Early-bird

I wrote last week about going to bed with the chickens. Every day of my life I have sighed with profound pleasure when my head hits the pillow. Especially as a child I put my head heavily on the supper table and thought, Please, oh please, like the little Lord Jesus, let me lay down my sweet head and go to bed.

Birdsong at dawn is a hallelujah chorus. I can’t wait to get up – Let’s do chores! – and usually have a great idea to tell Sam. He is a polite man, too be sure, and tries to listen, but he really doesn’t want to speak until he’s had two cups of coffee. Any chores for him couldn’t be attempted until say, 11:00.

According to the internet, about 10% of us are early birds. I suppose the world needs more night-owls for all those after-dark events – noisy restaurants, noisy bars, glaring lights. I do not go out at night. The obnoxious street-lamp on the utility pole burned out a year ago and I asked Sam not to fix it. “If I ever am up at night, at least I can see more stars when the yard is dark.”

The last day of January I took a nap because I wanted to see the super blood moon lunar eclipse after midnight. It was bitter, below zero. I almost didn’t get up with the alarm, but decided it was worth it. Sam tossed back the covers, too. We stood out on the boardwalk in our slippers, with coats and hoods. The red disk looked other-worldly. He said, “I’ve never seen this before. Thanks for getting us up.”

Then I had a bright idea. “Let’s go upstairs to the south window. We can see it from inside.” I opened the window, stuck my head out, and leaned to get the right angle to see through the bare trees. Sam gripped my arm just in case. Then I held onto Sam while he took a turn. Satisfied, we hurriedly closed the window and slipped back under the warm covers.

A few weeks later, I woke in the middle of the night and noticed the sparkling stars. The next morning, I asked Sam, “I didn’t see that one star that I have seen before.”

He smiled at me, held up his index finger and went to get his old star-gazing chart hanging by the front door. He put on his professor’s hat and explained, “See the months around the edge of the circle? Now move the wheel to today’s date and time. The right hand of the star map shows what will appear in the east.”

“Wow. I’ve never looked at this. How did I never notice? I mean, how did I never figure that out?”

“You had other things to think about,” he said kindly.

I felt pretty sheepish. “For heaven’s sake, don’t tell John (our friend and retired history teacher who knows pretty much everything). He’ll choke on his coffee.”

Anyway, early birds (10%). I’m also left-handed (10%), and an innate Type-A neatnik competitive, impatient introvert. Now what do you suppose the percentage is of people with all three? Does that make Sam a really lucky guy?

More About Sam

I can now take a direct flight to Pacific Northwest Paradise (see Sleep-deprived but Happy) and fly home before dark, but once I came back on a red-eye. Changing planes at one a.m. is just wrong for me. I usually go to sleep with the chickens. That night when I made the connecting flight, I might have been sleep-walking as I climbed into the bus to go from one end of the airport to the other. I slept fitfully the last leg of the flight in that cold, dark cabin. Would morning never come?!

Sam held the car door open for me at 7 a.m. and I fell inside. My feet and ankles were badly swollen. It had been a long, long night. He had brought a thermos of hot tea, cheese, crackers, and apples for a respite during the ninety-minute car ride home. Back at the house, I dumped my luggage on the bed and heard him running a hot bath. “I’ll make a fresh pot of coffee and bring it in,” he said. I slid down under the soothing water, legs stretched out, and sighed. The aroma of the vanilla candle he had lit on the edge of the tub brought back memories of all things fine and good. Here was a man to keep.

Sam says he was smitten with me the first night we met. Mutual friends conspired to get us together on the last night of the century. Known as Y2K, even experts wondered if all computers around the world would crash. What would happen when the computer clocks flipped to a date beginning with a “2?” They had only been programmed to begin with “19xx.” At the stroke of midnight, when clocks changed from 12:00:00 to 12:00:01, would all data be lost?

The next day, the world continued to turn.

Sam didn’t call, but e-mailed periodically. Polite and non-committal, I didn’t give in until nine months later, saying, “Why don’t we go out instead of e-mailing?” In September, he asked me to go canoeing with him. He couldn’t have known how I would like that. He had been a boy scout, and after college spent two years as a scout master. Camping and canoeing were a part of him. I had lived most of my life near the Mississinewa River, and crossed it back and forth daily to go to town, but I had never been on it. It was a good first date.

We discovered we had both taken piano lessons from Miss Shannon (see Turtles and Teapots). Growing up in small towns seven miles apart, we had probably seen each other in passing. Easy-going, he likes making tea in a teapot, and with a bit of panache serves cookies warm out of the oven.

In a few weeks we’ll celebrate sixteen years of marriage. We’ve had some rough years, but this has been a good one. It means a lot to visit family, but it’s always good to come home to Sam – and afternoon tea.

Third Chances

Frank and Opal are upset this year (see Frank and Opal). The last plunge of the polar vortex kept them away from Flesher Pond until March 18. Sam texted me while I was in baby heaven (see Sleep-deprived but Happy) in the Pacific Northwest: “Frank and Opal have arrived.” He said they wandered over the yard, and came and left, and came again. Opal still hasn’t nested. We don’t think it’s “Frank” or “Opal.” We go along for years, and even decades in the case of our resident geese, and then everything changes. Sometimes, too, the Big Ds invade our lives: disease, divorce, death.

Last Thanksgiving, Sam and I were too busy to get to the hospital. Our brother-in-law just had his second “little” heart attack in two weeks. We decided to wait and see him on the weekend, back at his home. On Saturday, both cars were there when we pulled into the drive. My younger sister didn’t answer her phone or my text so I sheepishly walked into the garage and pushed open the kitchen door. The dogs didn’t come to greet me, and that was strange. It felt too intrusive to go to the bottom of the stairs and call up, “Are you up there?” But I felt strongly that I should see him NOW.

Instead we drove away. At 3:30 the next morning, she called. “He fell to the floor and is not responding. Meet me at the hospital.”

I had to wash my hair, but we were still in the car in twenty minutes. In the E.R., I asked her to take me in to see him. His body was still warm when I touched his forehead. It just wasn’t right. Nothing about it was right. But he was gone.

Four years ago, I was busy planning my own 60th birthday party. I thought maybe that would bring my children home. And it worked! Spring was a happy time planning and preparing for my family. Then things turned the wrong way. A month before Party Day, we got word that my cousin was diagnosed with leukemia. My older sister, K.S. (see Jerky and Pears, Two Good Women, and The Red Truck) and I, busy with party planning, decided to wait to visit her.

Ten days before the party the toilet started to leak. Sam had to tear out the floor; and finished the sub-floor, vinyl, and new low-flow toilet in record time. In the living room, a crack in the wall became large enough that we knew it wasn’t just our old house shifting. I cleaned up the drywall dust on the floor and Sam went outside to tear off the cedar siding. Extensive termite damage, up waist high. We called the bug man. Then the u-joint and the air conditioner went out on the Jeep Cherokee. Then the fridge died, and the dryer, too (no kidding). Just before the party one night, my cousin needed emergency surgery. The next morning, we heard she did not pull through. My sister and I had missed the window to say, “Hello. We’re so sorry you are sick.” We missed saying goodbye.

THEN we had a great party.

Since there were too many expenses before the party, Sam and I exchanged our two-week vacation at the Outer Banks for two days in Michigan. Our in-laws joined us, and the second afternoon they drove our Jeep back to the campsite. Not knowing how to tell us, they pointed to the back bumper. A telephone pole in the restaurant parking lot had reached out and bashed them. With a shrug, I calmed the worried look on their faces. I would rather have a broken bumper than another funeral.

Change is hard, but also inevitable. The geese aren’t nesting. And God gives third chances.

“If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course? …In my life, I have lost my way more times than I can count. I have set out to be married and ended up divorced. I have set out to be healthy and ended up sick…I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the path.” Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World