Tag Archives: grandmother

Long Ago: Community Entry #22


I am building community up in this neck of the woods in all sorts of places I'd never think to look at home...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Grandma’s Garden, by Susie Hartman

Grandma let us kids select a vegetable we wanted to grow.  Sweet Peas were always my first choice.  Grandma’s garden was planned and plotted through each long and cold Nebraska winter and would take up the better part of one fourth of our acre sized back yard.  Starting with seeds in little cups of dirt on our kitchen table, we would all cheer the sprouts as their life began, until six weeks later when Grandma placed them gently in their selected spots.  She would lovingly pat the dirt around each one, giving the little seedlings the support they would need to get through their young life and on to maturity.    There is a picture of her leaning on the handle of her hoe with a grin as broad as the straw hat on her head.  Standing in the midst of the life she nurtured must have given her a feeling of purpose.  

What memories we have of my Grandma and that garden.   My brother, sister and I would try to get up earlier than the others so we could be first to the garden to pick the juiciest strawberry or the fattest sweet pea.  Grandma would often pull a rhubarb stalk from the plant and sprinkle it with sugar for us all to take a bite of the bittersweet taste.   At the end of the summer would come harvest time.  Once there was an early freeze and our entire family was out in the cold picking every last tomatoe on the vine.  The smell of tomatoe plants, and of the hot cocoa made to warm us, always brings me back to that night.  Autumn also heralded in the canning of tomatoes, pumpkins and cucumbers.  Thanksgiving would be the grand inauguration of the garden’s fall harvest where we would have friends and family come from afar for Mom’ s prepared feast, packed with the wealth of vegetables lovingly grown in Grandma’s summer garden.

I suppose Grandma’s love of gardening was destined from her heritage. She was born in 1903 to German Immigrants, whose late 1800’s American dream landed them working on a farm in Iowa.   Great Grandpa would not allow Grandma to go to school so she never did learn to read.  This young farm girl named Josephine married a hard working farm boy and had five sons.  At the old age of 42, Grandma gave birth to Lucille Josephine, my mom.  Her unexpected daughter never left her side.   As soon as Grandma’s last son left home, my Grandfather also moved out.  This left Mom and Grandma  to care for each other.   Years later their interdependence on each other was sealed when Grandma went to chase a rogue cow, causing her to fall into a ditch where she broke her ankle.  The only doctor in the small town hospital was a drunk who did not provide her proper care.  There was no choice but to amputate her leg below the knee when the gangrene set in.   My mom was just seventeen, and Grandma’s sole/soul provider.

Grandma lived with us during our growing-up years.  She was not the soft and padded greeting card type of Grandma most kids had in those old television shows.  She was more weathered and wiry, with bent crippled fingers and a crooked nose from a sledding accident as a kid.  She smoked cigarettes, and of course, had her fake wooden leg.   Mom and Grandma made an agreement.  Grandma would watch us kids while Mom and Dad worked, but she refused to cook.   In spite of her wooden leg, we saw Grandma hang every load of our seven member family’s laundry out on the clothesline, police four young children, and tend to her garden daily.

Grandma was good to us in her rough way and we kids loved her deeply.  She was the kind of grandma who would sneak the dreaded unwanted food off our plates and onto hers so that we could be excused from the table.   I remember her fondly as she rocked the baby in her arms, singing, terribly off key, “He’s got the Whole World in His hands.”  This while hitting the side of her black and white TV to make it stop running while watching World Wide Wrestling.   It was Grandma we would go to for comfort and a band aid when hurt or sad.  It was Grandma’s bed we would go to when we were scared in the night.   It was Grandma who tended to, and nurtured us, as we grew into young adulthood.

The end of Grandma’s season came after we moved to California.  The yard was too little for a garden, and Grandma had a stroke.  Now it was our turn to take care of her, and we tried, until we could no longer care for her properly.  Our hearts broke as she cried like a young child that first week in the convalescent home.  She died when I was 17.

In the years after Grandma died, I attempted on a few occasions to plant sweet peas.  Once it was in a very small spot near the patio of the condo I rented while in college.  It was during this event that I fell in love with my husband.  He surprised me by bringing a watering can, a little spade, stakes, string and seeds so that I could attempt this endeavor.   I guess you could say more than peas sprouted from that garden.  I harvested and shared a good number of sweet peas one day that summer, with my sister Cindy, who was visiting me.  We cherished each pea as it came from the freshly picked pod, and recalled sweet memories of the garden and the grandma we held so dear.

Now I am raising girls at the young age of 40 something.  We also have attempted to grow sweet peas, some green beans and even carrots, in a container garden with some success.  My girls have heard many stories about their Great Grandma’s garden and how much I loved her and sweet peas still.  Luckily we have been blessed by dear friends who “live off the grid” and have a healthy working garden in order to sustain the family in their remote location.  It has become a tradition each summer that we drive out to their house and spend the day working in the garden, picking all the wonderful vegetables we desire.  The girls collect eggs from the chickens and we all spend time in my friend’s kitchen cooking a wonderful, garden fresh dinner.  We leave with the gifts of fresh veggies, full stomachs and good friendship.   As I leave, I am also brought back in time to be reminded of a Grandma I loved, and the garden she grew.

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #21

Winter holds the space for the return of abundance. Maybe that's how the muse works.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Amazing the power of love in a created thing.  Thank you, Kristen Thaxter for reminding us.  yrs.  Laura

Not Alone, by Kristen Thaxter

It was a simple request.  “Will you make one for the baby I will have someday?”

My grandma had set out to crochet an afghan for each of her grandchildren.   She made them for us in age order, and as time went on, her fingers were not cooperating so well any more.  In her 40’s, her right leg began dragging and she walked with a limp.  First she used a cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair as the right side of her body became increasingly paralyzed.

I lived with my grandparents my final two summers of high school.  That last summer, Grandma still had use of her right hand.  After she finished the last grandchild’s blanket, I had a special favor to ask:  would you make a blanket for the baby I will have someday?”  It was something special, just for me, the promise of a dream come true.    I chose a white yarn, soft and fuzzy, and she created a crib sized blanket out of it.  It was her last creation.  I treasured that blanket, and put it away for my someday.

There were some hitches along the way to someday.  I married in my early 20’s, and postponed having children while I went to graduate school.  I was eager to get the baby making machine going as soon as I graduated, but biology had a different idea.   Finally, with assistance from the modern miracle of fertility inducing drugs, I got pregnant, and with great joy, realized the dream of becoming a mother.

But the blanket remained in its safe, sealed Rubbermaid box in the garage.  I didn’t even consider using it at the time.  It was too “special” and I didn’t want to ruin it.  I find that I save things like that.  Things that I especially love, and am afraid to use up.  I save them, and treasure them, and never fully experience them.

Three years later, after the birth of my second child, the “just so” nature of my life had unraveled significantly, and I had begun to develop an appreciation for living in the present and inhabiting the life that I had.  A little less scripted and a little more real, kind of the like the Velveteen Rabbit.  One day, a daring though crossed my mind:   “What if, just what if, I got out grandma’s baby blanket, and (gasp), used it?”  In what seemed like a bold move (it’s funny to me now, how my definition of bold had changed), I took the blanket out of the box, washed it, and laid it over my baby.

My grandma was long gone before either baby was born.  Her gift of the blanket had always been meaningful to me, but in the time between its creation and its use, I learned more about my grandma’s life, and had life experiences of my own that created in me an emotional connection to her.   She had been a passionate and vivacious young woman.  My grandpa had told me the story once of the first time she had caught his eye, a young woman on the back of a horse, blue eyes flashing, brown braids trailing behind her, flying across the Nebraska prairie.  It was a dream he felt he must catch.

Another memory stands out – I was sitting in the funeral home, holding space with what was left of her, not yet ready to say my last goodbye.   As I sat there, some of her old friends came by for a visit.  I sat there on the sofa, quietly listening as they talked among themselves, recalling stories of her younger days, days I had never been privy to.  “Remember hearing Annie laugh?” one said.  “Oh, yes.  You could always tell where Annie was; you could follow the sound of her laughter and find her.”  I had never known that side of my grandma.  It made my heart very happy to know that she had joyful years as well.

Over time, life had taken its toll on her.  Yes, there had been the pain of her gradual physical decline, and the fear associated with it.  Doctors had not been able to diagnose her ailment while she was alive.  It was not until after her death that an autopsy finally gave it a name:  multiple sclerosis.

There was also the pain of a very difficult marriage.  Family secrets are strong, and I only have bits and pieces.   After she died, I learned that my grandpa had experienced what was called a nervous breakdown, when my mom was 12 and her sisters were teenagers.  They lived in a tight knit Mennonite farming community and I have only heard the story once.   To this day, I do not know the details; 50 years later, it must still be painful to discuss.  All I know is that one day, the men in the white coats literally came and took my grandpa away.

Again, my information is sketchy, but I gather that he was gone for the better part of two years.   My grandma was left to raise four extremely headstrong teenage girls on her own.   I cannot imagine the shame, in a small, religious, farming community in the late 1950’s, of having a husband and father in a mental institution.  My aunt, one day, in a tiny glimpse of that era, remembered my grandma, crying at the kitchen sink.  My mom recalled that periodically, Grandpa would be allowed home for visits, without her knowledge that he would be coming home.  She just remembers him appearing there, quiet, dazed, possibly drugged, possibly the recipient of electric shock, sitting in his easy chair in the living room.  It had to be terrifying.

Life brought unexpected challenges to my life and marriage as well.  Suffice it to say that I experienced my own version of fear and shame, and secrecy.  I cried many a day at my own kitchen sink.   It was during that time that I began to feel an exquisite tenderness for my grandma, for what I perceive to be our shared experience of living in a painful marriage, our communion of disappointment, shame and sorrow.  It’s a community I did not care to be a member of, but was not able to avoid.  Being a member simply meant I did not bear it in solitude.   I learned that we do not always get to choose which communities life initiates us into. Our mere presence in them, however, is a declaration that we are not alone.

“Thnuggo me” she said as she climbed onto my lap with her blankey.  It was a familiar command from my lisping toddler.  I would be happy to snuggle her; she had been a squirmy baby, the kind that could leave you sweaty and exhausted after trying to keep her still through a Sunday sermon.   After all, what’s better in life than a little one after a bath, wet hair combed back, fresh diaper on, blankey bunched in her arms,  sucking her fingers and pulling them out just enough to utter the welcome demand “thnuggo me.”

She’s a teenager now, and thankfully still likes a good snuggle.  The girl still loves her blankey, though there is not much left of it.  It’s been well loved, that blankey, a fixture in her life.  When she was a baby, she would suck the first two fingers of one hand backward, and with the other hand, push her blankey toward her nostrils, as if she wanted to inhale it.  As a preschooler, you could often find her crashed on the couch for a nap, cuddling the blankey.   When she began school and had her first sleepovers, it was a serious decision whether to take the blankey or leave it behind.  She was 9 when her dad and I separated, and for the past few years, her blankey has made the trip with her from my house to his and back every other week, a silent partner in her own unplanned community.

The demise of the blankey has been an intermittent conversation for years.   It is quite literally falling apart.  It’s not unusual for her to approach me even now, with a scrap in her hand that has fallen off, a silent plea in her eyes “I want it to last forever”.  Without a word, she leans into me and I hug her close, just like the blanket she has leaned into all these years.  

I wish Grandma could have known what a difference that blanket has made in the life of her granddaughter.   How the work of her hands has brought comfort and solace.  Without ever meeting each other, she has mattered to my Paige, and provided her a feeling of belonging to a family, a community.

Thank you Grandma; you have done the same for me.




Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Extending THE SENTIMENTAL RECIPE CONTEST! Send in by 10/10

In my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS, I include a recipe that I hold near and dear. Not because it’s particularly hard or original, but because of what it represents to me. It is the tomato sauce commonly made in the summer by Tuscans and put up in jars for the winter. They call it the Pomarola sauce, and for it they use the freshest tomatoes from as close to the sea as they can find. The goal: to capture summer.

To me the Pomarola sauce captures much more than that. It is a symbol of a year in my life in which I found my heart language in a place and a family far from home. It is a symbol then, of finding home inside myself in a time of my life when I was morphing from child to adult. It is with this heart language that I went into the “rest of my life” and it was this heart language which I revisited with my daughter 21 years later (a few years ago). I had longed for it for all those 21 years, aching for it, naming it as the most important year of my life, yet not granting my return. I had realized a few dreams, some of which felt within my control: Getting married, having kids, building a home in Montana. Writing books. But I couldn’t seem to get those books published.

So after years of longing for it, I realized that I needed to stop basing my happiness on things completely outside of my control. I could write the books, and I could submit them for publication, but the rest was out of my hands. I decided to embrace the freedom of this surrender. And I started to look at the un-realized dreams of my life that I COULD control. Going back to Italy, with my daughter, to live with this wonderful family, was just that.

So I booked it and went.
One afternoon, my Italian host mother, Milvia, showed us how to make this sauce, how to can it, what to look for in ingredients. It was magical.

Little did I know that my new philosophy of surrender would be put to the test in a way I never dreamed, when my husband announced he wasn’t sure he loved me anymore and wanted to move out—this just two days after my return home from Italy.

There began a season of my life depicted in my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, wherein I got the chance to practice what it is to embrace the present moment in a place of creating, not wanting. Of claiming responsibility for my own well-being despite what was going on with my husband. Of focusing on beauty and freedom and even joy. On p. 295 you will find a scene in which I make this sauce with my children, shopping for just the right ingredients, and spending the day up to our elbows in tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil, parsley. carrots, celery and pots of boiling water. On p. 300 you will find the recipe.

In re-visiting those pages now, six months after my book’s publication, I find it not coincidence that we came up with twenty-one jars of sauce. Instead, it feels quite deliberate, subconsciously. As if each jar represented of year of not claiming a dream that was completely within my control, and focusing so hard on another dream that was not.

So I pass on this message to you, in the form of a recipe. What is your Italy? What do you deprive yourself of that you CAN create in your life? What place do you long to re-visit in your life? So often I find that there is the nurturing element of food attached to our fondest memories and even our wildest dreams. Afternoons in a kitchen with a grandmother, a holiday feast with family in town from far-away places, picnics on a beach, a particular glass of lemonade. I’d love for you to share those sentimental recipes here. And a scene or story that shares why you hold that food, that memory, so dear.

The winner will be randomly selected and will receive a free signed copy of THIS IS NOT THE STORY OU THINK IT IS. I look forward to this sharing. Yrs. Laura

My Italian Family’s Pomarola Sauce Recipe
This is a light sauce that is the epitome of the summer harvest and is usually canned to capture summer in the middle of winter. It must be made with the freshest Roma tomatoes to get the right consistency, preferably from somewhere close to the sea.

Sauce for one pound of pasta. Serves six.
2 1/2 pounds unpeeled ripe Roma tomatoes
1 onion
1 clove garlic (Americans generally use more garlic than is the Italian custom.)
1 stalk celery- just the white part, not the leaves
1-2 carrots (depending on how big they are)
3-5 leaves basil
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley- no stem
A pinch of salt
A pinch of white sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cut tomatoes in half. Cut vegetables into small pieces. Rough-cut basil and parsley with scissors. Put all ingredients into stockpot. Simmer, covered, very slowly until the carrot is soft and can be easily mashed with a fork (about an hour and a half). Then pass everything through a passatutto, or food mill– a wide-mouthed hand-cranked strainer. Keep turning the passatutto until only the seeds and skins are left. Then put the sauce back on the stove until it reaches a boil. You may need to cook it for a bit longer to ensure desired consistency.

If you’d like to make a big batch of this sauce for canning, then adjust ingredients proportionately, adding an extra hour or so before passing the ingredients through the food mill, and after returning the sauce to the stove. Working with eleven pounds of tomatoes at a time is a good amount.

At this point you can serve or keep it in the refrigerator for a week, or put it in jars. Use the ones that have a self-sealing lid– which pops as the sauce cools and provides a vacuum seal, making it possible to store for months. The wonder of this sauce is in its fresh ingredients and its simplicity.

Here’s a blurb for my book written by my dear friend and literary hero. If you haven’t read his “Brother’s K,” you simply must.
“With amiability, wit, and a modicum of self-pity, Laura Munson’s memoir reminded me of the twenty-one jars of organic tomato sauce she and her children hand-made. A chapter is like a jar lid: if it doesn’t pop as the contents cool, the seal is faulty and the sauce is worthless. Exhausted from their all-day effort, mother and kids sipped hot chocolates and listened as twenty-one jars cooled. To their satisfaction, they counted twenty-one distinct pops. In reading this brave memoir I counted about the same.” —David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and God Laughs & Plays


Filed under Contests! Win a signed hardcover of THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS!, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

The Pack Rat Ate My Patagonia

The Pack Rat Ate my Patagonia by Laura A. Munson

I have never wanted to kill something before. Trap it live, and then shoot it. Or drown it in a glacially chilled grave. That thing—with the pretty little well-appointed pink nest, with its self-important aroma and little be-jewelled leavings. You see, I am planning a surprise party for my mother’s 70th birthday at her suburban Chicago country club from my rural Montana post, and I really could give a pack-rat’s ass whether or not Mrs. Who’s-who will eat blue cheese. So flush—down she goes. Her and her kind. The kind that is currently camping in the engine of my Suburban. The pack rat that broke the good-daughter’s back.

How is one supposed to carry on sophisticated conversations with the club manager about roast suckling pig in a port demi glace with wild mushroom risotto when there is activity in the garage of architectural proportions? Thievery from diaper bags when I’m trying to sort out the soup course from the salad course? Pillage while trying to estimate how many martinis Mrs. Who’s-who is good for? I’m talking about what floral colors lend themselves to the Persian rugs in the Hunt Room with Roberto the botanical coordinator, and a rodent the size of a Corgi dog is scurrying past my toes with insulation from the garage to beat the ensuing night chill. He’s heard the temperature is supposed to drop to eighteen tonight. Probably because he’s been sitting on my couch with a Budweiser in one paw and the remote control in the other while I’ve been in my office ordering five dollar a piece balloons.
The phone rings: “Laura dear, I’m going in for a little nip and tuck if you know what I mean, and I’ll be tardy to your mother’s big surprise ta-doo. So if you can arrange to have someone just spoon me into a chair for the party, I’ll be a definite oui to your respondez vous.”
At this moment, I am actually cradling a cordless in my neck, picking out– thumb to index finger– pack rat shit from my children’s car seats before I pick them up from school.
“Why of course, Mrs. Who’s-who, and by the way, do you like blue cheese?”
“If it’s Stilton, Dear. If it’s Stilton.”
It is then that I realize that my car smells like blue cheese. Like blue cheese atop a skunk canapé, served with a musk coulis.
So I run back in the house and I grab a stick of incense and light it off the cigarette burner while I’m mocking 90 down the highway so as not to be, yet again, one of those mothers who gets scowled at by crossing guards as she whips into the school playground fifteen minutes late. It is patchuli incense sent to me by my forty-five year old Deadhead brother who lives in a car conceivably better-smelling than my own, and I realize that my car now smells like a Grateful Dead concert, and I open the windows to get that smell out too.

My kids each have a friend coming over to play.
“What took you so long? Oh geez! This car stinks!” This four times.
“Get in,” I say, as a beer bottle actually rolls out from under a seat and clink clink clinkclinkclinks down the incline of the school parking lot. (I’m not sure I can blame this on the pack rat.)
A PTA mother looks at me, and ushers her perfectly clean child into her perfectly clean white mini-van.
“A pack rat is living in my car,” I say. Like that is an excuse.
It is at this point that I hear a sound– a pitter patter, coming from underneath my hood.
I get out, realize that I am not wearing a bra, open the hood with some odd posturing, and ploink– the damn thing evicts itself and slithers off into the soccer field, which is occupied by just about every kid in town, not to mention their myriad on-time type, non beer-drinking, non-pack-ratty parents.
I smile at them, hiding my pendulous post-breastfeeding chest behind my elbows, and pick out a pink nest of insulation from my car engine, replete with a few pieces of dog food, and one of my daughter’s barrettes. Then I cross the parking lot, and throw this vestige of Montana living, into the dumpster. It is here that my cell phone rings.
“Laura Dear, hi, this is Mr. Club Manager. Listen, we got your choices for hors d’oeuvres, and we think there might be a problem here.”
“Oh?” I say, slamming down the hood of my car.
“Yes, Dear. We noticed that you chose two Asian hors d’oeuvres. We think one is enough. Remember these people are WASPs. I don’t know how they do things out West, but in the Midwest, it’s still pretty much meat and potatoes, even at the Club. We would suggest the bacon and brown sugar.”
“Bacon and…what?”
“Brown sugar. Everyone in their crowd just begs for it.”
“What’s this black poo looking thing in my backpack?”
“Can we go—it stinks in here!” Times four.
“Laura, Dear? It’s your choice, really. I mean this is your party, after all—even if it is for your mother’s seventieth birthday. I mean everyone knows it’s a surprise party. So if you make a little mistake, they can blame it on you, if you know what I mean.”
“Huh?” I hear a squeal from the soccer field.
“It won’t be a reflection on your mother, is what I mean.”
“Oh. Okay. I guess you can exchange the Thai dumplings for the bacon and…brown sugar. Listen can I call you back?”
“Fine, Dear. But do call me back soonish. I still have to go over the color of the linens with you. The party is in a week. By the way, when do you arrive and what is your local number in case I need to contact you for any last minute details, like whether to serve during toasts or not?”
“Uh—I think my flight gets in mid-day on Monday. I’ll call you from the airport for any last minute details, because I’m…I’m going directly up to Wisconsin to visit a friend for a few days before the party. And she lives in a little cabin. And…and she doesn’t have a phone.” This is a lie.
“No phone? How about a cell phone number?”
“Uh—no cell phone service up there either. Kind of like most of Montana.” This is a lie as well.

“Mom! There’s that black poo-looking stuff in the baby’s diaper bag!”
Then the baby says, “Ewwww-ah.”
“And your fleece coat—it’s all—holey.”
“Hey—I’ve got a situation. I trust you guys. You do this all the time. I haven’t done it ever. And frankly, I think you know my mother’s taste better than I do. So– listen…you pick what you think is best. I’ll call to confirm…soon. Ish.”
I look into the back seat, and into the one nice thing I think I have left on this planet after two kids, two dogs, a cat and life in the country—it’s the Patagonia fleece my mother-in-law bought me last season. Just a little knock-about coat so you can look spiffy when you’re picking the kids up from school.
And I pick up my fleece, and hold it in the air, pack rat pellets falling off it as it lifts to the sun, and there is not just a little hole under the armpit, no– the whole thing is like a piece of polypropylene Swiss cheese.
That is when I open my mouth and these words come out: “This rat must die.” Then I spend five dollars of quarters at the car wash vacuuming out my car with a blaring Terminator-pitched hose so that all of the kids plus the baby say, “Whuuuht?” when I ask them afterward if they want to go for ice cream.

That night I take dry wall screws and drill them into the bottom of a rat trap the size of a flip flop. Then I mount it on a two by four and actually say out loud, to myself, “Ain’t nothin’ dragging that trap nowhere.”
Then I slather peanut butter on it and turn off the lights in the garage. “Nighty night.”
The next day there is nothing in the trap, but the inside of my car is covered in pack rat shit, and now, my other last nice thing—my $250.00 Pierre Deux diaper bag given to me by my mother’s suburban Chicago bridge group so you don’t feel frumpy, Dear carrying around all those horrible diapers and things—has a hole in the side of it the size of a softball.
I drop off the kids at school in a drive so silent, that they are afraid of me. And I go to the car wash, forgoing my hair appointment designed to assuage my mother’s comment on her last visit to Montana: can’t we do something about that hair of yours?
I am interrupted by a guy standing at the hood of my car. “Better be careful,” he says. “I just spent five hundred dollars fixing the wiring in my truck from a rat.”
The cell phone rings, then, in-between quarter-feeding rounds. “Laura, Dear, hi this is your Aunt Who’s-who (for some reason every woman in my mother’s bridge group refers to herself as aunt somebody—usually when they want something) “I hate to bother you Dear, but I thought I should let you know, Mrs. So-and So has her nose bent out of shape that she’s not included in the surprise party for your mother at the club. For what it’s worth.”
And standing there, holding the power vac, I feel my oats, because I actually say: “I’ll tell you how much it’s worth: fifty frigging bucks a head!”
Flash: a call waiting from my Deadhead brother: “Laura, hey dude, listen, I’m still a Vegan so like…could you make sure there’s something for me to eat at Mom’s party. Maybe some raw organic carrots and hummus at the cocktail party and like…a smoothie, maybe. I still do garden burgers so that’d be cool for dinner. Hey—and like is this a surprise…or does she know. Because I might have said something to her about it.”
“First of all, YES it’s a surprise! Generally speaking, a surprise party is supposed to be a surprise! And second of all, I don’t think the Who’s-who Club would know a smoothie, never mind a garden burger if it slapped them across the face, and third of all…” I can feel my heart beating in my temples. And it is here that I have a vision of my brother welcoming a pack rat into his Volkwagon van—befriending it, adopting it as a pet, feeding it lentils one by one, fastening a little red bandanna around its neck and naming it Magnolia Blossom. “And third of all…third of all…you can take your flippin’garden burger, and shove it up your–”
“Whoah. Hostility. What’s that about?”
“There’s a pack rat living in my car, okay? The pack rat ate my Pierre Deux diaper bag, okay? The pack rat ate my Patagonia!”
“It’s just a creature. He’s probably just looking for a warm place to get in from the cold. You should–”
“What? I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up.”
I beseech myself: Why am I trying to be the good daughter? At what point do we stop paying proportionally for our adolescences, never mind our births?

Another five dollars in quarters later, with no epiphanies to speak of and two more phone calls from my brother who is now trying to convince me to pass around a hat at the surprise party to fund his return airfare, I am at the hardware store again, investing in a live trap. Maybe he’s right. I am hostile. Hostile that this pack rat is making it impossible for me to go back for my mother’s surprise seventieth birthday party and look presentable. Hostile that I have offered to co-ordinate this party in the first place. Hostile that people get their noses bent out of shape, especially when they’re just going to go get it nipped and tucked anyway. Hostile that my mother can’t just fly out here for her seventieth and have a good old fashioned pot luc under a rain tarp with a keg and a DJ like everybody else in this country.
I buy the trap, put it in my car this time, bait it with a piece of old pizza and turn off the garage lights.
My ex-boss calls me later that night from a Christian conference in the deep South to tell me she is on fire for the Lord. I tell her about my pack rat. She says, “Jesus says you reap what you sow.”
Next morning at seven-o’clock, I am staring a terrified and noticeably cute little critter in the eyes, striking a deal. “I take you out in the woods, see…and you go make a nest in a nice old stump, see. I save your life, and you save mine, see. It’s a Jesus thing. Capice?”
And we go, me and my little doppleganger buddy, out to the woods before anyone wakes up. And I lift up the door. And he doesn’t go.
“Go on! This isn’t a Lassie episode! Get out of here. Shoo. Go! I know they don’t have Patagonia or Pierre Deux in the woods, but moss works just fine! You’re a rat! I’m the one with the WASP lineage to uphold. Go on! Git!”
And he goes then. Slowly, with stealth, at a royal’s pace, a little hobo stick over his shoulder, looking back once, his nose a little bent out of shape—he wouldn’ta cared, you see, if I double-Asianed his hors d’oeuvre choice, wouldn’ta cared, see, if I’d spooned him into a chair or hung him from a chandelier, given him a GD gardenburger or one of his own turds.
Aw shucks, little guy. Write when ya get work. It’s a cruel world out there. Ain’t it.


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