nor Independence was a given in the early days of our country. They were to die for, you might say.

 Thomas Jefferson’s profound document that finally severed ties with Britain, the mother country, included some radical ideas about rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he confidently proclaimed, “that all men are created equal (an amazing admission!); that they are endowed by their Creator (Separation of Church and State, you might be thinking, Call the ACLU!) with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This elegantly written document listed some 28 offenses against the British Crown and declared the rebel nation to be independent from the mother country.

Writers and statesmen have weighed in on the brashness of the fledgling union and the topic of freedom over the years. Essayist Henry David Thoreau, of Walden Pond fame, said, “The English did not come to America from a mere love of adventure, nor to truck with or convert the savages, nor to hold offices under the Crown, as the French to a great extent did, but to live in earnest and with freedom.”

Many have justifiably raised cautions against taking our freedoms for granted, as we Americans are inclined to do, fearing that we might become careless and neglect to preserve this remarkable democracy that separates us from most of the nations of the earth. Novelist Somerset Maugham said, “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

President Ronald Reagan expressed a similar concern: “The price of freedom is high, but never so costly as the loss of freedom. One day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”   

Many gave their lives in the deadly American Revolutionary War that eventually sealed our freedom and independence. Patrick Henry, one of the country’s Founding Fathers, famously said, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Hugh Downs aptly summed it up this way: “The price of freedom is high, but never so costly as the loss of freedom.” So let’s savor our freedoms. They were purchased at great cost. 

Remembering My Father

Remembering My Father – By Mary Zigan

Father’s Day is fast approaching, which means it’s time to find the right card with the right words to let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. To my amazement, when I googled “Father’s Day Greetings” all the helps for the right sentiments were provided. There was a variety of heartfelt and funny Father’s Day messages to do just that, along with easy how-to tips.

            My Father has been deceased for 19 years, but no one needs to prompt me in what I would say about him. The memories are fresh with happy thoughts and gratitude. Here are a few:  

My dad was just an overgrown kid. Everyone in the church youth group loved to come to our house because dad was so much fun.  He would take out the tractor and tie on a toboggan and tow us around the fields or ice-packed roads. We skied or tobogganed behind cars. If something had a motor and made noise, Dad was counted in on the activity. Though money was tight, we kids didn’t know it. There was money for roller skating, and the stock car races, for all the fun snowmobiling trips up North to the shack. Dad would give his last quarter to us and do it in good humor.  He was God fearing and definitely a family man. If I could emulate one quality about him, it would be his integrity. Every girl would long for a Daddy like I had. Often as an adult with two small children of my own after lots of fun in the sun, swimming, savoring good food, and seeing lots of the “salt of the earth” examples of servitude in both my parents, Daddy would always say in his parting words to me; “Come home when you can!” What a heritage. Thanks be to God!My Father didn’t really tell me in words how to live; he lived for me, and let me watch him do it. ~ Mary Z.

Lessons From a Little Brick Schoolhouse


A childhood memory – shared in honor of Back-to-School Month


Some might say we were educationally deprived, growing up as we did in a small town. But just because there were only 350 of us in the whole village–most of us poor during those post-depression years–doesn’t mean we didn’t get a proper education.

These days you have to go to a fancy private school if you want small class size.  But in our town, all the classes were small. My brother Carl’s senior class fit into a phone booth—all 13 of them. Not that we had any phone booths in our town. They had to drive nine miles to Pine River to find one in order to have their cozy class picture taken.

Our town knew good and well that nobody really needed kindergarten, so, ready-or-not, we jumped right into first grade when we turned six, and most of us turned out none the worse for the wear.

I adored Miss Lyons, my first-grade teacher.  She seemed like angel to me. But when World War II got into full swing, she quit in the middle of the year to join the WACS (Women’s Army Corps). But compared to Miss Lyons, no other teacher ever seemed quite so perfect, in my young mind.

In grade school we had a different teacher almost every year, and some years we had two grades in the same classroom. But in high school, we had a different teacher every hour of the day. And some of them were really different! We had an English teacher who, according to rumors, kept a flask in the adjoining cloak room, though I never saw it. And our music teacher, who also taught social studies and business and a few other courses he had never trained for, often slept through class.

Georgie Sycks, a local boy who went away to college, came back home again to teach—all grown up and polished as could be. He was a fine teacher, but even after he became high school principal, he never could shake off his old nickname: Georgie.

I won’t mention the name of the superintendent who forgot to send in the registration for our musical group after we’d qualified to compete at the state level (under the direction of the above-mentioned sleepy music teacher). After all those hours of  practicing to perfect “I Heard a Forest Praying,” and taking first place at the regional vocal music contest, and after a four-hour ride from northern Minnesota to Minneapolis, our triple trio arrived at Northrup Auditorium, as excited as any of us had ever been.   This was to be our crowning fifteen minutes of fame—a chance to put Backus, Minnesota, on the map. Dressed in our Sunday best, we’d prepared to knock the socks off those snooty University of Minnesota judges and show them that we weren’t your average small town hicks.  But we never got the chance.

Because of our superintendent’s absentmindedness, we weren’t allowed to compete. Our fearless but disorganized leader had goofed again. This triggered a whole slew of emotions and, I’m ashamed to say, we thoroughly trashed the superintendent during the four-hour ride back home.

We had a lot of good times too, and small classes meant less competition, which, come to think of it, probably wasn’t the best motivator either. A small school meant anybody could become a big fish in a microscopic puddle. Any high school male could letter in all three sports. Almost any warm body could join the choir. And almost anybody who cracked a book from time to time could become valedictorian if she set her mind to it.

A long-standing tradition in our town dictated that each year the junior class would trek out to “The Point” on Pine Mountain Lake and gather a truckload of cedar branches. Poked into chicken wire, these boughs created a fragrant backdrop across the back of the stage for the graduation ceremonies—sort of like Christmas in May. It also fell to the juniors to make and suspend letters across the stage spelling out the senior class motto against those lush green boughs.

Principal Georgie Sycks provided a booklet of motto options he considered appropriate, and our senior class had no trouble choosing one: the longest motto would mean the most work for the juniors. So we quickly chose “Failure to hit the bull’s eye is not the fault of the target” as our ongoing inspiration for life.

Memories of my first day of school trigger sensory reminiscences of freshly waxed oak floors, polished wooden desks with ink wells, spotlessly washed blackboards, and a scratchy, newly starched pinafore Mama had made for me.

My last day of high school recalls an evening filled with the heavenly aroma of fresh cedar boughs coupled with fragrant bouquets of lilacs and the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” played on the school’s upright piano.  These sights and sounds and smells are indelibly fixed in my mind as we finally reached our long-anticipated graduation night.

A few graduates from Backus High School have gone on to earn advanced degrees–master’s and Ph.D.s. Some became teachers, nurses, or pastors, and a few wrote books. As for me, I graduated at the top of my class of 22 students, some of whom had been together for all 12 grades, and delivering the valedictory speech to the hometown audience where everybody knew everybody was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do. I and went on to a state university where I majored in English, despite sketchy preparation by my alcoholic high school English teacher, and minored in music (drowsy, unmotivated music teacher notwithstanding).

But just because we didn’t have electives or up-to-date textbooks or more than a couple hundred library books for all twelve grades was no sign we didn’t learn the basics, one way or another. Our schooling may not have been ideal preparation for college, but it made pretty good training for real life.  It taught us to roll with the punches, make do, pull together, resolve conflicts, and learn to enjoy homespun fun. Those lessons have served me well for a lifetime.

And no matter how far I travel in either miles or time, in my heart I’m never far from my hometown. I’ve always been directionally challenged–I think I must have been gone the day Mrs. Wirt taught map reading in fifth grade.  But if I want to figure out directions, in my mind’s eye I go back to our front yard and face the school. To my left is Pine Mountain Lake—that’s west. To my right is the cemetery out on the edge of town—that’s east. And the school—that’s my North Star.

Now that I’ve had lots of practice in proofreading (I taught English to college students for 18-plus years), the last time I drove by our hometown school I noticed that an L had dropped off the Backus Public Schools nameplate. The sign gracing the front lawn now reads:  Backus Pubic Schools.

And they say there’s no need for people with English degrees these days.


‘Twas the night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…it seemed crazy. We would to be celebrating “Christmas in Australia!”     By Mary Zigan

Waldo, I and the children had arrived from Minnesota to Australia on a perfect, sunny day in March. The year was 1971, we were on a new adventure with a two-year work assignment. We sailed into the Sydney harbor with full view of the famous opera house.  We walked off the gangplanks into the unknown. Our feelings were mixed: excited, anxious, apprehensive.  Everything was unfamiliar.  We thought we knew English but we couldn’t understand a lot of the “blokes.” The Australians thought we were the ones with the accent! We arranged to live in a hostel until we could find permanent housing. Within three months, we were in a small house in a charming neighborhood, the children were enrolled in school, and I was learning to drive on the wrong side of the road in our Volkswagen Bug.  And we were approaching Christmas and would be celebrating what felt like “Christmas in July.”

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…but with a temp of 78◦ we certainly weren’t going to light a fire in the fireplace. But, more disconcerting than that situation was, we had to find a Christmas tree that didn’t look barren and sickly. We finally found one that would pass and put a few decorations on it. It just didn’t “feel” like Christmas does back home we moaned.

Waldo and I decided it would be fun to spend Christmas Day at the nationally renowned Bondi beach only a few miles from our new home. With Barb, our nanny, age seventeen, along with our two children, ages nine and six, we were bound for our first all-day experience as a family on a famous Sydney beach. We packed a picnic lunch and off we went. As you probably know, San Francisco and Sydney are compared as sister cities for glorious weather and this day was no exception. Waldo and I mostly relaxed on one of the provided chaise lounges while visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

When, what to our wondering eyes should appear…but the water patrol boat roaring up right in front of us. We wondered what all the fuss was about and whose kids were rescued. When in tow appeared Barb and Terri with fear and panic on their faces, and to our horror, what could have easily been a double drowning. Needless to say, that frightening experience brought that day to a full stop for all of us.  That night, when the children were nestled all snug in their beds, as we peered in on them, ringing in our ears were the water patrols words as he drove out of sight;    “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Mary Z






June 21 Memories

June 21…What’s so special about this day, well a lot!

My late husband Don loved his June 21 birthday! After all, he would remind me every year that it was the first day of summer, the 172nd day of the year, and the longest day of the year. I wasn’t overly concerned, but Don would go on to say, the June Solstice can be anywhere from June 20-21 depending on the year.

In my research, I found another interesting happening on June 21!  Do any of you remember shopping at a Woolworth store? It was on June 21, 1879 that Frank W. Woolworth opened his 1st “F.W. Woolworth Five Cent Store” on North Queen St, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

And a more recent bit of trivia, if you are a Harry Potter lover! Author, J. R. Rowling, 5th Harry Potter book, the Order of the Phoenix was published in 2003. Amazon shipped out more than one million copies on June 21, making the day the largest distribution day of a single item sold in e-commerce history. The book set sales records around the world with an estimated 5 million copies sold.

Happy, Happy, to anyone celebrating anything this month!

Enjoy the lazy, hazy day s of summer!


Mary Zigan



Being a Mom: The Hardest & Best Job I Ever Had

Being a Mom:  The hardest & best job I ever had   by Sharon Sheppard

I wouldn’t say that the day my two toddlers papered the walls of their room with Vaseline and Kleenex was my hardest day—not even close.  It was frustrating, right along with the day I caught Jonathan drinking out of the toilet using his shoe as a ladle.

But neither of those days came close to being as scary as the day I opened the refrigerator without checking to see if the toddlers were within hearing distance.  (Whenever they heard the refrigerator door open, they came running, and four hands grabbed anything within their reach quicker than I could pull them away and close the door.)

On this particular day, Jonathan grabbed a bottle of codeine cough syrup (this was before the days of child-proof lids) and before I could snatch it out of his hand, he had gulped down a huge swig. I called clinic and the nurse said, “He will sleep for a long time . . .” which sounded pretty good to me until she added:  “You’ll need to wake him every thirty minutes to be sure he hasn’t gone into a coma.”

A coma!  I gulped.  My toddler might go into a coma?  Panic!  And it was all my fault!  I felt like such a failure.

They were born 13 ½ months apart (what were we thinking???) and walked early:  Jonathan at 10 ½ months and Caroline at 9 months.  So we had two babies toddling around, getting into no end of mischief.

For a while my life consisted of cleaning up their messes.  As I was dealing with their latest disaster, the two of them were in the next room working as a team to create another.  One day when I was frantically dashing around getting ready for the in-laws to come from out of town, I had cleaned the kitchen and gone to take out the trash.  When I came in to get the second bag of trash, they had gotten into it and strewn the contents all over my newly cleaned kitchen floor: orange peels, coffee grounds–the works.

One day when we were playing our version of hiding an object and searching for it, 2 ½- year-old Jonathan came up with his own idea of something to hide.  “Where’s ant, Mama?” he asked.  Caroline and I looked everywhere but couldn’t find an ant . . .

Then he stuck out his tongue and there it was.

“Here’s ant, Mama,” he proudly announced.

What a clever hiding place!

I savor treasured memories of cute and clever sayings, homemade Mother’s Day cards, bouquets of wildflowers picked from the woods, lots of hugs, sloppy kisses, and “I love you Mamas.”

But those days didn’t last forever.  Adolescence was no picnic, but I’m delighted with the tender, loving adults they have become.  The two of them are still fun and funny, responsible, and very loving.

I am blessed beyond all measure to have them as friends.  Best friends!

With many thanks to them, and with much gratitude to my own loving mother who modeled all things good . . .


Best Wishes to Moms everywhere, Young and Old

Enjoy the Journey!








The Spelling Bee

THE SPELLING BEE, a reminiscence by Sharon Anderson Sheppard. This story is told in the voice of a child, since that’s the way I remember it.  Though the story is true, I originally sold this piece as fiction to the Sunday Magazine of the Minneapolis Tribune.


Since April is the month when spelling bee finalists from all over the country are studiously cramming for the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held in Washington, D.C. in May, I thought I’d share my experience as an 8th-grader growing up in Backus, Minnesota, population 350.



If I’d have known that winning the school spelling bee meant riding up to the county seat with old Horace Botz*, I would’ve spelled “connoisseur” with one “n.”  Even though I’d been secretly hoping all year that I’d win, nobody suspected that it mattered a lick to me one way or the other.  But whenever I closed my eyes, I could picture that brass trophy with my name on it.

Sharon Elizabeth Anderson it would read in gothic script, County Spelling Champion, 1950.

Some people are pretty.  With freckles and kinda crooked teeth, I’m definitely not. If I had a choice, it sure would be nice to be pretty.  But I can spell—backwards and forwards.

It’s a wonder I can spell, since my folks grew up speaking Norwegian and Danish, and you can still hear Mama’s and Daddy’s Scandinavian accents when they talk.    If you asked me to make some generalizations about Norwegians and Danes, I’d have to tell you that Norwegians are quiet and reserved, and they don’t talk that much.  On the other hand, Danes are emotional and gushy and high strung.  At least that’s the way it is at our house.  Daddy doesn’t talk much, and he is always calm and in control.  Now Mama is another story.  She gets excited over the least little thing.  She’s got a real soft heart.  I hope I turn out like Daddy.

Anyway, I was telling you about the spelling bee.  When I came home with the news that I was the school champion, Daddy just smiled and said, “That’s nice, Sharon.  Real nice.” But his eyes were shiny and I knew he was proud.  Mama, on the other hand, shrieked and hugged me and whirled me around the room, and there were tears in her eyes.  I’m too big to be whirled around the room.  No sooner had we got that over with when she started worrying about what I was gonna wear to the county spelling bee in March.

That night we pulled out some options from my very limited wardrobe, and settled on a navy blue skirt and white blouse.  Unfortunately, the skirt had a small spot where a drop of bleach must’ve spattered on it.  But after Mama rubbed some navy blue ink over the spot, it hardly showed at all.  I just hoped it wouldn’t snow the day of the contest and smear the ink.

Everything would have been perfect if I hadn’t been stuck with old Horace Botz.  Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have a man for a teacher, and an old one at that?  My girlfriend’s mother even had him when she was in eighth grade.  I mean, he can’t help that he’s old, but the worst of it is, he thinks he’s funny.  Teachers shouldn’t try to have a sense of humor.  Anyway, I had to ride all the way up to the county seat with him.  He said I could choose a friend to go along.   I chose Mary Ann, who’s fun and funny and my best friend, now that Shirley moved away.

Meanwhile, old Botz gave me lists of words to study from, and I didn’t let on, but I went over every one of those lists dozens of times.  You couldn’t stump me on a one of them.  Like I say, I can spell.  You might say it’s almost a disease with me.  I read a lot, but not very fast because I like to look for palindromes and make lots of little words out of big ones.  Anyway, I’m good at spelling, but I didn’t know if I’d be good enough.

I’d been ready for almost half an hour when old Botz’s black Model A pulled into our driveway.  Mama kissed me (she doesn’t realize I’m too big to kiss) and told me she’d be praying for me.  Mary Ann was already in the car, tickled pink to be getting out of a day of school.  I was mighty glad to have her along, because she kept up a steady stream of chatter all the way up, and I hardly had to say a word.

When we hit the city limits, there was a big billboard that read Welcome to Shingobee Recreation Area, 127 lakes in a 10-mile radius.  By the time we had reached the high school where the contest was to be held, I had made 28 little words out of Shingobee, and still hadn’t exhausted all of the possibilities.

The first person I saw was Alice Klinghammer*, the defending champion.  I’d have known her anywhere from her picture in the county paper last year when she won.  She looked just as snooty in person as she had in her picture, and she was dressed like a persnickety city girl.  She was wearing a store-bought wool plaid skirt with a matching sweater and saddle shoes.  A tiny gold A hung from a fine chain around her neck, and her brown hair was all fluffed up in a stylish hairdo.  Sickening, really.

She was huddled with a couple of girlfriends, giggling.  The three of them sized me up, then whispered to each other and laughed.  I could feel my freckled face getting red, right up to the roots of my frizzy, dishwater blond hair.  Mary Ann squeezed my hand and whispered, “You’re gonna’ win, Sharon, I just know it!  There’s nobody here who can beat you.”

The pronouncer spaced us all apart so we couldn’t see each other’s papers for the written test.   They gave us each a sharp Ticonderoga pencil.

“All set?” he asked with a fake little smile.  No one said anything.  He took a deep breath and began.  My stomach felt like it had a couple of live frogs fightin’ it out, but after the first 20 words or so, I started to calm down.

The man droned on in his English-teacher diction, through chartreuse, supercede, candelabrum, and surveillance.  I struggled with “rotisserie.”  It didn’t look right.  Then the man said, “Pencils down, please.”  We took a break while the teachers corrected the written tests.

Mary Ann was waiting for me out in the hall.  I slurped a drink of warm rusty water out of the fountain, and water dribbled down my chin.  Across the hall Alice was putting on an act.  “Really, the words here today were so simple.  I think I got a perfect paper,” she bragged.  “I had so much fun at State last year!  I’ll just die if I don’t win!”  She straightened her gold necklace and whispered so loud every one of us could hear.  “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble.  These kids all look so young.  I don’t think there’s anybody here older than sixth grade!”  She patted her hair and looked at the rest of us like we were county hicks.  Which some of us were.

Old Botz came out and asked the contestants to come back into the room.  Slowly the emcee read the names of the top five scorers.  I swallowed hard.  Mine was the last one read.

The five of us lined up at the front of the room.  “Each word will be pronounced twice.  You will have ten seconds to begin spelling.”  The emcee licked his thin lips.  “Once you have spoken a letter, there will be no changing it, so think carefully before you respond.  Is everyone ready?”

We all nodded solemnly.  The five of us eyed each other surreptitiously.  (Bet I could get at least 50 words out of surreptitiously.)

“Charles, we will begin with you,” the pronouncer said.  His word was “paraphernalia,” and he spelled it correctly.  Douglas got “ricochet”; Margaret, “liaison”; and Alice, “renaissance.”

“Querulousness,” the man said when it was my turn, and I was grateful for an easy one.

On and on he droned, but nobody budged from the line.  Finally Charles went down on “vicissitude.” A few minutes later Margaret forgot the first “i” in “parliamentarian.”  She looked like she was gonna cry.  The rounds went on to more difficult words.  Finally only Alice and I were standing.  She glanced at me sideways, and she was beginning to look a little nervous.  I remembered that Mr. Botz would probably have to ride along in my dad’s old Chevy if I went to the state finals in St. Paul.  Alice sailed through hieroglyphic and lachrymose and syzygy.  I spelled pusillanimous and bacchanalian and catarrh.

I looked at the clock.  We’d been standing for 30 minutes and we were both getting tired.  Finally Alice faltered on tatterdemalion.  As soon as I heard her say that second “l” I knew she’d had it.  The pronouncer shook his head slowly.  “I’m sorry, Alice.”  She shot me a look of total disgust, taking in my frizzy hair, my shabby cardigan with its skillfully mended elbow, my skirt with the almost-concealed bleach spot.  She heaved a huge, unsportsman-like sigh, then stalked over to a chair on the front row and plopped down, nose high in the air.

I took a deep breath.  All I had to do now was to spell that next word correctly, and the award would be mine.  I thought about the obnoxious Horace Botz with his stale jokes and his stale breath, and I toyed with the idea of letting Alice have it.  Outside the door, lockers slammed shut and the oak floor creaked under its load of hurrying oxfords and loafers.  I thought about my parents learning to speak English, and about how my mom was still working to teach my dad to pronounce his “th” sounds, and how she was probably praying for me right this minute.

“Photophosphorescent,” the man said for the second time, hoping I couldn’t spell it.

“Would you please use that word in a sentence?” I asked, guessing he couldn’t.

“His face got red and he cleared his throat.  “Umm…the object is photophosphorescent,” he snapped impatiently.  I thought about all of the little words I could get out of that one.  Closing my eyes, I spelled it out, slowly, cautiously, so as not to leave out a single syllable.  There was a long, and as they say in books, pregnant pause.  I swallowed hard.  My heart was trying to break out of its cage, and I could feel a trough of perspiration dripping down from each arm to the waistband of my skirt.

The pronouncer stepped forward and held out his hand.  “Congratulations, Sharon Anderson,” he said begrudgingly as he shook my icy hand.  “A splendid performance!”

“Didnelps,” I said to myself, spelling it backwards.

The ride home was embarrassing.  I shoved Mary Ann into the middle again.  Old Botz was babbling on about how proud everyone would be and how nobody from our school had ever won the county championship before.  I’d never heard him give a compliment.  I bet it prit’ near choked him.

It was drafty by the car door, and the wind whistled through the crack where the window wouldn’t quite roll all the way up.  The sinking sun reflected on crusty banks of snow and jackpine-ringed sloughs.  I shivered in my sweat-drenched clothes, wanting nothing so much as to be alone.  My woolen mittens never lost their grip on the prize.  I thought about what Mama and Daddy would say, and I knew that they would be proud of me–very proud.

Mama was waiting at the back door.  I walked slowly into the house, holding the prize behind me.  “How did it go, Honey?” she asked.  (She still calls me Honey.)  “Did you win?”

“Yeah,” I said.  After enduring a lot of high-powered hugging, which I’m much too old for, I headed for my room to find some dry clothes and see if I couldn’t eke another dozen words out of Shingobee.

*Name has been changed



There are all Kinds of Surprises

There are all kinds of SURPRISES, and some of them look a little different from a kid’s perspective…Here’s One of Those Childhood Memories by Sharon Sheppard

One thing I figured out when I was still pretty little was that life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Just before my fourth birthday I ended up in the Pine River Hospital nine miles from home with whooping cough and pneumonia. I whooped and wheezed until my chest ached and my throat felt raw. I suppose it gave my folks quite a scare, because there wasn’t a whole lot anybody could do about it.

The doctor drilled a hole in my back and stuck a tube into the hole to drain some fluid off my lungs. I didn’t even know what lungs were until then, though I would just as soon have waited and found out some other way.

Anyway, right down the hall Johnny Russell was yelling his head off. He’s a kid I knew from my hometown who had whooping cough too, only he made a lot bigger fuss about it than I did. Maybe boys aren’t as tough as girls. Or maybe he was sicker than I was.

It would have been nice if Mama or Daddy could have stayed with me at the hospital, but Daddy had to work and Mama had enough problems of her own. She was about to have a baby, which nobody had bothered to tell me, and she also had to take care of my brothers. And to top it all off, she wasn’t feeling very well.

So every day after work, Daddy drove down to the hospital to see me. There was a pretty little pine tree outside my window, and Daddy and I adopted it. We called it “our tree,” and we checked on it each time he came. He read me stories, and every night before he left, he prayed and asked God to make me well.

I stayed in the hospital 40 days and 40 nights, and I didn’t like it one little bit. About half way through my stay, Mama came to the hospital to get the new baby. It turned out to be a girl! Finally some good news. I had a sister!

Her name was Dorothy Mae. I asked if Mama and the baby and I could all share a room, but the hospital wouldn’t let us. Mama had yellow jaundice, and I didn’t even get to see her and the new baby.

Mama and the baby got to go home before I did, and I cried with disappointment about having to stay. Finally, on the fortieth day, almost like Noah sitting in the ark with all those smelly animals waiting for the 40 days of rain to stop, I got to go home from the hospital. The doctor told Mama and Daddy that it was a Higher Power than his that pulled me through, because he didn’t think I was going to make it.

By that time our new baby was a couple weeks old, and I finally got to see what she looked like. She was skinny with no hair, unless you could count a little blond fuzz. I sure hoped she would get a lot cuter than that, but as it turned out, she never had the chance.

A few weeks after I got home from the hospital, Baby Dorothy started wheezing, and before I even got used to having a sister, something terrible happened. Our baby died and went to heaven. Going to heaven wasn’t terrible, but not being able to keep her with us was the disappointing part. I didn’t know exactly what it meant to be dead, I just knew I had never seen Mama so sad. I sure hoped it wasn’t my fault, the baby getting whooping cough and all.

Our Mama kept crying. I hugged her and tried to get her to stop, but she couldn’t. She went upstairs, maybe thinking we couldn’t hear her cry up there, but we could. I climbed the creaky wooden steps to give her a hug, and there she was slumped in a heap, sobbing her heart out.

“Mama, why are you crying?” I asked.

“Dorothy Mae is dead,” she said.

When I went back downstairs, I found my brothers standing in the dining room staring at our baby, who was sleeping on the table, wrapped in a blue flannel blanket in a bundle no bigger than a doll. She looked beautiful now, and she wasn’t wheezing any more. She looked like she was taking a nice, long nap.

Just then the doctor drove into our driveway in his big black car, picked up our baby, and took her away. And that was the last I ever saw of her.

After a while our mother didn’t spend so much time crying, at least when we were around. Then a year later, when I was five, we had another unexpected surprise. I guess our Mama and Daddy knew this was going to happen, but Ronnie and Paul and I didn’t.

We thought it was a little unusual that they sent us to the other church for Daily Vacation Bible School, since we had already gone to DVBS time at our own church. We grumbled a little about going to “The Cong”—our nickname for the Congregational Church down by the lake. And I can’t say we were thrilled when we finally figured out why Mama and Daddy were so anxious to get rid of the three of us that week either.

But one afternoon when we came home clutching construction paper drawings with pasted-on cotton balls for clouds, Daddy met us on the back porch. He was grinning.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” he said.

With all my heart I hoped that it would be strawberries and cream, but it was just another brother. That made the score three boys to one girl. Not a good ratio.


Hygge: Nesting in…

One of autumn’s coziest aspects is nesting–and what could be more inviting than a crackling fire on the beach, a Thermos of steaming hot chocolate, and the sound of loons on one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes?   by Sharon Sheppard

The Danes have a special word for it that’s become trendy in the U.S. in recent months.  And since my blog partner Mary (the City Cousin) and I (the Country Cousin) are both Minnesotans and half Danish by birth, we decided that fall is a perfect time to feature Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga or HUEgah, depending on whom you ask.

Though Hygge defies a tidy definition, it involves the art of savoring coziness—getting comfortable, being present in the moment, taking pleasure in simple things–soothing things.   Scandinavians are big on candlelight, sweets, music, board games, hot drinks, comfy sweaters, and wool socks, and more…

*Cooking food the slow way, often doing it with others, and enjoying the process.

*Savoring hot homemade soups and pastries, especially as the days grow shorter and temperatures begin to sink.

*Adjusting the lighting to a soft glow.  (Though Americans immediately think: fire hazard! Danes have lit candles in offices, school classrooms, and places of business.)

*Spending carefree evenings with family or friends, talking or playing board games.

*Nurturing a sense of feeling safe and shielded from the world.

In a survey among Danes, a team of researchers asked what things they associated with the word hygge.  Hot drinks topped the list, and candles came in second.

The Danes love tea, hot chocolate, or mulled wine, but their favorite hot drink is coffee.  They are the world’s fourth biggest coffee drinkers, consuming around 33 percent more per capita than Americans.

I come from a family of coffee-drinkers. My mother’s parents emigrated from Denmark, and I remember asking her one time, “Mama, on what day of the week was I born?”

She said, “You were born on a Saturday, just in time for afternoon coffee.”

With hygge as a defining feature of their culture, it’s no accident that Denmark consistently ranks as one of the top three happiest countries worldwide, according to the Happiness Research Institute, an independent think tank focusing on well-being, happiness, and quality of life in countries throughout the world.

Similarly, there seems to be a growing hunger in the U.S. for nurturing a love of simple joys.  And in a world of growing turmoil, it strikes me as a healthy trend.

Autumn is a great time to start.


Perspectives on Patience

PERSPECTIVES on PATIENCE… by Lacey, age 18, this month’s guest writer

As I live through my short life here on earth, I am constantly learning and experimenting with myself through trial and error, as we all do. Lately, I have become more aware of my recurring struggle with patience. Those who know me well know that patience is not something that comes easy to me.

While on a trip to Montana this summer I had the spontaneous urge to try stone balancing. This not only takes a tremendous amount of patience, it also forces the body to give all its attention to the feel of the stones and their placement. As I experimented with stone balancing, I noticed that the process made me go into a sort of meditative state, and to my surprise, I didn’t lose my temper when the whole stack fell down.

I found something that I enjoy and that also takes an incredible amount of patience. This may not seem like a big deal to some people on my friends list, but to me I see this as a success story. I am beyond proud of my little discovery and excited to move forward with this art form. This photo shows one of my stacks from today.