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Through a combined series of misfortunes, distractions, and sheer stupidity on my part, I managed to burn two gallons of homemade chili in the pot on the stove. The putrid burnt flavor made its way through the whole pot, so I threw away the chili. I scraped an inch of burned beans, meat, and tomatoes from the bottom of the pan, exposing that really hard, burned black stuff. Charcoal had nothing on this pan. I put some soap and water in the pan and left it to soak overnight.
I went back the following day, looked into the pan assessing the damages, and decided to just throw it away. That's when it happened.
I heard my mother's voice saying, "Don't you dare! You get over to that sink and clean that pan right now."
I sassed back, "You can't tell me what to do. I am an adult now!"
I could feel Mom’s presence as I scrubbed on the charred bottom of the pan, I tried to reason with her, "Look at this mess – let's just throw the pan away and get another one."
It was an expensive pan, a nice stainless steel ten-quart pot with sturdy side handles, and a vented glass lid. My wife bought it for me as a gift. I was sure it was ruined. "Keep scrubbing." I heard the voice say.
"It's not coming out," was my plea of defense.
"Use Comet," she replied.
I argued, "but it's…"
I scrubbed and scrubbed that pan with Comet and a green scratchy pad, then rinsed the pan. Then, feeling it was good enough, I started to put it in the strainer when the voice clarified, "It’s not clean. There's still more in the pan." Admittedly, there were still a few black spots.
Again, considering throwing the pot away, I looked over both shoulders. I couldn’t see her, but still I was sure Mom was watching from somewhere around the corner to see that this didn't happen.
After the final scrubbing, I rinsed the pan. Finally, I looked into the bottom of a once again shiny stainless-steel pan. I felt a warm pat on my shoulder, and heard a softer voice asking, "Now, aren't you glad you didn't throw away that perfectly good pan?"
I took another glance over my shoulder. No one was there. I examined my fingertips; they were pink and tender from scrubbing with the abrasives. My wrist ached a bit from the odd angle used reaching into the deep pot. I quipped to myself, "People should not be able to talk from the grave."
The voice replied, "I heard that too."
As I dried the pan, I thought about how much I miss those days in the kitchen with my mom and the lessons she taught me. They were lessons about cooking and cleaning, right from wrong, living, loving, and believing. Lessons about not wasting anything – food, or pans.
It's been over 20 years now since she passed away. From time to time, Mom still stops into my kitchen, offering me some remedial training. You know, people like mom, who've passed before us, don't talk from the grave – they continue to speak through the heart.
Melissa walked into the kitchen. I smiled, showing her the pan, and proudly said, "Look, I got it clean."
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I tried something different a couple of weeks ago, leaving home about ten minutes earlier to go to mass. Doing so allowed me to hear something which I'd not heard for a while.
The morning air was mild, with freshness coming in off Lake Superior. I arrived in Two Harbors at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in time to hear the church bells ringing before mass.
The bell tower stood tall against the sky; a few white clouds accented the beautiful shade of morning blue. I paused on my way and watched as the bells in the open tower rang out their call for the morning gathering. It was spiritually moving.
A younger girl wearing a pretty blue dress was kneeling on the sidewalk several feet in front of the large wooden front doors of the historic brick church. I wasn't sure what she was doing. Finally, she stood up, revealing a cat at her left side, which she had been petting.
The cat was a lovely grey tortoiseshell, speckled with yellow and orange on her soft fur coat. She seemed to be clean and well cared for.
The cat wore a red collar and was well-mannered and friendly. When the little girl stood up, then it moved on, looking for someone else who would give her some attention; a simple rub on the head would do.
Although it was the first time I had ever seen this cat, I heard someone say it was a neighbor's cat who often showed up on Sunday mornings. Like a mass greeter, the feline welcomed parishioners as they arrived.
I walked in through the front doors and climbed the flight of stairs. On this occasion of being early for mass, I met Father Steve standing in the vestibule. Usually, when I arrive, he is already on the altar.
"Good morning," I said to him, "There's a cat outside the front doors greeting the people." Father Steve looked down the steps and out the open doors. He didn't seem surprised by the cat's presence, but unlike me, Father Steve is always there before mass starts, so he's probably seen the cat before.
I couldn't restrain myself, "He must be Catholic, wouldn't you think?"
Like the response one would expect after telling a corny 'Dad Jake,' Father Steve gave a soft, groaning chuckle. "That's a good one," he said. With a few more minutes until the opening hymn, I went into the church and found a seat.
I appreciate a priest who can draw the attention of his parishioners by talking about something in current times. And then ties it together with biblical events that happened two thousand years ago. Father Steve got the congregation's attention when he talked about an early scene in Saving Private Ryan, the movie. He then related what happened in that scene to the Gospel, when Jesus restored a deaf man's hearing and removed his speech impediment.
Jesus and Private Miller, from the movie scene Father Steve spoke of, both distanced themselves from the crowd and the noise. They each sought some time alone or one-on-one time with another person. We all need that sometimes. But, there was much more to his sermon.
It was an excellent sermon, straightforward and easy enough for anyone to relate to. I wished everyone could have heard it. Father Steve's message would be beneficial in helping people deal with the crazy events of the world today - even that cat that hung out in front of the church, seeking attention.
The following week, I had intended to get to church a little early again. But, for all my good intentions, it didn't happen. I was late – again.
Many cars were parked on the street; I had to park a couple of blocks away from the church. Walking down the sidewalk alone, I reflected on last Sunday morning; how peaceful it was on that beautiful day even with people all around, and how good it was to be a little early.
On this day, the sky was just as blue when I looked up to the bell tower, but the bells were done ringing; still, I could hear them in my mind.
No people were gathered visiting on the front walk, and the little girl in the blue dress wasn't there. So I said to myself, "I wonder where everyone is?" I suppose they were already inside.
I could hear the pipe organ playing and the people singing the opening hymn through the open front doors as I got closer to the church building. Although I was alone on the walk, I felt the presence of another. "Is that you Lord," I asked softly.
It was about then that I noticed the grey cat with the yellow and orange speckles, wearing a red collar. She was walking on the sidewalk, coming toward me. "No, it's me," she said, "and you're late, sir."
The cat and I shared a good laugh about that. I took a moment, reaching down to give her a rub on the head. She paused to accept my attention and pushed her face into my hand for a good scratch on the cheek. "All the other people went inside already," she told me, "You better get going."
I enjoyed arriving early for mass the week before, but being a few minutes late gave me a little quiet time alone. I also had a moment alone with the church cat on the sidewalk. I recalled Father Steve's sermon from the week before; sometimes, we all need a little alone time or one-on-one time with another. Today, I got both.
Next week, I think I'll arrive a little early for mass. Maybe there will be time to tell Father Steve another corny little joke before mass. But, in case I don't make it early, I think I'll take one of our cats, Edgar Allan's, treats with me – on the chance I might meet the church cat on the sidewalk again.
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About ten years ago, or so, my brother Danny planted a variety of fruit trees. The peach trees seemed to fair well with the climate at his southern Iowa home. Occasionally, we get to reap the benefits of his harvest.
Dan brought a large bag of fresh peaches with him when he came up to Minnesota. He arrived at our house around ten-thirty at night, and I ate two peaches before bed.
A couple of days later, I took a road trip to southern Minnesota with my granddaughters. We packed a lunch and some snacks for the ride. Dan prepared a peach for each girl, putting the pieces in two small plastic containers. When we stopped to eat, the girls were thrilled with the surprise. Addison ate about half her fruit. Evelyn ate all her's, then asked Addie if she could have the rest of her peaches; Addison gave them to her. Good, ripe peaches are magical; they put people in a happy, loving mood, and these were good peaches.
A short time later, four-year-old Evelyn struck up a conversation in the car, "Hey Papa, guess what."
Sensing a possibility of being pranked, I answered cautiously, "What."
Evelyn said, "Your daughter Sydney (her mom), Aunt Delaney, and Aunt Annie are pretty."
I smiled while looking at her in the rearview mirror, "What about Nana Mac?"
Ev quickly responded, "Oh yes, she is very pretty, and June Bug is very pretty too."
Addison piped in, "And Edgar is cute."
I quizzed Addie, "Edgar's not pretty?"
"No, he's a boy," Addison answered as if I should already know this. "Boys aren't pretty; they're cute. Edgar is a cute cat." I agreed.
"Wait a minute," I muttered under my breath, "they addressed everyone in the family except me, even the dog and cat. What am I, chopped liver?" Maybe it was the sweetness of the peaches, and extra peaches at that, which inspired Evelyn's nice compliments. We finished our travels, then headed home.
I thought more about Danny and his peach trees; I don't know their variety, but I wouldn't mind having a couple of peach trees in my yard. Although I'm not sure they would survive the harsh winters of northern Minnesota, it couldn't hurt to try growing them indoors to start.
A few weeks earlier, I had purchased some Colorado peaches at a fundraiser for the Encounter Youth Center in downtown Duluth. After eating the peaches, which were terrific, I dried the pits, cracked them open, and retrieved the seeds from the center; I was surprised how small they were compared to the pit. But that wasn't the first time a small seed baffled me.
A few years ago, I met my friend Tony when I delivered a trailer to him on the west coast of northern California. Tony gave me a tour around his yard. Living in the Redwood Forest, he had sequoias in his yard, over one hundred feet tall! I was amazed at how tiny the pinecones were lying on the ground beneath the trees. I mean, these came from trees that are of the largest in the world. So I asked Tony if I could take a couple of pinecones for the seeds.
Tony said the seeds in those cones had already been eaten by squirrels and birds and such, but when the new pinecones fell, he would harvest some seeds for me. He did and sent them to me, but I failed to plant them and doubted they would germinate after two years in an envelope. I thought about trying to grow them anyway.
Planting new trees from seeds would be a good idea right now, especially with the wildfires that continue to burn through Minnesota's north woods. Fire is nature's way of cleaning the forest, making way for new growth; I understand that - still, it's scary! Some of those fires are only about twenty-five miles north of our house. We've been in a drought all summer, and the winds have been brisk, so we've been monitoring the fire's movement daily.
It's very cool, almost poetic, that amid all these trees burning near us, I got an envelope/postcard from Tony in the mail. Inside were more sequoia seeds; on the outside of the package were directions on how to plant them. And, so the process begins.
I'm planting sequoias to start my career as a tree farmer. I know these trees will not withstand Minnesota winters. And peach trees that most likely will not either. With this in mind, it would seem futile to even try, but…
If the seeds germinate, I will transplant the redwood trees into pots, and when they grow a foot or so tall, I'll give most of them away as gifts, keeping a couple of them in the house for myself. Maybe when they get big enough, I'll decorate them with colorful lights, ornaments, and shiny tinsel every year around Christmas time. Then, when they get as tall as the ceiling, I'll have to give them to someone in a suitable climate that could plant them outdoors.
I had a funny vision that I was away from home for a while, and when I returned, the sequoias had grown, pushing their way through the ceiling and rooftop. Like in the story, Jack and the Beanstalk. They were growing taller than the pine trees in our yard. Maybe one day I could climb them through the clouds, all the way to the sky where I'd find a hen that laid golden eggs.
The peach trees could present a problem. Protected from the outside elements, I could imagine them growing in pots and producing fruit in our three-seasons room. June would be in paradise. Thinking she had her own grove of tennis ball trees, she'd jump up and pull soft fuzzy peaches from the branches, then look for someone to throw them for her. Well, I'm getting way ahead of myself here. First, I'll have to see if the seeds will germinate.
I decided to keep some pits from Danny's peaches to plant along with the Colorado peaches. I'll keep you posted on how this all turns out.
I don't know anyone who doesn't like peaches. They make people happy and happy people are more friendly. That's why they call a nice person "a real peach."
My granddaughter is a peach. It was fun to hear Evelyn's compliments after eating a peach. I'll bet Tony likes peaches too.