Actually, Ella e-mails me with a question. "I thought you were trying to simplify your life?" I respond with the standard line about companionship, winter and rural isolation. What I didn't tell her was how close I was to another flight of fancy. Quincey Tharpes, my free teacher counselor to deal with stress and violence reminds me that my life story resembles a rubber band . Inner city teacher who lives in the inner city followed by a year in a tent in rural America. Businessman in a downtown urban location followed by a retreat to scenic Sedona, Arizona. Apartment in the state capitol followed by truck farming in southwest Wisconsin. I'm stuck. Don't want to live in a city anymore, but the isolation and lack of certain amenities drives me nuts. Dawn says, " He'll get the kitchen finished and want to move."
I can't deny that thought.
Mandy changes things, at least for now. Mornings are frantic. The cat wants out early this morning. I grab my keys, let the Pooch out the back door and unlock the garage door. Mandy gets up from her comfortable bed and rushes to greet me. We walk toward the radio in the onion drying tent. The cat stops to pee in fresh dirt. Mandy follows suit. I switch off the anti-raccoon floodlight on the corn patch and turn off the radio while the kids play hide and seek. It's a new game. I have to give credit to the cat for thinking of this version. He crouches low under a drying table wiggling from side to side. Then the Pooch leaps out at Mandy. Mandy being easily distracted, is watching a flock of birds overhead. She doesn't see the approaching mountain lion. The Pooch runs off into the rock pile around the silver maples. He snickers. Mandy follows the cat, crouching and barking at him. When the Pooch thinks it's safe Mandy runs straight for his tail. The Pooch runs for cover.
Mandy thinks it's great fun to latch onto my sweatpants cuffs and play tug of war. "No Mandy," I say. She chews on a weed in the sand pile as I walk off. I almost make it to the house before she starts nipping at my heels and grabbing my cuff. To thwart her, I pull up my sweatpants past my calves. Quite a spectacle. Bleary eyed, my hair sticking out in three different directions, pants hiked up like a nerd followed by a puppy and a teenage cat wanting breakfast.
Mandy has every imaginable texture and taste of toy. A rope twist, wooden spoon, corncob, rubber squeaky bone, plastic tub top, pork bone, squeaky catnip mouse, canvas doughnut, rawhide doughnut and a Nerf ball. "No Mandy," I tell her as she mouths a white ceramic cabinet knob. "No Mandy," she's chewing on a chair rung. "NO Mandy," I say getting louder when she tugs at magazines on a coffee table. Then, she tries to pull the afghan off a side chair. Our kitchen floor has texture to it. We deliberately choose a brand with brown swirls. It hides the real dirt I track in daily. Mandy tries to dig up a brown spot on the linoleum.
The frenetic pace continues until my breakfast. She makes a last gasp attempt to climb on my lap for more breakfast. Then she settles down to the comfort of chewing on a running shoe and a nap. Yesterday, after breakfast and a short nap, we pull weeds. I should explain that I pull weeds. Mandy chases the weeds I pull out of a flower bed, bites at the hosta leaves and attacks my arm as I grab clumps of grass and lemon clover. I plan for canning tasks in between minding a cat who wants to come inside thirteen times an hour and a dog who amuses herself with chasing after beans I drop. By three thirty, I'm relaxing in a lawn chair on the deck. I've pressure canned six quarts of pole beans. My arm droops over the side of the lawn chair. Mandy idly mouths and softly chews my fingers. I close my eyes and rest knowing she's nearby.
In a week the cat and the dog will be inseparable. The five acres and hundreds more surrounding us present a healthy environment for the kids. Perhaps I'll move on to laying hens, some goats and ducks in a plastic wading pool. I take Mandy to visit her former home. She runs wildly at Buddy, the Amish dog and rolls over with the one remaining puppy. They chase, tug, and dig in the dirt while I ask questions about canning and vegetables. The Patriarch volunteers to "babysit" if we want to travel to the city. I tell him I'll consider his offer. Mandy is a well mannered car traveler. Today is baking day on the Amish farm. I'll go for pie. Mandy will romp with Mom and Buddy and Jesse James, the puppy.