Summer Break


Brutal Wisconsin Winters packed an exhilarating punch around the holidays; but by spring they grated on my nerves. The overcast skies of March and the ever-increasing dirty gray slush made spring seem a figment of our imaginations; and even April could spitefully spew out another snowstorm.

Our high school sat on the other side of a super highway, which ran parallel to our street. School days we’d walk right, to the end of our block, cross over to where on the left a large tunnel took us under the highway to school. As far north as our city, the sky was often dark when entering the lighted tunnel in the morning. It was dark again when we returned in the late afternoon. This darkness marked our winter.

The school, normally part of the view from our living room picture window, hid in winter behind gargantuan heaps of snow. Reliable, persistent snowplows pushed the snow into the wide median month after month until the school disappeared. The snow on our side stayed white, but on the highway side, cars and semi-trucks caused strata-like layers of ugly dirt-  black snow on the bottom gradually turned white about six feet up.

Then, finally, change! Snow piles began to shrink. Almost overnight the longed-for melt formed ponds. Ponds to ford whenever we walked or drove anywhere. A bother? Not at first. Water meant spring!

Would spring really change its mind and come to Wisconsin?

School changed too. Pressure. Life became increasingly serious, and busy, and hard. With theatre rehearsals, projects, and finals, April daylight hung around for the chilly walk home. I would hurry through the parking lot, down the sidewalk, to the tunnel where a month ago my breath would freeze in the scarf over my face, chapping my lips. But now, with the scarf draped under my collar, I would emerge jogging from the tunnel, deftly avoiding the lake in our road.

Then up the driveway, warm house, hot supper, homework, and sleep. Only to begin all over again.

The next day proved warmer and longer. And the next one warmer still. (This week will the wool scarf stay home?) And, finally, Flowers!- the intoxicating aroma of glorious lilacs. Tulips popped up, albeit late for Easter. Hydrangea, rhubarb, with all sorts of flowering bushes, filling my head with perfume akin to- well – a spring day in Wisconsin.

And what in the world now blanketed our yard? A soft green carpet.

Like the bright sun sliding out from behind a cloud, grass signaled the end of school. Finals passed, ceremonies done, good byes said all around, my neighborhood friends came to our yard to celebrate. Tumbling and rolling, leaping and turning cartwheels, we giggled in sheer wonder! Lying on our backs, those snow angels forgotten, grass angels stared up at the sky as if we hadn’t seen it for ages. We hadn’t.

I pushed my face into the grass trying to feel the tickle of its blades in my nostrils. Then I’d sit Indian style and grab the grass under my nails and between my fingers, as if it might disappear.

Spring here, and in a few short weeks we’d have summer— hot, exhilarating summer.

Summer, oh, how I’ve missed you!

Gone are thoughts of papers and tests and grades.

Gone are thoughts of work, and hurry, and push.

It’s time to rest and just be.

So stay, Summer.

Stay just for me…


The monthly ritual of cutting my husband’s hair spans 35 years. About ten years ago I began to notice my sweepings. Not only much less in volume, the strands started to take on the look of shimmery slate. As more years went by, the slate grew lighter and lighter. You still couldn’t see the extra-fine white hairs, just the gloss that changes with the light. Beautiful.

Unlike mine. In my mid-thirties my hair took on Mousy. For over 20 years I’ve fought the dreary-weather color of gray. But sooner or later, in a thousand variations of time and hue, we all turn white. And that is beautiful. Let’s be positive about it. I have two close girlfriends, young autumn women, with radiant, pure white hair. So today, while I salute the shimmery slate of my husband’s head, join me in a whirlwind trip back. Way back.

Do you  remember when Johnson and Johnson brought us “No More Tears” shampoo in 1957? It sure made washing hair for us little ones a lot better. Saturday nights, freshly bathed, smelling like cherry blossoms, we’d sit cross-legged in our flannel pajamas as Mom used rags to produce pretty Sunday curls. She’d wind a small section of hair around the cotton strips and tie the two ends together, loose enough to remove easily in the morning. The results? Bouncy ringlets that would last several days.


When bobby pins came on the scene, so did hope for perms gone bad. Actually any hair problem could be solved with a simple bobby pin – or five or ten. I loved them. At about seven, performing a solo in front of the whole church, a bobby pin came loose and dangled by my ear. Would this deter me from my moment of glory? Not a chance. In the middle of the song, when my bobby pin fell to the floor, I stooped down, opened it with my teeth, and replaced it. Without missing a note. Why the congregation found that funny, I had no idea.

Just a fact of life, dealing with hair. At eight, Mom decided I needed to shampoo my own. Angry, abandoned, I filled the sink and flipped my hair upside down. Bang! my forehead hit the side, adding pain to insult. Mom’s fingers always felt like love as she massaged my head. Yet afterward, despite sloshed water on the floor and stinging sinuses and eyes, I saw a slightly older girl in the mirror. And that felt good.

In 5th grade bangs became popular. Both parents wrinkled their noses at the idea, yet I had to find out what bangs would look like on me. So I rolled a fringe of my front hair into a sort of flat hotdog– and kept it in place with lots of bobby pins. By supper, though, I decided against showing up with a hair hotdog on my forehead.

In the eighth grade a group of us girls attended Charm Class at the YMCA. We learned how to walk and dress well. But mostly we learned grooming and how to style, or I should say poof, our hair. Charm class changed my life– from a plain, giggly school girl to a coiffed, giggly school girl. That year my head grew at least three inches in diameter.


In the 70s, with the advent of acid rock music, wild, straggly hair became a sort of free-spirit identity. This both shocked and disturbed me at the time.

And what did I marry?


Yup, this is my hubby during the 70’s.

Which brings me back to his disappearing, almost white locks. Ahhhhhh… Huge relief as my mind settles back into today. I sure prefer our autumn married life kind of “free-spirit identity.”

Sometimes out by the pool, dripping wet after a nice dip on a hot day, I’ll pour him a cool drink and give him a haircut.

Then, in utter splendor he’ll sigh, “What a great setup. I actually get to sleep with my barber.”



First Love



I remember his last name. But I will just call him Danny. We lived in South Dakota and I assume he had been around all along in the 4th and 5th grades. But we didn’t talk until 6th grade when during the first week of school he commented on my handwriting. I said I liked having nice handwriting- and he said he did too, but guys weren’t supposed to be into that sort of thing.

He noticed my handwriting! He had me. From then on my thoughts strayed to Danny. As a student first, and a girl second, my thoughts stayed on his character– his good grades and wrinkled brow when writing so neatly. But especially I noticed his books with machine-stitched cloth covers. Book covers no red-blooded boy would carry.

But did I say my thoughts “stayed” in the realm of character? That wouldn’t be completely true. As a girl, I noticed the curls around his ears, the smell of Tide as he walked by my desk, and the tightness of his chin when he spoke. All of that created a funny feeling in my stomach. But it only lasted a few seconds.

Three “Danny” events from the 6th grade stand out. First, he confessed on a walk home from school one spring day that my valentine had been the only one with a sucker in it. I guess I needed to know that.

Second, he asked if I’d stop by his house with an armload of his cloth-covered books, while he stayed after for sports. Only a block or so from the school, this caused no anxiety in me at all. He just asked me to do a small favor and I would do it. That I would meet his mother and see inside the front door did interest me some.

When I rang the doorbell, she came, all smiles. I couldn’t help my blurt. “Hi, Mrs. ‘Smith.’ I really like the book covers you made for Danny. They are nice.”

“Thank, you, Dear. I am amazed he carries them, being such a boy boy. You are a sweet girl. Thanks for bringing his books.

Oh, boy. That was cool. His house smelled clean, like him. On the way home I pondered. Would I marry Danny? Or would I marry someone handsome and charming and smart like him? Next year we would be in junior high. Would he even remember me?

The third incident happened the first week of summer vacation. He rode over on his bike and found me in the yard. “How about a bike ride?”he asked.


Now you may wonder if I went inside to either ask permission or tell my mom the plan. To that I can only say, life was so different in 1961. During summer, parents saw their children at meals. In between existed a whole world of exploring and play. If a child didn’t return for the next meal, or couldn’t be found with a little help from neighbors in an hour, then concern might make its entrance. But summer independence had long been familiar territory by 6th grade. We felt safe because, except for the rare freak occurrence, we were.

To get back to Danny, little kid cartwheels, adolescent fireworks, and grownup picket-fence images jumbled around in my head. Was this a date? Was this a date!?

On the bike ride we saw parts of the town unfamiliar. In a more country area the chain came off my bike. Laying his down, he put it back on expertly and wiped his greasy hands on the grass. There it was, that jaw thing again. He seemed to clench his teeth when in thought or stress. Could he be sorry he did this?

He led, I followed. Almost no talk.

After about an hour I found myself back in my front yard. He threw up his hand and away he rode. As I got off my bike, a bit breathless from trying to keep up and riding for so long, I felt a mixture of emotions. Pride that just possibly this had been my first date, and confusion about what he might be thinking right now. What did all this mean? Had I acted stupid on our ride? (How could ten words be construed as stupid?) Had he crushed himself with remorse over his nerve to do this? Had he stirred up feelings in both of us that neither could do anything about? Or did these emotions bring us up short? Get real. This is the summer after 6th grade.

In a month, my dad brought news that we were moving to a new state. I would begin junior high in a faraway school.

Danny had just become history. Funny, I still remember his last name.

Do you recall the whole name of a special boy in your past?

Safe, summer independence for kids has been gone a long time.

When did it go?


Grace, A Quiet Blessing

My bedroom door creaked open into our pitch black hall.  Mom and Dad kept it that way so they could sleep with their door slightly ajar. Tiptoeing  toward the sounds of muffled snoring, I felt the wooden trim, and stopped for a second or two, trying to decide if I really needed to do this. Three times in last few weeks! This is crazy. I am almost 11! But the orderliness and supposed serenity of our middle-class Canadian home didn’t stop the nightmares. As a matter of fact, the rude intruders had appeared often enough recently that Mom had made an appointment to see our family doctor.

Deciding to go ahead, I carefully pushed open the door. There she lay, as always, purring softly on her side of the bed. Just a whisper, “Mom, I had a bad dream,” and she would quietly lift the covers to invite my skinny, shivering frame. Slithering in like a little snake, so Dad wouldn’t suspect I had arrived, I would cuddle up beside her, my forehead to her chin. I’d lie as still as a dead person, hardly daring to breathe,  thoughts of reluctance totally banished. She had allowed me, as old as I was, into her sanctuary. And there I would stay, until the need for oxygen would force me to move.

She would hold her arms down by her side, acting as though I wasn’t there, but I knew she was aware of me. Free to go and welcome to stay, it was glorious. She smelled of the lily of the valley cologne donned earlier in the day along with her modest pink calico house dress and beige hose.  Could I even imagine Mom in pajamas? Her bedtime wear was always silk and lace and ribbon; and in the mornings a flowing champagne-length robe would drape the most stately shoulders I have ever seen.

Her name was Grace and lots of  people said she reminded them of the queen. Yes, our queen. Queen Elisabeth of England who was younger than Mom by about 6 years. Well, actually precisely 6 years, since they were both born on June 4th. But the slightly more mature face of my mother was, to me, way more beautiful. Her larger brown eyes, almost perfect teeth, radiated a smile of warmth and acceptance to all in our household. And her hair,  that short, wavy brunette hairstyle, could have been coiffed by the same stylist as the queen.  I often wondered if women in this era longed to look like the queen, so many of them wore that hairstyle.  But unlike most, my mother was also tall and thin, and graceful. She did look like the queen, only better. And I knew what her hug felt like. Those full cheeks of incredible dewy cream were so like the powder puffs she used to dust them. Even though they have caressed me, I can’t describe that softness.

And, like the queen, Mom was a woman of few words. Her busy life as a neonatal nurse, mother, and humble hostess for a pastor husband had already been difficult. She was healthy and strong; but a stoic quietness marked her spiritual journey. By 65 she would be rendered completely immobile by a debilitating muscle disease, transitioning from cane to walker, to wheel chair, to nursing home. All with a grace that reflected her name.

But that was the mysterious future- decades ahead of us. Tonight she was my rock. During that brief half hour or so, becoming hotter and hotter, I would grow cramped and sore from lying stock still beside her. So I would gingerly slip out of the covers and feel my way out the door and along the hall back to my own bed, the refreshing coolness causing me to fall instantly asleep.

Next morning, the episode wasn’t mentioned, by her anyway. I would say, “I had another nightmare, Mom.” Then she would go on doing what she was doing, making a pan of biscuits or buttering toast; and she’d purse her lips together in a half smile, the way she always did, so I would know she heard me. But her love flowed from that quiet gentleness. All day at school her warmth would comfort me. Grace. My quiet blessing.