Gold bars

My rich uncle in Nigeria – the one who wanted to help me inherit the million bucks – appears to have abandoned me. So has the thoughtful lady who emailed me stating that my resume is so impressive that she’ll send me money just for laundering hers.

That’s an impressive resume, but I digress.

Story_squareRecently I got an email from my sweet employer informing me that I am eligible to get some of my pay in advance. “We know it has been a difficult month for everyone, so this is to make life that little bit easier.”

And who hasn’t had a difficult month? Wow, I mean I dropped an old glass in the kitchen and had to sweep up the broken pieces. Plus the mailman was late one day and I had to go to the mailbox twice. And, as the final straw, the last lightbulb went out above our dining room table.

I needed this.

My boss also included a link that contained “goldbar.” Who would question that?

I only had to verify that this was my account. I glanced to the top of the email, where I was clearly identified as “Hello.“ And there was the link again, with the gold bar buried in between a menagerie of letters and numbers.

Dollar signs were doing the cha-cha before my eyes.

Just for clicking that link, I would receive over $2,890 with the rest transferred at the end of the month as normal. Heh, heh, my boss had obviously forgotten that the last time I’d gotten a check for over $2,890 it was for the quarter, not the month.

But this was my account and this was my thoughtful employer. And there was the gold bar.

All I had to do was click a link.

My mouse hovered. My mind spun. And then I remembered. I’m self-employed.

That brother-in-law

Agnes leaned over the lunch table, her eyebrows bent together.

“My brother-in-law is here but he won’t speak to me.”

I had joined her table at the nursing home just before lunch was served. I glanced over my shoulder at a white-haired man staring down at the table before him. He didn’t look like he talked to anyone. “Really? That’s too bad.”

SeasonsShe nodded. “I’ve spoken to him several times but he turns away. And do you know what else? He’s changed his name from Bob to James!”

I knew her brother-in-law lived 300 miles away and so I took a deep breath. “That’s frustrating for you, I’ll bet.”

“Well,” she settled back in her chair, “I just go on. What else can you do?” She studied me for a moment and then leaned forward again.

“And then there’s a woman who denies her own children.”

How did I answer this one? “Really? That’s awful.”

Agnes tilted her head. “I know. I asked her one day about her children and she claims she doesn’t have any children. She even told me she had never married. How could she forget her own husband?”

“I can see that upsets you.”

“I went up to June and asked her, ‘Do you know Melvin Roberts?’ and she said she’d never heard of him. He was her husband for 40 years. How about that?”

I knew June, too. She sat at another table in the dining room, waving at newcomers and chatting happily with others at her table. And I knew she’d never married and her last name wasn’t Roberts.

“Do you think you’ve confused June with someone else?” I asked.

“Oh,” Agnes studied my face. “I can see they’ve convinced you, too.”

Once I would have defended my position. Once I would have tried to change Agnes’ mind. But I knew she’d forget our conversation tomorrow no matter what I said. Kindness won out.

“Well, family is important to you, isn’t it?” I said.

Her face relaxed. “I’ll never forget my husband or children.”

She probably wouldn’t. But the brother-in-law was in trouble.

A magnificent cake dream

Our family has always dreamed of crafting those extravagant cakes like the Food Network highlights.

Some of the kids invested time on 4-H cake decorating units.

A 4-H project manual builds basic skills so unit one zeroes in a simple icing, a couple of tools, and a one-layer cake with the goal to exhibit the best project at the county fair.

Story_squareThe cake part proved to be a problem for daughter number one, who baked her show cake the afternoon before it had to be entered. When the edges of the cake wouldn’t release from the pan, she solved the problem by cutting away the edges.

Most of the cakes entered were 8” round but hers was more of a 5” lumpy. She slathered on icing but it was like trying to hide Mount Everest under an ice cream cone. No champion ribbon that year.

Daughter number two was the creative sort stifled by the rules for the unit. When she was required to form a mat of frosting stars, she didn’t understand why the cake couldn’t show through. It would be like hiding the tuba in the marching band.

No blue ribbon that year, either.

Our son, at age 10, signed up for cake decorating and even went to a workshop where he and 25 girls learned the fine art of placing stars of frosting on waxed paper. This, of course, made absolutely no sense to him except he licked clean the frosting after the workshop.

We found out later that he signed up so that he could be in charge of the family birthday cakes. He figured if he’d finished cake decorating, I’d let him do the cakes.

And lick the frosting, too.

His show cake came together on a hot summer day with frosting that needed a lot more sugar than he put in the bowl. Imagine a lava flow sliding across his design.

The lava-icing flow continued until he got the cake to the fairgrounds. His frosting border resembled the outline of Texas.

No blue ribbon that time either.

But he didn’t need any cake decorating classes to take over the birthday cake tradition in our family. I had once served  crumbs molded like the foothills of Colorado with icing drizzled over the top. I had hoped for a puppy shape but that didn’t work out either.

So I had no cake decorating tradition to enforce.

I let him take care of the birthday cakes.

I was in charge of licking the bowl.

Walking the dream

Harvey’s eyes lit up when his wife walked through the front door of the nursing home and made her way to where he waited.

“I’ve got great news,” he said. Her eyebrows lifted. “I walked last night.”

“You did?” She glanced down at his wheelchair and his limp legs.

Seasons“I’ve been practicing,” he said. “I can show you.”

“Uh, well—“

Harvey leaned forward, gripping the armrests on his wheelchair. “I just need you to help me get started.”

She glanced around the lobby. “I don’t think I can help—“

“Oh, you under-estimate yourself. We can do this.” Harvey settled back in his wheelchair. “I practice every night.”

His wife sighed. “I think we should wait for a little help. I can’t do this alone.”

She knew that he hadn’t walked in over a year, not since he had fallen.

“All right. We can wait, I guess.”

Dreams, more vivid than the orange sunset, captivated Harvey’s days. Many of his nights included walks to friends’ houses, to the basement, and to the park.

She patted his arm and gave him a hug. “How are you feeling today?”

“Good. Did I tell you that Jerry visited me last night? I don’t know why he came but we had a good talk.”

Harvey’s wife smiled. Their oldest son lived 2000 miles away and only came on special occasions. She was pretty sure he hadn’t slipped in during the night for a visit.

“And did you enjoy talking with him?”

“Of course. He’s planning to move here soon so he can live with me.”

“I’ll bet that made you feel good. He loves you a lot, doesn’t he?”

Harvey nodded. “I guess so.”

Every day, Harvey’s wife came to kiss his forehead and hear his dreams. She loved him a lot, too.

About those eggs

I know you know where chocolate milk comes from and that red cows don’t produce strawberry shakes.

But rural people often laugh at the misconceptions that non-rural people have. Some of the simpler wrong notions include the idea that black cows give chocolate milk or that bulls have horns and cows don’t.

Story_squareAnd it is frustrating to hear people comment that we don’t need to have all those dairy cows because people can get their milk from Safeway instead.

I once had a college roommate mock me because I didn’t know that buttermilk came from melting butter into milk. The fact that I had seen buttermilk come from the actually making of butter in a churn didn’t impact her at all.

But one of my favorite stories came when a non-rural family came to visit.

“Can we come over this evening and watch you milk your goats?” This phone call came from our neighbor who had weekend guests wanting to experience some rural flavor.

So they came. The neighbor brought a dad with two teenage boys. The dad, Jim, had experienced a slice of farm life from his days visiting his grandparents on their farm. This was warm nostalgia for him.

Not so much for the teenage boys.

They were willing to wander around outside pestering the ducks before Dad ordered them into the milking room.

“This is cool,” he said. “Get in here and watch.”

So I milked and answered questions from Jim while the boys leaned against the far wall with their hands in their pockets. Then they all went home.

My neighbor called me the next morning. “Jim said thanks for letting them come over.” And she laughed. “And the boys came back here to announce that, after seeing where milk came from, they are never drinking milk again.”

“Whew,” I said. “Good thing they don’t know where eggs come from, then. They might never eat again.”