Afraid of Balloons

Some people wait for years to replace a beloved pet. Not us.

When we had to put down Pisgah—my fifteen year old Cocker Spaniel—I couldn’t go back  home without her there to greet us. She had been through my first marriage with me. After my divorce, she was with my son Charlie when I couldn’t be.

20131216_211037_resizedShe was my jogging buddy—always beside me, leash-less. When her years began to add up and she started to lag behind, her long silky ears flopped all the more from the extra effort. She began to surrender on her squirrel chases. She became deaf and found her way by scent.

In spite of it all, as she aged, people would still ask if she was a puppy.

20131216_211355_resizedAfter a bath one night, she shivered and was short of breath. I thought it was from the cold but it didn’t stop. We soon discovered that her heart was enlarged. It couldn’t contain all her love.

20131216_211054_resizedTodd stood by my side as I held her in my arms and she looked up at me. The vet gave her the shot that put her into a sweet, deep sleep.

It was too hard to walk back into our house after that so we went for lattes. We came up with the idea to take a drive to the pet store where my brother had found a puppy.

We walked in and I immediately noticed a teddy bear. He sat up with a stick-straight dancer spine and looked me square in the eyes. Hopeful anticipation…..Please love me ma’am (get me out of here!). I asked to hold him and the salesperson took him from his cage and set him down in an observation pen.

20131216_211644_resizedI watched him play, rubbed his belly, let him lick the tears that were still fresh in my eyes, and tried to stop him from gnawing on my fingers with his sharp teeth.

20131216_211454_resizedBy the time Todd found out we couldn’t afford him, it was too late. Without any research, we made an impulse buy and busted our budget. We were so sad and Sam was such fun. We returned home with a big pen and all the dog accouterments—poorer but puppy rich.

20131216_210942_resizedI sobbed through that evening, playing Puccini in Pisgah’s honor while Sam scooted around.

20131216_210735_resizedHe chewed the legs of all our furniture but was particular about the shoes he ate. They had to be new and bone colored. He destroyed our rugs and carpeting and ate anything—including a lighter. He was a butane hose for days and had to spend them all in his pen.

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Frozen in snow after playing with his best friend Cookie Dermond

Garbage cans scare him. He is a sniffer not a jogger and can easily spend thirty minutes on one block. He was hard to train and still jumps up on guests. He snarls at some dogs but only after I have assured the owner he is friendly.

He got his certificate from obedience school because the trainer was relieved to be done with him. “This is how you walk a dog,” he would say taking Sam by the leash and proceed across the room. “Heal! Heal!! HEAL SAM!!”  Sam does not heal.

20131216_211813_resizedHe is strong-willed but sweet and confused about being a dog. He sits on the stairs like a person—upright on the step. He has made our furniture his own and when Todd gets up in the morning, Sam immediately jumps up beside me and lays his head on Todd’s pillow.

20131216_211743_resizedWe work all day so we got a kitten to keep him company and named her Rose.

20131216_211621_resizedHer alley cat mom weaned her too early so the former owner’s dog had become her surrogate mother. When Rose met Sam she attached her mouth to a nipple. He stared at us, What the heck? but they became best pals.

20131216_211539_resizedI eventually got Sam to walk to the lakefront and home again without a leash. I would carry Rose along in a papoose. The three of us would do the full two and a half mile circle together…until the day Sam saw a parachute.

He stopped, turned and took off across the beach, running past honking, screeching cars. He was covered with the lake’s algae and tends to look rabid when wet. No one could catch him. He disappeared into the ravines. I called for hours. I was almost home when I noticed him sauntering along a couple blocks ahead of me.

I keep Sam on a leash now most of the time and have never been successful with getting him to walk leisurely on the lakefront. He’s always looking for that parachute.

So, when we brought balloons home from an event last night, Sam escaped up the stairs and hid in the bedroom.

He just has a thing about floating aberrations.

BalloonsI sometimes wonder what would have happened to Sam if we hadn’t been so impulsive that day at the pet store. It doesn’t matter….Sam has Pisgah to thank for that….and I’m sure he will one day.

20131216_210826_resizedHe’s just not ready yet to join her.

2011 Oct 18 Camera Download 001

Back to the City

On Sunday nights, Todd and I often walk to Boswell bookstore on Downer Avenue, have a latte and buy a book—the final stretch of our weekend. Then it’s back home for popcorn and we open a bottle of wine. Growing up, my family would always have Sunday dinner after church, so Sunday nights Mom made popcorn. She would hide pieces of homemade fudge in it.

On a Sunday night in January 1970, we were all out snowmobiling, stretching the weekend out as long we could. I got thrown off the back of Ed’s snowmobile, and landed face first in a snow bank. I felt the crunch of the ice and got up feeling like I had a face full of needles. The next morning was our first day at new schools in Milwaukee. Mom and Dad had made the decision to move from the farm back into town. This was the period of time that families were leaving the city for the suburbs but Mom and Dad felt it was time for our family to leave the suburbs for the city. I looked like I had the measles. Dad told me no one would notice.

Like the farm ten years earlier, Mom and Dad found a great bargain on a house on Milwaukee’s east side; the purchase price was seventeen thousand dollars. It needed some work but the neighborhood was close to our schools, there was a park and Lake Michigan nearby.

We traveled into town that next morning—Ed, John, Joan and I—all squeezed into Dad’s Carmen Ghia, along with our backpacks and John’s trombone. Ed got the front-seat. I had the center back because I have claustrophobia and there was more leg room. John and Joan were squished in on what was left of the seat on either side of me. I didn’t mind the trombone in my lap as long as I didn’t have a seat in front of my face like they did.  Somehow we fit and survived the thirty minute drives each way without too much trouble—for the next four months while the house got renovated. We moved in on the first day of April…Fools Day.

Ed was a sophomore and I was a freshman and would be attending Riverside High School, Dad’s Alma Mater. John was in eighth grade and Joan in third, both at Hartford Avenue Elementary. Every day after school we would go to the Wenzler Architect demolition project on Shepard Avenue—walls came down and beams were exposed and sandblasted. Dad was opening up the first floor and building a central fireplace that created a loft in a house feel long before lofts were cool. Ed and John helped. Joanie made friends in the neighborhood. I camped out in the old Victorian bathtub with feet and did my homework.

Go Riverside Tigers!

Go Riverside Tigers!

When Dad was a kid, Milwaukee Public Schools taught music lessons at Roosevelt Junior High. At the time, this was the center of the African American community in Milwaukee. Dad wanted to take trumpet lessons and they were offered at Roosevelt on Saturdays so he went. When his dad and brother found out what he was doing, they had a fit and told him it was too dangerous. Dad told them that that was ridiculous and continued on with his lessons. That’s how he raised us—to not be afraid. For example, after September 11, Joan was flying home a lot because of Mom’s cancer. The attack had made her nervous about flying. Dad said, “Joan, do not be intimidated. Get a seat on the aisle. If you see anything suspicious, take them down!”

That empowered her and she flew without fear from then on.

Riverside was one of the first schools at the time in Milwaukee that brought different neighborhoods of kids together to keep the city schools from becoming segregated. There was racial tension. When Todd, who also attended Riverside, was on his way to his first day of class, he got punched in the face by two guys—one on either side of him, in front of the Ben Franklin on Oakland Avenue. He went to the auditorium for orientation that day feeling a little sniffley at age thirteen, standing five feet four inches with red hair. We would have done well to have had a Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap program back then.

What I remember about my first day of school was the color of the Bobbie Brooks skirt and sweater I wore—lime green. It wouldn’t be long before I would be wearing the same pair of bell bottom blue jeans day after day. I also remember seeing Todd walk down the hallway—as I hid my measle spots behind my hair—and thinking he was cute.

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Homeroom. Todd second row, second from right. Facebook friend Doug Hoyt top row first on left.

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Homeroom. Deb second row center. Facebook friend Dawn (Silas) Dunkelberger, second row third from left.

So we moved into Milwaukee at the height of the civil rights movement. ‘Crazy,’ people said about what my parents were doing. They were right—crazy about equal rights. Mom and Dad wanted to expose us to diversity—to life.

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20140219_175111_resizedPictures from the 1971 Riverside Mercury Yearbook. The dedication reads:

We wish to dedicate the 1971 Mercury to all those who cannot laugh with us because sadness, poverty, sickness or loneliness have touched their lives. It is our hope that the changes we so desperately need will come about within our own lives. It is on the expression of this hope that we close this book.

Crossing the Soviet Border

Around the time of Dad’s fellowship, the Soviets had been known to occasionally take Americans hostage for negotiating purposes. That didn’t influence Dad’s desire to see Berlin. He was interested in architecture in West Berlin and just plain curious about East Berlin. When he was making the decision to cross into Soviet controlled East Berlin, he was not going to be intimidated. Having been the smallest kid in his class at Fratney Street School, he understood what it meant to be bullied. He knew real power was not gained by creating fear in someone else in order to win the upper hand. Dad will tell you that his strength has always come from the Lord. He wanted to experience for himself the effects of the war and the impact of communist control.

Road entering Soviet zone

Entering first Soviet zone. No border check on the autobahn.

“The tension was great between the Soviet Union and the allies—France, England and the U.S.,” Dad told me during a Saturday afternoon history lesson to help me understand this story.

“I had stopped at the Consulate in Bremen to discuss the situation. They told me the only way that they had ever heard of civilians driving through the Soviet sector into Berlin, was in a military convoy. They said they couldn’t recommend anything to me but they did add, ‘If you do it, will you stop on the way back and tell us how it went?’

That night in West Germany, we heard artillery fire and we prayed for direction. In the morning a German told us that the Soviets did the firing intentionally to keep the German people nervous. Then I noticed that our VW had a flat tire—I hadn’t had any trouble up to that point. I took the tire off, put the spare on and Ed and I went to a garage in town. The mechanic checked it over and told us there was nothing wrong with the tire. He couldn’t explain why it went flat so he filled it with air and gave it back to me.

I suppose I could have interpreted this as a sign to listen to the words of the Consulate.  I didn’t know if somebody had flattened the tire to discourage us, but whatever happened, I felt compelled to get into Berlin. So we ignored it and continued on. But that’s how much tension there was.

When we got to the East German border, we had to go to the Soviet office to be checked out. They wanted to know who we were and what we were doing. I showed them my data from the University on the fellowship, told them I was traveling with my wife and three kids and that we were camping.They said they’d get back to me. So I went back to the car and we waited there while they checked us out. Before long, a guy in uniform came over to our car, said it was okay to go on and gave us a pass.

About this time, I had gotten word that the new tent we had ordered arrived in Bremen at the American Express office—always our connection point. This new tent had a covered area that we would be able to cook and eat under. We used our original tent while we were in Berlin because I knew the new one would take a while to figure out how to set up. So we went to pick it up and put it in our car-top carrier along with everything else.

We drove to Berlin without incident, and found the camp site there. We saw the architecture I wanted to see in West Berlin over several days. Dolores and the kids stayed at the camp site in the German sector while I went into East Berlin. The border of the German sector was at the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenberg GateI got checked out by the Russian guards and was permitted to enter. West Berlin was already rebuilt by this time. I couldn’t get over all the war devastation—bombed out buildings and rubble—still evident in East Berlin. I believed it was the difference between the economic systems and freedom.

East Berlin

East Berlin

East Berlin (2)

After I had spent several hours walking around East Berlin observing the conditions, it felt good to get back into West Berlin. I went to our camp site and discussed my experience with Dolores. The next morning, I put up a sign that said Zelt Verkaufen (Tent Sale). Almost instantly, it was sold. I guess the Berliners didn’t have much access to outside merchandise.

The buyer of the tent came by the next morning, after we had packed up. We drove back to West Germany and found a camp site there. I couldn’t help but recall the beautiful site in Florence that had convinced us to camp. This site was a vacant lot in an urban area. I unpacked the new tent and realized two things. First, it wasn’t the one I intended to buy and second, it had many pages of detailed instructions on how to erect it—all in German. As I was pondering my situation, another camper noticed me and offered to help. He could read German and helped me put it up. It was very difficult and took us a while. After about six times of putting it up and taking it down myself in the days ahead, I could finally get it all laid out and set up pretty quickly.”

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Then it was on to Scandinavia with our new two-room tent.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. II Timothy 1:7 NLT

1958 World’s Fair

The final six weeks of Dad’s fellowship took us over more mileage than any preceding similar period according to Dad’s notes. We traveled a total of 12,000 miles in the Volkswagen bug—camping through Germany, then south to Italy, on to Spain, France, Geneva, Brussels, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and …I know I’m missing a few things.

Amsterdam

Our car along a canal in Amsterdam

The truth is, I want to get through Dad’s fellowship so the total trip will be included in the 40 years of stories that I give to him on his birthday this Sunday. He has been asking for months, “When are we going to finish the fellowship…?!”

Local resident in front of our tent

Local resident in front of our campsite

Brussels deserves a special mention on at least two counts. For one, the World’s Fair was there in ’58. Dad said John became part of an exhibit when he got tired of carrying him while watching a contemporary furniture exhibit. No sooner had he laid him down to rest when he heard voices muttering, “Look at those Americans.They put a live child in their exhibit!”

And secondly regarding Brussels, we lost Ed.

Dad said he gave us all clear instructions, “Now you kids stay with us. If we lose you in the World’s Fair, we’ll never find you!”  Within the first hour, Ed was missing. Apparently, we were walking along a boulevard that curved. Ed followed the curve while the rest of us went straight. Pretty soon someone was saying, “Where’s Eddie?”

Not with us.

Mom and Dad did find him two hours later.

Ed’s story was that first a man with banana peels found him, (a litter clean-up man) and he took him to a policeman who only spoke French.

“Of course it may have been any other language but to Eddie it was French,” Dad said.

Ed’s story continued on. A man came along who spoke English and told him to go with the French speaking policeman.

“We finally found out where we should go to find a lost child,” Dad said, “when we heard an announcement over the loud-speaker—in four different languages—that all parents with lost children should report to such and such a place. So that’s where we went and there we found Eddie with a toy in each hand, three stewardesses trying to comfort him.

“They said they’d never find me if I got lost!” He was crying to them with big tears in his eyes.

Well, we did find him and then it was on to Amsterdam, Holland where there were windmills and wooden shoes.

20140105_185750_resizedMy wooden shoes were red. I loved the color but I still remember sliding my feet into those hard things…the rub against the bone on my arch, but also the wonderful tapping sound they made on the streets.

20140105_185652_resizedThey were great for walking on the cobbled streets and also served well as toy shovels in the dirt.

20140105_185711_resizedThey were magical wooden shoes.

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British Hospitality

There she was, standing on the deck of the ferry looking out over the White Cliffs of Dover, the sea air tossing her new French cut, when a kind Englishman noticed her and her three small  children.

20140105_174618_resized“I had made it across the ocean,” Dad remembered, “traveling for eleven days on the MS Berlin with no sickness. Dolores and Eddie both got so terribly seasick they had to stay up on deck for fresh air. They weren’t able to eat except to go down to the German sausage bar at night. They survived on that sausage. I did end up getting sick though when we crossed the channel from the mainland to England. I don’t think it was seasickness, I was just plain sick.

We’d been all over southern Europe by this time with Amsterdam, Berlin, Denmark, Norway and Sweden still ahead of us. I was down in the men’s room and this Englishman befriended Dolores. He saw her, started talking to her and she happened to mention to him that we were camping.

crossing channel mom

When he found this out he said, ‘Well, you’re not going to live like an American Indian in the Queen’s country! I’m in real estate and I have a vacant flat near my house in the West End I’m going to let you have while you’re in England.’ He didn’t know when he said this that Dolores’ family were descendants of the American Indian tribe known as the Ujamis.

By this time, I had made my way back up to the deck and introduced myself to him. He gave us his address in London where we should meet him after we got off the boat. He said he would probably be detained while going through customs so if we happened to miss him, we should go on to London and meet him there. His name was Mark Finley. He was an importer-exporter.

It did end up that we couldn’t find him when we got off the boat and we really were looking for him. So we loaded up the kids into the car and since I was still sick, Dolores had to do the driving. Now remember, this meant driving on the left side of the road and we were in a German car with the steering also on the left. That is kind of tricky to do. So we were on our way to London and we stopped at a couple places, doing our best to try and find somewhere to stay for the night but couldn’t find anything. Dolores drove all through the night in this unfamiliar place, on the left side of the road, in this German car, with three little kids and a sick husband.

How we ended up finding this guy after all those hours of driving I don’t know, but all of a sudden, there he was standing outside of a nice looking house with his landlady, just raving. “Where are they?” he ranted at her. “Why haven’t they come?!” we heard him say. It was clear he was upset but as we pulled up and he noticed us, immediately relieved.

He welcomed our family in and showed us the apartment he had told us about. I have to admit it really was nice not to have to pitch the tent and set up camp in the shape I was in. Instead, we made up camp on the apartment floor and the landlady brought us hot chocolate.

The next day, Mark Finely came driving up with a truck load of furniture—beds, a dining room table and chairs. He furnished this apartment for us. He mentioned Mom was welcome to stay on there at the apartment instead of camping with me. But I didn’t trust him. I got the feeling that his plans were different than ours”.

“So how long did we stay with this man?” I asked.

“Not long, a week or so. You all came with me on a couple of trips, we saw Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare’s house—Mom would take you to visit things while I did my work.

An interesting thing we learned was that a typical apartment building would be heated to about 68 degrees. Additional heat had to be provided by the tenant with small unit heaters.”

London Bridge

Playing London Bridge in front of London Bridge

“Did you ever hear from Mark Finely again?”

“Yes. He wrote to us. He was going on a trip to South America. He said he’d try to come to see us in the states if he could fit it in but he never made it. That was 1958. Years later, in ‘71, Mom and I went on a tour in Europe of industrialized housing and new towns. The first stop was England. When we were in London, we were walking around to see if we could find Mark Finley’s house. We remembered it was across from Hyde Park. The area looked familiar. Just then, a man in a wheel chair was being brought out of one of the houses to be put in a chauffeur driven limousine. We saw that it was Mark Finley and went over to greet him but his eyes told us he didn’t remember.”

A Soldier in the Distance

What I had once been driven to do through dance, using my physical and spiritual strength, I began to find through being still, with pen and paper. Movement of my soul.

I felt differently about writing after my brother died. Bring him back. Quick, someone get it down before we lose anyone else. A vehicle to make what’s temporal, timeless.

It’s maybe ironic that what moved me to write, also unmoved me and I packed it away for several years. Afraid.

I had mentioned his death in a story that brought it all back to someone. Seeing the pain on that face was inexplicable. I froze like the icy snow in the story she later told me to encourage me on……

It was a snowstorm that pressed icy winds against the drafty old house, sending moans throughout its walls and floorboards. Cold air worked its way in through the window frames. Whirls of snow blew in the air and across the field to the west. By mid afternoon, what had seemed cozy earlier became confining for three little kids.

When the snow stopped and the sun peered through the thick grey quilt of a sky, reflecting a glistening bed of snow waiting to be jumped on, Mom quieted our rambunctious voices long enough to say, “Enough!! Get your snowsuits on.” Twenty minutes later we were out the door. Capped, zipped and booted.

We marched up the hill to the stone road behind the gate at the top of the driveway, laughing, thrilled to be in the fresh air and stomping through the deep drifts of snow. Mom was happy to have our energy released in a space large enough to contain it. Ed trudged on ahead while John and I fell backwards together into the soft white blanket and waved our arms and legs. “Eddie, look! Angels!” We called out but he was already busy making a fort. Preferring his project to ours, we made our way over to him and all worked together.

It wasn’t long though before the sun tucked itself back behind the weighty clouds and the wind started up again. Mom pulled our scarves up over our chins and was concerned by the ominous, sudden change in the wind’s direction. She gathered Johnny up in one arm and took hold of my mittened hand in the other. “Eddie!” She called through the wind. “Let’s go back.”

His dark eyelashes blinked away snow, “Okay,” he shouted. “I’ll lead the way!”

He led us back up the road. Our trip was quicker going than it was returning, as it often is. John tucked his head in Mom’s collar and I kept mine down out of the sleety wind as she guided my steps. “What if we don’t make it back,” someone asked as the wind was doing its best to push us the opposite direction we were headed.

“Come on, guys!” Ed shouted, looking on the road in the distance like a toy soldier.

As we neared the house, we could see the glass in the upper panel of the storm door rattling as the yellow light from the kitchen glowed against the darkening sky and filled the window like a lamp, beckoning us inside.

Ed was wrestling with the doorknob, his hands working hard inside icy mittens. With a swift kick of his sturdy little leg, the old door flew open and with frozen fingers and toes, we were all once again safe inside the womb of warmth we called home.

sledding!I think of Ed like that now, a soldier on the road in the distance….almost hearing his voice, “Guys look! Angels!”….guiding us towards the door so we can enter in, away from danger. All grief. The glow of the light against the darkness shines like a lamp, beckoning us onward.

Wonder

I could see Holy Hill, the highest point in our part of the state, from my bedroom window at the farm. It was like a beacon when surrounded by the setting sun. At Christmas time, I would lie in bed and look out at it, searching for Santa’s sleigh—my eyes devouring the black curtain of a sky filled with glittering stars. One time, I convinced myself that a string of light was actually him on his sleigh and on his way.

On Christmas Eve, my family would exchange the gifts my brothers, sister and I got for each other and our parents. We had a $5.00 limit. We’d shop at Grants at Ruby Isle, a strip mall that went up a couple miles from our house. Then we would have dinner before the Candlelight service at church and afterwards, set out cookies for Santa and sent to bed. But we wouldn’t sleep.

I can still remember those feelings of anticipation and excitement. I think now about all the traditions surrounding Christmas and long to keep them alive. Though traditions remain, feelings change.

The brilliance of the lights, the sparkle of the ornaments, the angelic sounds of the music all pay homage to the Holy One. It’s so easy to lose sight of that in the midst of things and though the decorations are merry and bright, our hearts may not be.

This past week, I woke up in the night wanting to recapture the way I felt about Christmas as a child and was unable to fall back to sleep. I was hungry for the spirit of Christmas that would run deep into my own spirit. I Googled the Real Meaning of Christmas to see what the Internet was saying about it and found what I was looking for—that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To celebrate Him is to celebrate Life, Love and Forgiveness which leads to Joy and Peace in our hearts regardless of what’s going on around us. When we say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays—which is pointing to the Holy day of Christ’s birth—that’s what we’re celebrating.

I want to make the cookies my mom made because the tastes remind me of my childhood and that time of great anticipation. I have saved some of the shiny but discolored glass ornament balls from the farm and still hang them because I remember my excitement when they came out of the attic. I will place one of my mom’s taped together Christmas Carol books on the piano because I want my heart to rejoice at the memory of the sound of her music and our voices singing as she played from it. But it’s so easy to focus on traditions and memories, get sentimental and then miss the real thing.

The baby lay in a manger—there were no quilts or a bed, there were no cookies. The cattle were lowing—there was no piano music. There was hay and the smell of animals, no ornaments or scent of pine. He came as Hope for a wounded world and this is how he entered into it. He is the Hope for wounded hearts if we let him in. We don’t need all the rest.

Mr. Kiekhever, who owned the farm we grew up on, hoped to one day build a house on the 10 acres where our farm house sat because you could see Holy Hill from it. He passed away before that happened and Mrs. Kiekhever never went ahead with the plan. Mom and Dad eventually bought the property and the farm house still sits there. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Kiekhever saw Holy Hill as a reminder of Holiness, as a symbol of Hope and that’s why he wanted the view. We need reminders.

I’m not sure I’ll have time to make the cookies I really wanted to make this year in memory of Mom. I don’t know if I’ll get around to writing cards to those I love.Though our tree is up that may be the extent of my decorating. But I will take time to let Jesus fill my heart with his Love and Light—flowing in to be poured out for others. And once again, I will remember the true meaning of Christmas.

20131218_191656_resizedO Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light.

Revered John Henry Hopkins

Baling Hay

Before long, Assy had puppies. There were also several farm cats that had kittens—and then the kittens had kittens and their kittens had kittens. Mice weren’t too much of a problem at the farm. The horses were soon joined by sheep, followed by chickens, goats, rabbits and ducks.

Ed and John in the hay pile with Assy's puppies. Crew cuts = misbehaving

Ed and John with Assy’s puppies.

“Now that we had a tractor,” Dad said, “it always seemed we were loaded with rubbish and tree cuttings that we had to take to the dump along the railroad tracks off Brookfield Road. We thought we ought to really have a wagon to pull behind the tractor. I had noticed a used farm implement dealer just off of HWY 94 on my way back from Madison one day. So on a Saturday, the boys and I drove over to check it out. We found a pretty good farm wagon—the only problem was that the wooden tongue was pretty rotted. We bought it anyway and took the side roads home. On the way, we found another implement dealer and stopped to ask if he might have a tongue for our wagon. He didn’t—but, he did have a saw mill. He ended up cutting us a beautiful 6 x 8 inch wooden tongue and attached it to our wagon. Now we had a beautiful wagon! This became another toy for the kids of the neighborhood. Whereas before we had a bunch of kids on the tractor, now we had a whole neighborhood full of kids on the wagon.

To keep the horses fed, we were going back to Reinder’s regularly to buy baled hay and buckets of oats plus vitamins the salesman said we really should have for them. It wasn’t too long before Ed, John and I went back to Madison to the dealer we bought the wagon from, and asked about equipment to make our own hay. The dealer said he had exactly what we needed. We ended up buying a John Deere sickle-bar mower and an old New Holland baler and he delivered them to us. Now we were all set—we could make our own hay.

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Ed at the wheel with John on the baler

About this time, the church we attended, Faith United Church of Christ, became involved in a merger and we got involved with the church located in Milwaukee on 4th and Meinecke. We would drive in town to 4th and Meinecke every Sunday. One of the things I remember well were the breakfasts our church held after the Easter sunrise services. All the tables would be set up in the fellowship hall—members and families gathered around big platters of scrambled eggs. There were challenges with the merger but those breakfasts were great. Dolores eventually took on the music ministry which included playing their beautiful old pipe organ—the organ console was located in the balcony, where she also rehearsed the choir—and I taught the senior highs.

Sometime around then during the summer, the boys and I had succeeded in mowing, raking and baling our first hay crop.

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Kids in the field

Following that was the chore of picking up all the bales, stacking them in the wagon and putting them in the barn. I talked to my Sunday school class and asked my students how they’d like to help me pick up the hay out at our farm and they were all excited. I also got the guys from my office to help out. It must have looked interesting to the neighbors to see this large mix of African American teenagers and architects out picking up bales in our field. I remember one of my students was very strong. He would pick up two bales in each hand and throw them up on the wagon. We got the bales picked up pretty quickly and stored away in the barn for our first crop.

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Wagon full of hay bales

Now it was a piece of cake in the morning to go up into the second floor of the barn where the hay was stored and just simply kick out a bale to feed the horses.

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Senior Highs

On the side of barn facing the hayfield was a built up driveway to the upper level of the barn where the hay was stored. I found out all the kids had become quite adept at walking across the wooden beams in the barn and jumping into the stored hay beneath. Ed had built a hideout in the corner of the barn where the beams connected to the outside wall. You’d have to walk approximately 20 feet on a 10 inch wooden beam to get to it. So that’s where the neighborhood kids would gather. I didn’t find out until later that this adeptness with heights led to jumping out the second story sliding barn door we used to drop the bales down out of to feed the horses. So here all the kids are jumping from the second floor of the barn, landing beneath in the lose hay from the opened bales. Oh, those poor neighbors who had to watch all this.

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Ed’s innovation–a bridge

When the kids were running around they learned to duck under the barbed wired fence. One of Ed’s friends, Gary Robinson, didn’t duck quite far enough and caught the barb on his back, leaving a bloody injury. About then, his dad happened to come by and I was concerned about what he would say about it. All he said was, “Gary, if you can’t duck far enough, don’t go under it.” Then he got out a first aid kit from his car and patched him up.

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John helping Dad with two broken arms.

Anyway, I would distribute the oats and vitamins by pouring them out on the ground at a fence post near where the hay was dropped and I soon became aware of what was going on. Three of the horses are mares (Lady, Subi and Fleta) and one is a gelding (Sam) who was by far the biggest. I guess I just assumed the horses would sort of divide the food but that wasn’t Subi’s idea. She’d flatten her ears and the other horses, including Sam, would back away. Subi would eat all she wanted. To solve this problem I bought a halter for each of them and knotted short ropes at each of four fence posts.

When it was time for the oats and vitamins I’d attach the ropes to each horse. Now they each got their share. I’m sure this didn’t make Subi happy but it did the other three.

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Dad and Sam

I still can’t imagine what the Mitchells (our neighbors across the road) thought of my farming. We were always into something.

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Wiggles, Waggles and Peep Bo in the orchard

Peep Bo being sheered. The wool was used for the quilt that lays on  Dad's bed!

Wiggles being sheered. Mom had the wool made into a quilt that still lays on Dad’s bed.

I remember the time Mom ran to the store and left Ed in charge. It was snowing hard and he got the idea you should all to go to the Mitchell’s for a visit. You got your snowsuits and boots on and trudged over there together. On the way, John’s boots came off in the deep snow and he arrived there bare footed. You can imagine Mabel Mitchell’s reaction to that…and your Mother’s when she found out about it!”

20131210_171014_resized_1So, we ended up getting a great deal for that $75/month rent. The Kiekavers were a wonderful family and before long, Dad was helping Lolly Linnley, the Keikhevers’ daughter who lived at the farm past the castle at the end of the stone road, rein her horses in. We had a lot of good times together. Though the barn is now gone, our house on Gebhardt Road still stands. Ed eventually lived there with his wife Georgine and their two sons Christopher and Michael—that’s another story. Now Chris, along with his wife Lisa and their son Eddie live there.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a five year old walking alone on a mile-long stone road through the woods but that’s how I often got home from kindergarten. For my birthday in 1st grade, my parents invited my class over for a picnic. We walked on that road together from Brookfield Elementary to the farm with our teacher Miss Miller. I heard that after Mr. Kiekhever died, the nuns moved into the castle and it became a home for unwed mothers.

As life would have it, I was invited to an event at the castle for work last week. I found out that In the 80s it was bought and renovated by Don and Kate Wilson. It felt a little like I had stepped through time as I walked up the front walk. Memories of swimming in the pool that was once off to the left came back along with the old tennis courts where new homes now stood.

The coach house to the right of the drive, where our babysitter Fern lived, had been a mini replica of the castle, but it was gone.

I remembered there was also a log cabin, long forgotten, that sat deep in the woods. We spent one family Christmas there with Mom’s family. Someone later bought, renovated and added on to it.

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Johnnie and me, “Did Santa come?”

As I remember the golden fields and sound of my brothers voices yelling in the fresh air I can’t help but think how blessed we were by our time on the farm. It’s funny to think now that the kids on the school bus would laugh at me when I got off at the farm house. To avoid it, I began getting off at the stop by the subdivision a half mile down the road and walking home. I wonder how often, like the kids then, we overlook God’s beauty and miss His miracles which surround us every day.

“We were….eyewitnesses of His majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16. NKJV, from Max Luxado, Blessings for a Day, December 14

Horsing Around

I liked riding with Dad. I preferred sitting behind him on the horse and looking up at the stars to being in the saddle myself. I wish I could say I was a daring horseback rider but National Velvet was on my bookshelf not in my blood. Dad said he could always tell when I had ridden because he’d have to retrain the horse. I never rode Sam, Lady was nice, Subi was slow, Fleta had a mind of her own and they all had their way with me. While my brothers were helping Dad around the farm, I was off making imaginary castles in the tall, golden grass carpet of a field behind the barn. When Ed and John were mowing it with their friends, I was busy organizing my friends into neighborhood productions—using any available garage, the roof over a big sandbox in the play-yard, or my friend’s backyard patio as a stage.

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Ed and me with our sheep Wiggles and Waggles in the play-yard. (Bruflats house in distance.)

Anyway, since we had all these horses, Dad thought we should have something for them to pull. He noticed a two wheel cart for sale at one of the neighbor’s farms.

“I thought that might be a good way to start to train them,” Dad said as he remembered the old cart. “A guy named Landsberg had a shop on the corner of Bluemound and Barker Road and he sold lots of horse equipment. I bought a harness and whatever else I needed to hook up a horse.

Dad leading Lady

Dad leading Lady

The first time I hooked Lady up we were behind the barn at the top of the field. When she heard the noise on her heels, she took off, trying to get away from it. She raced down the field to our property fence and managed to turn around, then came running back up and headed west towards Bruflats. I don’t know how she got that cart to turn with her, going as fast as she was, but she did. When she was heading back towards me, I stood right in front of her, waved my arms and finally got her to stop—which I was very grateful for. Oh, she was scared.

Ed and his friend Gary Robinson pulling us in the two wheel cart

The two wheel cart

I suppose this was a clue I shouldn’t have tried to train that horse but I kept at it until I thought I had succeeded. I hooked her up to take her over to Paul Mitchel’s farm across the road to share my achievement with Paul and his family. When the calves in the pasture saw me leading Lady down the Mitchels’ long driveway, they got excited and came running towards us. This startled Lady and with a full gallop she headed straight for a station wagon parked in front of the Mitchels’ house. Lady swerved to miss it but the side of the wagon hit the back of the car and broke the wheel off the cart. I was thrown over the top of the station wagon and landed on the hood. Paul was standing there with a veterinarian who owned the car—both of them with their mouths hanging wide open. I said I wanted to show him how I had trained the horse. The vet said I had a little work yet to do.

Meanwhile, Lady ran through their electric fence and out into the field, pulling the broken harness behind. I went after her, grabbed her mane like I often did to jump on her bareback, and pulled but realized both of my wrists were sprained so I led her back on foot. I stopped to talk to Paul and the Vet and told them I would check with my insurance company to see if I could get some help to cover all the damage we had done. When I called the company I asked my agent if they covered horse damage to cars. He said it was the first time he’d been asked about such a thing but thought maybe it would fall under general liability. I think I did end up getting a little money to help fix the damage we had done to the vet’s station wagon. The rest was up to me.

Winter came and I found a sleigh with red velvet seats called a cutter for a horse to pull. By this time I had broken Subi. It was great to work with her because the snow was deep so she was more manageable. I bought a toboggan and I’d put a rope from the toboggan to the horn of the saddle on the horse I was riding and I could pull you kids. I’d get Subi out there and she’d be so tired from the deep snow I wouldn’t have to worry about controlling her. I also came across a buckboard which I bought and I eventually found a buggy for sale and bought that too. I had several country school jobs at that time which kept me out on the country roads. It was easy to find these old horse-drawn things and they were all pretty cheap mostly because there wasn’t a big market for them. Subi was great to pull with her sore hoofs—she never tried to run away. Lady was too spooked and the others were too skittish.

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Subi and buggy alongside the farmhouse

I should mention we had a couple acres of grass to cut. I well remember the first time I was going to cut it with my little push mower from the city. I decided to go to Reinder’s and bought a used power mower which worked for a while. Then one day Ed, John and I were out looking for something that would cut faster and found the Ford dealer on HWY 100. They had a dandy 1948 Ford tractor. They also had a 60 inch mower to attach to it. We bought them both and this made what was a chore a ball. The boys would fight over who was going to cut the grass. The tractor was unique because the left main wheel was a farm tread and the right main wheel was a golf course tread. So we always knew which tractor was ours.”

Fast way to cut the grass

John on the Ford tractor mowing with friends

Horse Stories!

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Dad’s love of horses goes way back

One day at the farm, a young neighbor girl stopped by and knocked on our door with a question……

Dad starts his story as the rain pounds on the roof of the car and the wind rattles the windows. It’s Sunday after church and we’re sitting in his car outside my house. There had been tornado warnings and sirens on our way to church. I was feeling like the weather. I start to get out of the car and Dad says, “Wait a minute. I’ll come around with the umbrella.”

“I’m fine Dad. It’s only water.”

“Well, I don’t want to let you go when you’re feeling like this. Stay there. Let me pull the car over to the curb.” The gutters are gushing with rain water so Dad was letting me out in the middle of the street. We sit in silence. “I have a thought,” he says as he parks the car. “Why don’t you write about not having a story? Or….you could tell them you realize there’s so much more you want to write about before you get into the story you just wrote.”

“I don’t know about that Dad…..”

“Yeah well, I don’t’ know about that either. Okay, then how about this?” he clears his throat and starts in.

“…….One day at the farm, a young neighbor girl stopped by and knocked on our door with a question. The young neighbor girl told me she wanted to have a horse but needed one close enough to ride because she didn’t drive yet. She asked if we’d board her horse for her. I thought that sounded like fun so we did. It was white. I didn’t really understand the horse’s temperament nor did I check into it as much as I should have. It managed to get out of the fence I had put up and Mom went to retrieve her. She put a lead rope on the horse’s halter and was leading her back when it started getting balky. The horse kicked at Mom who was pregnant with Joanie at the time. Mom managed to get her leg up fast enough so that the horse ended up kicking her thigh and not her stomach. After that, I told the young lady to take her horse somewhere else. We got rid of the horse but the idea of horses stayed. There’s your story!”

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Easter Sunday with a barn waiting for horses.

“But how did we get our horses, Dad? Tell me about that.” The rain was not letting up anyway.

“You want more horse stories?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, one of my clients and I had been talking about our mutual interest in horses. He had a stable and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. So we went, he saddled up a couple horses and we rode.This is when I decided I wanted a horse for the farm. I let him know and it wasn’t too long after that when he called to tell me he found a horse he thought would be perfect for me. We set a date to go take a look. It was a brown mare and was fairly old—10 to 12 years. He said she was gentle and you kids could ride it. I told him it sounded perfect and when I found out it was 100 bucks I told him he had himself a deal.

So we named our first horse Lady. We all enjoyed having her. Of course I had to also buy a saddle, bridle, blanket, a grooming brush and some baled hay along with other miscellaneous things. It wasn’t long after that, that somebody told me about another horse. Ed and I went to look at it and bought that one too. I rented a horse trailer and we went to pick it up. I tied her in the trailer—apparently not very well because as we were coming down Bluemound Road the trailer started bumping around. I pulled over and here the horse is looking at me. She’d gotten lose in the trailer and turned herself around so she could see out. I tied her back up and finished our trip home. Joanie was born by this time and we all went up to look at the new horse Ed and I had bought. We wanted to name her and Joanie, who was not quite two years old, pointed at the horse and said “Subi Sa.” We thought that was a good name for her so that’s what we called her—Subi Sa—Subi for short. We didn’t know enough about horses at the time to know she had sore hoofs.

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Friends riding horses

Lady had gotten out on several occasions so I realized I had to get better fencing. I started looking into electric fences. I went to Sears and Roebuck and bought a fence charger, a bunch of insulators and some barb wire. I figured out how to put it all together—stretched the barb wire around the pasture and rigged up the electric part and attached the electric fence. So now we had two horses kept reasonably well and staying where they belonged with the electric fence. Although there were times that our neighbor Mabel Mitchel called from across the road and said, “Bill, will you come get your horses? They’re in our cornfield and eating all our sweet corn.” Or a call from the police department saying, “I think one of your horses is downtown Brookfield. Will you come and get her?”

Somehow we heard about another horse that was also the type we were looking for—it was also $100. She was another mare but much younger.This was the time when your Mom was singing at the Skylight. She was in Iolanthe and somebody came up with the idea to name the horse after one of the characters—a fairy called Fleta. Now we had three horses. Sometime after that we got a call from a person who had a gelding. He was larger than the mares and also had a lot more spunk. We ended up buying him too so now we had four horses, four saddles, four bridles and four kids. We had to name this horse and I have no idea where the name came from but we called him Sam. So that’s how we ended up with four horses and I never paid more than $150 for any of them. They were either old and tired or so full of pep and vinegar that nobody else wanted to ride them.

It was great living at the farm.  I could get rid of my tensions from architecture by hanging out at the barn.The west side of the barn was much older than the east side and it was made out of field stone.The east side was made out of poured concrete. One of the things I loved to do was go home from the office and stack up a bunch of newspapers, set up targets and shoot my 22. Other times I’d come home from work and surprise you kids—I’d saddle up an extra horse and ride over to Brookfield Elementary to pick you up after school. I’d wait for you to come out—Ed and John would get on one and you’d climb on the back of mine. Joanie was not in school yet and still had this to look forward to.

There was a stone road that connected our house to the Kiekaver’s Estate (they owned the farm we rented). It went through their property up to their residence—or the castle as we called it. One of the times I was taking the horses to pick you all up, I was riding through the stone road and ran into a group of nuns. They were from a home for unwed mothers. I stopped to talk to them and one of the older nuns said to the younger nun, “Don’t you like horses?”

“Yes!” the young nun exclaimed.

I asked her if she’d like to go for a ride and she said, “Yes!” So she pulled up her habit and revealed her knee length green stockings. I don’t know if it’s typical for nuns to have knee length green stockings but anyway, this one did.

There, how’s that for a story?”

“Really good Dad….Thanks.” I smile and lean over and give him a kiss.  He drives me up to the back door and I prepare to make a dash for it.  “I’ll figure out what I’m doing with all this…..slow and steady the turtle won the race, right?”

“You can’t rush it, Debbie. Take your time.”