It’s Not Summer Until…

It’s not summer until the catalpa tree blooms.

At least, that’s what my mom told me.

Now, when asked, she doesn’t remember telling me that. Of course she figures since she said it, and since the catalpas do often bloom right around the first day of summer, that it must be true. (That’s my mother for you.)

Mom said, (even if she doesn’t remember) that it’s not the hot days, that getting out of school isn’t the key and that you’ll only know it’s really summer once the catalpas turn white.

As a girl I remember feeling the hot sun, and thinking it must finally be summer, then checking the trees and realizing it hadn’t started quite yet. It was never a disappointment, just a fact. If the catalpas weren’t flowering, it was just a warm spring.  Days of rolling down hills until dark, playing in the lake and catching fireflies were yet to come.

Then when they did bloom – now it was summer. Sometimes we would pick the flowers and string them into necklaces but for the most part I just remember that soft internal sigh, the feeling you get when things click into place and everything makes sense, at least for a time.

The catalpas were blooming.

Summer was back again and with it, no school, no shoes, just the joys of long summer days.

Today, my girls and I were helping out my grandparents for the day and saw the catalpas in full bloom. And even though my summers now come with more duties instead of less, and even though this summer is starting out even crazier and busier than normal, and even though I know the first day of summer isn’t actually until next week, and even though I now know that while my mom remembers braiding catalpa blooms into her horse’s mane and tail as the summery-est activity she can think of and she doesn’t remember imparting this wisdom to me that I have held close all my life…

Despite all of that.

I saw the catalpa trees in bloom today and while my grown-up life tried it’s hardest to throw it’s responsibilities in the way, I still felt the excitement that comes with the start of summer.

The catalpas are blooming!

Let summertime begin!


Well… the catalpas were blooming last week, I did mention this summer is starting off crazy right?

Do you ever wonder what sort of off-hand comment your kids will pick up and hold dear to their hearts forever? I started thinking about it,  and have decided I wouldn’t recommend it.  If you are anything like me, you make a lot of random comments that shouldn’t go down in history as family lore!

Except for the catalpa trees and summer but there is nothing random about that.  

That’s just a fact of life. 

Grandpa Knew

In his ninety-eight years Grandpa learned all sorts of things.

He knew Finnish and English, cattle and crops and engines of all kinds.  He knew fishing and hunting, woodworking and welding and would talk bees with me whenever I started asking questions.

Just a few years ago Grandpa had a bad spell that put him in the hospital. My Dad and I headed north to visit, worried what sort of state we would find him in. After his usual welcoming smiles were delivered from the hospital bed, conversation quickly turned to current international news and how events in Russia might affect his stock prices. I was out of my league. It was clear that Grandpa still knew his finances and he was feeling better.

Grandpa’s eight children eventually brought him fifteen grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren, all of whom made their way onto his lap. As he bounced those babies of the family on his knee, played giggling games of peek-a-boo and made funny faces, it was abundantly clear that Grandpa also knew babies. By the time Ivy showed up in the world as great-grandchild number six, he also knew all about mothers.

One day while we were visiting, Ivy was Unhappy. It wasn’t the first time he and Ivy met, but it was the first time he met Ivy while she was teething.  At his request I passed her over anyway and while Grandpa bounced her on his knee she cried. He made faces and she whimpered while chewing on her fist. Then Grandpa stopped, dug in his pocket and pulled out his old pocket knife. Small, brown and worn, he held it out to me for inspection. All babies love chewing on this he told me. See, he demonstrated rubbing his thumb across it, it’s nice and smooth, nothing to hurt her. And then, after I nodded my consent, he handed his knife to Ivy. She gratefully grabbed it, stuffed it in her mouth and set to work gnawing, no doubt just as those of us who came before her had. My grumpy girl was back to happily bouncing on her smiling Grandpa’s knee.

If you’ve never been a new mother, or it’s been a long time, let me remind you of the uncertainty that accompanies it. Everything your baby does is new, and it’s either amazing or worrying or both. At the same time it seems that everyone who talks to you already has had kids and they are  neither amazed or uncertain. Most all of those same people seem happy to not only tell you what to do but start doing it for you without so much as a by-your-leave. But not Grandpa. Grandpa knew babies and new mothers. That extra moment he took to show me his knife touched me so deeply I remember how the tears welled as I sat on the sofa across from him.

He gathered knowledge and used it well for ninety-eight years and the tears have done more than well in my eyes in the days since he’s been gone.

Edwin J. Eloranta

1918-2017

 

Weekend Invasion

When we show up at the door of a kind relative who asked us to come stay with them for the weekend (or the door of an even kinder relative who didn’t mind when we invited ourselves over for the weekend) I cringe.

Five people and an indeterminate amount of animals pile out of our truck and head to the house with smiles and hugs and an inordinate capacity to cause havoc. I don’t think my family is extraordinarily messy or unruly, but neither are we neat and calm. We rush the house while cheerfully saying hello and unload our mountain of “stuff” that we’ve brought with us.

This weekend in our almost-annual winter trip to Michigan to visit my aunt and uncle we brought the five of us, one dog, and 22 pairs of footwear for all our winter related activities.

When you have unloaded 22 pairs of footwear from your vehicle and moved them into your kind and unsuspecting relatives home, I’m pretty sure that’s when the scale tilts to weekend invasion.

We invade and we try to use manners but we eat lots, leave a trail of jackets, hats, mittens, lost toys and markers wherever we land and that’s not even the worst of it.

The worst of it is the toilet paper. No, we don’t bring our own toilet paper (We probably should but since I can’t keep it in stock at home I’m not about to start traveling with it). We use other people’s toilet paper just like normal people. Except that we use lots of it because four of us are girls and three of us have no concept of the amount of paper necessary to use the necessary and all four of us are befuddled by the thick pillowy sheets that others use as toilet paper. You see, at home we are a one ply family. That’s right, we use toilet paper that most would only deem fit for a government institution or a sketchy gas station bathroom because septic tanks and little girls.  I am sure it is possible to teach young girls to regulate the amount of toilet paper they use but I’ve always just been so relieved that they actually USE it and the accompanying toilet that I haven’t bothered. Instead, to prevent things like this happening we buy terrible one ply toilet paper so that even ridiculous wads of it won’t clog up the pipes and the septic. Now this is all very fine for our own home, but please remember, we just invaded a relative’s home.  My relatives, being my relatives, either have septic systems of their own, old plumbing or both. Now imagine, you are used to using toilet paper that comes off the roll in see through sheets,  you reach over and yank a big handful off to use. But, joy of all joys, it’s soft and thick and pillowy and now you have a giant armful of it and oh… this is why nobody’s been able to flush the toilet all weekend.

If septic systems could cringe I wouldn’t be the only one internally quivering as we all pile out of the truck on the next visit to the relatives.

Not Just Any White Stuff Will Do

There are all different kinds of snow.

There is the icy, crystally kind that hurts your cheeks when it drives down out of the sky and the impossibly fluffy kind that falls out of the sky in feathery clumps that compact into almost nothing by morning. There are the super cold drifts that squeak beneath your boots and the terrible warmed and refrozen kind that is really just snow shaped ice covering the ground.

The best kind, that never seems to come around as often as you hope, is the wet pack-able kind. This snow, that snowballs and snowmen are made of, shows up on warm days. And those days, when the snow is debating disappearing altogether but hasn’t yet given up it’s hold, those are the days for sledding.sledding

The track becomes hard and packed so you fly down the hill.Ivy sledding

And between the climb of the hill and the warmth of the day everyone can stay out for hours.Jonas sledding

The soft snow that might be turning to slush at the bottom is forgiving of crash landings. Grandma Mary and Ivy sleddingIt will melt on your face and your clothes, until snow pants start to sag with the weight of it.Grandma Mary, Clara and Ivy sledding

It takes a certain kind of day, a certain type of warmth, a certain amount of snow and a perfect hill.Tyler and Jonas sledding

Not just any white stuff will do…John sledding

…if you are looking for…
Jonas and Pete sledding

 

 

… a perfect day on the hill.Jane sledding