Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
When I read accounts of life 50 or 60 years ago, I am disturbed to recall that I was in seventh grade fifty years ago. Older people have a tendency to ramble on about illness-their own and that of friends and neighbors. For some, illness monopolizes their conversation. Words like lumbago, gout, rheumatism pop up frequently. There's a weather change happening in Kickapoo Center. The Pooch stays out longer. The wood stove doesn't need frequent stoking. The sky is solidly gray and overcast. At lunch, I need to turn on the kitchen light to read. The bird feeders are as busy as O'Hare Airport on Thanksgiving. The National Weather Service predicts rain and drizzle followed by snow. My knees ache. Is it lumbago? I look up lumbago in the dictionary and in my Oxford book of Etymology. It comes from the Latin word lumbus which means loin. The dictionary says lumbago is pain in the lower back and loins. I know my loins are OK. Maybe it's rheumatiz or gout from eating all that rich Christmas food. Whatever. I feel like a geezer.
All these aches are accompanied by a slight case of nausea and a throbbing headache. I don't have much energy. It's an occasion for considerable gawking out our new kitchen windows. I conclude that the bird seed given to us at Christmas is of low quality. The plastic bag says gourmet, yet the main ingredient is white millet. There's a carpet of millet below the feeders. There's also a preponderance of Juncos this year. They enjoy ground feeding. I watch them picking up seed under the feeders. Suddenly a larger bird about the size of a mourning dove lands behind a snowdrift at the bottom of the feeder outside the kitchen window. I see feathers floating away in the breeze. When it takes off I recognize it as a Kestrel- a small falcon that preys on smaller birds. The Pooch is sitting on the deck railing watching the kestrel fly away. There's a look of amazement on his face. He follows a feather floating by and jumps down after the gray fluff.
My escape mechanism from the depths of winter is books. I'm halfway through The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Briefly, it's a work of fiction about a family that lives near Ashland, Wisconsin and raises dogs. At lunch I read a section about dogs with a sense of humor. I ask Dawn, "Does the Pooch have a sense of humor?" She says he's certainly playful. I make a distinction between playfulness and a sense of humor. The Pooch has favorite toys he loves to throw up in the air , catch and wrestle to the ground. His sense of humor is different.
I'm upstairs making the bed. I've been trying to teach the cat to come when I whistle. Outside it's important because he likes to wander when we go on our afternoon hike. I whistle. "C'mere Pooch," I call out. Whistle again. No Pooch. I'm thinking that he's hip to my tricks. I'll hide somewhere and whistle. He comes into the room looking high and low and runs into the next room. I'm thinking, "Hey dum-dum, can't you smell me?" If I jump out at him he'll grunt and run away. From his body language I can tell he's disgruntled because I fooled him. I whistle again. No response. I walk around the bed, pulling up the comforter and arranging the blanket. Suddenly the cat hurtles into the room, bounces off the corner of the bed and runs away. He doesn't stop in the upstairs hallway, but flies down the steps. If he could laugh, he'd be chortling all the way to the kitchen.
I'm taking boxes of Christmas decorations to the barn. The Pooch likes to accompany me to check the floor for mice. Several times he startles me by jumping at sheets of plastic that cover tables. The first time, I rationalize he's playing with the plastic. The second time it happens, I jump at the noise, I know he's not playing. He's crafted a variation of the game of chase. He knows he scares me. I yell at him, "You little shit, you," and I laugh out loud. Early on I'd call the game Gotcha because he'd grab my leg with both paws in a kind of hug and run off. When he does this, it is preceded by his hiding, getting very low to the ground and jumping out at me.
The Wroblewski book makes a distinction between dogs that are playful, dogs with a sense of humor and ones that are more serious. Just like people. A friend sends an e-mail entitled, Three Reasons to Live in a Warmer Climate . When I read the subject line, I start to predict the three reasons. The first is a picture of a snowdrift in front of a garage. I brace myself for more winter snow pictures. I scroll down to see if I can guess the other two reasons. I guffaw when I see them. It's a picture of a young woman in a bathing suit standing in water to her waist. She's peeled back her bikini top revealing a really nice pair of breasts. Gotcha! Just like the Pooch. If you met the friend, you come to know his quick wit. Thanks Buddy for the laugh.