A Dot Makes a Difference

“Hi Dad! How are you doin’ today?!”  I’ve called to check in because I totally missed Christmas Day this year. I slept right through most of it and haven’t talked to Dad since the Christmas Eve service. After all those preparations, the special day came and went without me. Flu does that. Dad’s present is still under our tree, the ham’s still in the fridge and the shrimp…oh my gosh, the shrimp! Is it too late for stir fry…?

Gifts for the relatives that were out of town for the holiday still sit unwrapped on the dining room table. Wrapping presents after Christmas loses its charm. I don’t really feel like being accompanied by carols and sipping wine, which is what gets me through the project in the first place…maybe sip the wine, skip the carols.

“Oh, I’m okay,” Dad answers my question with concern in his voice. I’m immediately concerned. “There’s just a little confusion over here.” Oh no. I assume the worst.

“What’s that?” I’m afraid to ask but already have.

“I got this email.”

Can someone tell me why I suddenly feel like I’m in trouble? Our past conversations and/or disagreements of who remembered what, when and how, come to mind….once a daughter always a daughter.

“It’s really screwy,” he continues as I begin a quick mental inventory of all the things I’ve recently posted or sent to him. “I got a bill that was sent to b.wenzler@……” He goes on, “It says I owe $210.15 and need to pay it right away but I have no idea what it is. So I’ve been on the phone with my phone company trying to get it straightened out. Then I noticed there’s a dot in this email address. Mine has no dot!”

“Oh. That was nice of you Dad, to call and get it straightened out, I mean. You probably saved a guy harassment from some collection agency.”

“I found out the email was meant for a Barry Wenzler. He’s got a dot in his email.”

“Well, there you go.” I close my eyes, feeling the pain you call sinus ache and decide to just listen and not talk.

“My voice is bad today.” He clears his throat, then again and again, his frustration mounting. “I need to do my exercises.”

“Have you had lunch, Dad?”

“No. I just had breakfast!” It’s almost 1:00 p.m. and I realize I haven’t even had breakfast. Well, starve a cold, feed a fever…..or is it feed a cold, starve a fever….? I think for a second.…how could Dad receive an email with an incorrect address?  “How did you get that email if it’s not your address?” I ask.

“I don’t know!”

“Well, it’s nice you’re straightening it out.” DELETE IT!

“I’m not being nice! I didn’t notice the dot when I called the phone company to get it straightened out.”

“Oh. Well, it sounds like you have things under control.” I was really hoping to read my new story to him but it seems now is not the right time.

“My voice is terrible.” he says sounding a little like Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino. “I need to go do my exercises. I had lunch with Jonathan yesterday, did I tell you that?”

“I don’t think so, no….”

“I found out you could get a friend to join at the Club for $1 initiation and $10 for the first month’s membership. I told him I wanted to do it for him so I could always say I paid his initiation! You know usually initiation fees are expensive. So I paid the fee and his first month and he bought me lunch.”

“Awww…that’s great and you can work out together.”

“Right.”

“Your voice doesn’t sound so bad, Dad.”

“Doesn’t it?” he asks with good bass. The wonders of a little encouragement.

“No, in fact it sounds pretty darn good.”  I’m sounding like my dad.

“Well, thanks.” He seems pleased. His heart valve replacement irritated his lungs and though his heart is stronger, his breathing is bad. He walks for an hour at the club every morning to keep his lung capacity up and does voice exercises. He deserves to feel pleased.

“You bet.” I love making him feel better, even if it’s just for a moment. A moment makes a difference.

“How are you doing?” I’ve been waiting for him to ask me. A girl never tires of a little sympathy from a parent, no matter how old she gets.

“Well, I’m in my chair today so I’m vertical…..and doing a little writing….”  I really want to read him my new story.

“That’s good. Anything I can do for you?”

“No Dad, but thanks. I just wanted to hear your voice.” I close my computer to save it for another time. It will be there. Like Christmas.Though it didn’t happen for me on December 25th, it will be there all year long, if I let it. “Go do your exercises Dad, and don’t forget to have lunch.” I can’t help saying it…once a mother, always a mother.

Maybe I’ll give my son a call…he might like to hear my story.  Or just post it, right?

I know this is a simple little blog. Have I told you though how grateful I am for each of you? How much your time and encouragement means to me? I am and it does. Thank you. You each make a difference.

Here’s to you and the hope of the Christmas Miracle blessing you each day in the coming year.

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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.”