Thursday, March 29, 2007

Verbal Psychodelia

A couple of times a year I get a strong craving for southern food. Last weekend I felt a craving coming on, and Wednesday I purchased fresh catfish, cornmeal and collards. With the meager frying-capable equipment I have, it takes a long time to make fried foods at my house. I could not wait for the catfish and hushpuppies and nice soggy leaf. The boys especially love hushpuppies.

I warned the boys that they must stay away from the kitchen while I had hot oil on the stove, and they were admirably obedient as I began cooking. After the sound and aroma of the frying hushpuppies wafted through the open floorplan, Tyke shouted from the computer corner
Mom, are you making hippiepops, or whatever they're called?

I give up. Apparently the southern gene has become recessive.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I'm not a religious person, but I am somewhat spiritual. Lately I've noticed both big and little events in my life that convince me there is such a thing as "grace."

Big: A couple of months ago my car, a little bitty 11-year-old Toyota, was starting to act up. I noticed that occasionally as I steered toward the left, the power would seem to go out and the battery light would come on for no longer than one second; then it would come back on as though nothing had happened. During that second, the steering would be impossibly stiff. This occurred twice over a long period.

One afternoon we went into the garage to leave for G's dance lesson. I started the car and began to back out. Immediately I felt the steering was not right. In fact, I had no power steering at all.

I called my little fat triple A guy, who has been here before on two occasions. He rescued me when my starter was beginning to die and taught me some tricks for how to get it going until I could afford to have the starter replaced. Little Guy said, "Your power steering belt came off. In fact, it's cut right in half the long way. The pulley must have gotten loose and the belt went on the sharp edge, and that's what cut it. Finally the pulley just came off, along with the belt." He then told me what to tell the repair shop, and he towed my car to the service place. For free!

Anyway, I digress. The point is that we were incredibly, astoundingly lucky! How had it managed to happen that the final destruction took place when I drove into the garage the night before? It seems so, so improbable. The alternative was unthinkable: I could have been driving on the expressway with the two boys when the belt disengaged and I would have been entirely unable to control the car and steer. Too horrid to contemplate. But instead, I had the excellent fortune to have my car die in the safe garage. Not only that, but the repair shop got it fixed in a single day, and provided shuttle service for me to pick it up. And it wasn't very expensive. Awesome. That is grace slapping me right in the face! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Small: Ten years ago when we briefly lived in England, we were broke. I didn't buy much of anything there to commemorate our visit except for some necessities, like a low-quality china tea set. However, one weekend I was reading the Times and ran across an ad for some beautiful needlepoint kits that were on sale for a pretty good price. Of course, needlepoint typically costs an arm and a leg, but these were almost reasonable. I decided that if nothing else, I would order two of these kits, work them, and they would forever remind me of my English life.

After many weeks, the kits arrived by snail mail. (And this is another souvenir I brought back with me: the memory of how very inefficient and inconvenient so many simple errands, chores and transactions were during the year we were there. Much has changed by now, but that's how it was then.) I somehow acquired a lap-style scroll frame and started the first kit, a lovely grapevine and leaf design. Then I went into labor and promptly put it away until we returned to the states.

Time went by and we moved several times. Sometime after we got to our current location I was looking at things I had in the storage room and uncovered one of the complete needlepoint kits and only the wool for the one I had started. That immediately set me to wondering where the tapestry frame and partially finished canvas were. I nearly went into a panic. I had already put substantial time into working the canvas and I was absolutely certain that I hadn't accidentally thrown it out (even though I remembered having many very frustrating times with it, I didn't hate it enough to actually murder it). So here it has been nearly five years since I had seen the canvas. Every now and then I would rediscover the wool and start the search all over again, all for nought.

I just found the wool again. This was during a couple of good weeks when I inexplicably did not have asthma bad enough to keep me sedentary. For me, a good week is an opportunity to do a lot of strenuous cleaning that I can't do otherwise. So I went into a cleaning rampage. While doing the master bedroom, I cleaned out the closets and hauled things to the attic and discarded four garbage bags worth of junk and cleaned out drawers and the blanket chest. And there, rolled up tightly in the back bottom corner of the blanket chest under all the blankets and cushions, was the canvas! I was so thrilled I actually shed tears. Grace again! Proving to me that I was not insane, had not just imagined owning the kit, and had not pitched the beautiful [expensive] canvas.

Oddly, half of the frame was missing; the canvas was stitched to the scroll dowels but there were no sides. Now I had to look for the spreader rails for the frame! I went into the storage room among all my craft things and found two spreader rails. But they were the wrong ones; they went to different frame that I had had in college. And of course for that set, it was the dowels that were missing. Sigh. After a short search I took the short way out and simply went to Michael's Crafts and got a whole new frame, one with a stand because I had always hated the lap style. I assembled the stand and transferred the canvas to the scroll.

Grace can have a bittersweet side, too. For it wasn't until after I had done all this assembly that memories came flooding back--memories of why I had cursed and been baffled by this kit while still in England. It was one of those, "Ohhhh, yeahhhhh!" moments. Get this: There was no picture of the finished product ever shipped with the kit, so I can't use that as a guide; I can only look at the paint and swatches. One of the most important colors, a dark bright green, was completely missing--it had never been shipped with the kit in the first place. I remember sending numerous letters and making many unanswered phone calls to the company complaining about the inadequate wool and non-existent picture, and over a period of six months they had never once acknowledged or addressed my complaint. Then I had to leave the country. So much for impulse-buying items on sale! Another two things I re-discovered: Many of the colors stamped onto the canvas are so subtle and so close to each other that I can't see them, even using my beloved Ott Lite. When I gaze at the canvas my eyes and brain just go to jello and I feel like a blind imbecile. Also, the background appears to my eyes to be white, but only a tiny amount of white yarn was supplied, so I can't believe the background is really intended to be white. An inordinately large amount of a very pale pink was supplied, which made me think that maybe that is supposed to be the background color but I just can't discern it on the canvas with the naked eye. I don't really see that pink anywhere. And I'm certain by looking that the golds and purples are in short supply. And the gray is completely missing, and doesn't appear on the swatch at all. To make a short story long, I believe I was hoodwinked. In any case I am determined to salvage this disaster, even if I have to stop the little work I've done now and start over by re-buying equivalent and missing colors from a supplier.

This may seem like one of those things that makes you say, "No good deed goes unpunished," but despite all the setbacks I am still very appreciative of having found the canvas again.

Perhaps by the time I am 85 I will complete it.


Friday, March 16, 2007

More Overhearings

Tyke (describing to me some story he had read): They escaped back to earth in Hyperventilation Suits.

Tyke (talking back to the tv after an ad): Mom! Did they just say "mosquito lobsters"?

G (jealously berating the many awesome winners of the 2006 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and intentionally making fun of goofy language): I'm much too igneous to become one of those writers.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Testing, Testing

A few weeks ago I had the dubious honor--or should that be horror?--of scoring tenth-grade practice CAPT (CT Academic Performance Tests) for my town's two high schools. The segment I scored was "Reponse to Literature." Students were asked to read a long short story and respond to four related general prompts. The purpose was to discern whether students comprehended the story, could make lucid connections between the story and real life/other literature or media, could make an argument about the story's literary merit using specific examples from the text, and could demonstrate a development of thought through the process of writing the four prompts. The volunteer scorers were trained, and quite a few of them didn't need training because they had already been scoring for many years.

The whole event was hy-larry-us. I found it delightful and will surely go back next year and do it again. It was a real eye-opener for me, because I had never done this type of scoring before. I had to adhere strictly to a specific, different rubric which did not permit me to consider any of the usual metrics for writing: no spelling, no mechanics, no grammar. Only the development and depth of thought in the responses were to be judged. This was completely antithetical to the things I had to do when I was a university English instructor. It was challenging and fun at the same time. In addition, I got to find out just what the schools are going expect my sons to do when they're in tenth grade. [smile]

The range of responses ran the gamut and were to be given points ranging from one to six, with one being the lowest. (Several times I lamented that we were not permitted to deliver a ZERO score.) Two volunteers read each test; if their respective scores diverged by more than one point (say, one scorer called it a 3 and the other a 5), then a third reader--one of the long experienced people--was called in to mediate. For example, I scored one test a 1 and the second reader gave it a 3. That reader was a retired teacher who gave it to a third reader, who gave it a 2. The retiree pulled me out into the hall trying to persuade me that I was being much too harsh and that I should never give a student a 1 because "it sends a message of dismal failure to the student and will not help him progress as a writer. We want them to have hope that they can do better and have the means to get there, not destroy their egos." He threw out my score and kept the others. I was also told that as long as they have made so much as a henscratch on a page, they must receive credit. Had I drawn that test from the pile again, I would still have given it a 1, regardless of mister's caveat. It was a frigging 1, dammit.

Oh, yadda, yadda, yadda! I am SICK of this platform of passing them along and "building their self-esteem" no matter what. "Hello!!! I'm functionally illiterate, but I have great self esteem!" When you pass them along, they don't learn to what extent they've screwed up; neither do the teacher and curriculum committee get appropriate feedback that the current process may not be working and that there may be a different approach for this student or the whole class. I ask you. When a kid has four full pages of writing to fulfill and only writes two sentences on a single page and completely ignores the rest of the test and hasn't shown any evidence that s/he even read the story in the first place, that is a ONE and should be a ZERO. (Let's see--linking clauses with "and" much? Hemingway's got nothing on me. But I digress.) A zero. Period. The kid should go cry in a corner, straighten up, and try harder to demonstrate some mental presence on the "real" test. How lucky they are that they get a "practice" before the "real" thing! Back in my day, you know, back when we had to pay someone for the privilege of walking ten miles through the snow to school on bloody stumps for feet, we got one chance and one chance only, and if we blew it, we blew it and heard about it.

Oh, WHY did I get started on this? Somebody shoot me off my soap box. It's getting taller by the minute.

And don't even let me mention how all of this testing is only necessary because The Decider (that guy who was reading a picture book--his level--when the airplanes crashed into the WTC) came up with the Every Child Left Behind Act. The students are being used as lab rats and informants so that the schools can inevitably be betrayed as failures, thus mandating threatened removal of their funding. (Uh, this is supposed to improve education HOW?) And the poor teachers spend so much time jumping through hoops trying to teach to the tests rather than enriching kids' minds that they can't teach what they really need and want to teach. The kids miss out on all the fun. No wonder they hate to read and write.

I warned you I needed to be taken down.

Anyway, I found the scoring enlightening because I was indeed impressed by some of these students' abilities. It's been so long since I have taught that I was reminded of so many things I used to enjoy about teaching, most of all how diverse students' writing can be. I had nearly forgotten that each student truly has a style that's as distinct as a fingerprint, and it's thrilling to see their individual hallmarks.

Sure, I ran across a number of papers that said things such as, "This story was kinda dumb and it sounds familiar so I think I read it before" (no more writing on subsequent pages). But others soared with insight. And even if the illegible handwriting made me spend three times too long to decipher a paper, or misspellings were distracting, or it quickly became clear that the student was ESOL, sometimes these very papers showed the deepest thought. It's funny how a writer's real meaning can still shine through a million possible types of unintentional obfuscation. By its nature, writing presents so many opportunities for screwing up. It's also odd how many ways a student can get so, so close to saying something profound, yet barely miss the mark by some sort of insupportable logical leap or by failing to add just a phrase enough to "connect the dots." In many cases I could see what was left out more clearly than what was there.

There were a few papers that made me laugh. I was so heartened by the fact that I heard others titter, too. I didn't mean to laugh AT the students, but sometimes an unfortunate locution just tickled me. Even after a hundred years of professional writing and editing, I find writing mistakes funny and entertaining. I could always still see what the student meant to say.

Following this paragraph are just a few of the "keepers" that stayed in my mind after I left the Town Hall day by day. To preface, the story students read was about a teen boy, Luis, and his father, a recent widower. The father owns and manages a car junk yard of which he is very proud. Luis has been in a juvenile detention center for starting a semi-gang called the Tiburones (Sharks). One of his offenses, which no one knew about, was registering the Tiburones as a "school club" and putting on a "benefit talent show" for club profit. The ostensible beneficiaries were animals and the club claimed the money would be donated to animal rights causes. The actual ultimate "cause" was nothing more than buying mice to feed Luis' pet boa constrictor. Luis finishes out his juvy sentence doing community service--working for his father for free.
  1. "What cunfunded me was, why did Luis join a gang." Yeah, that cunfunded me, too.
  2. "One question I had was why did the Tribunes have a talent show?" (Maybe they were spurred by the intense competition from other media?)
And my personal favorite--it was my last paper of the day and I lost my composure and started giggling in that kind of irrepressible laugh that you get when you're in a library and you're not allowed to make noise and the laugh goes on and on and you snort and can't stop:

3. "Luis and his father have pizza together for the first time in a long time. The reference to the boa was really about Luis. He needed a lot of mice to keep him healthy and happy."

Oh, dear Lord. I laughed and puzzled and laughed and puzzled again. Anyway, it wasn't until I was on my way out that I realized that this was actually quite an astute observation! Luis, whose mother has died and whose father is prissy and remote, needs attention. He needs a lot of care and feeding. Thus he's revived a bit by finally having a meal with his dad. There's a metaphorical parallel between the physical needs of the bestial bad snake and the emotional needs of the delinquent boy. DUH!

Stupid scorer! Bad lady! Dumb lady! Shame!

I thought about this quite a bit and even woke up at night worrying that I had wronged the student (I think I gave the paper a 3). But the conclusion I came to was that, although the [buried] idea was good and the student had shown a depth of understanding, poor articulation blocked the intended meaning profoundly. I consulted others on this and they agreed with me--in fact, none of them had seen the idea there at all and just thought the kid was being a jerk by saying Luis needed to eat mice. The second reader solidly scored it the same way I had, so I let it be.

I miss this sort of thing. There's nothing like a good writing howl to soothe my soul. This is precisely the type of bucking up I need. I should return to the land of misplaced modifiers and the Paramedic Method of editing (that's when you need to call 911 to fix the piece).

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hard to Fool

A friend of mine sent me a joke this morning about an overly punitive policeman harassing a farmer for a minor traffic infraction. In the punchline, the farmer points out "circle flies" around the cop's head. The farmer explains that "circle flies" are the ones typically swarming around a horse's ass. The "circle flies" are hard to fool--they know when they've found the appropriate host to bother.

Anyway, I immediately remembered an analogous incident I'd personally experienced many years ago, so I sent my friend the following reply.

Well, I do believe I've met that-there gentleman before!

When I lived in North Carolina in 1984 there was a time when I commuted from Chapel Hill to Raleigh to work at the newspaper. I was getting ready to move to an apartment in Raleigh, however, because the commute was stupid, expensive, and put too much wear on my aged car, which I could not afford to replace. One Friday after work I had collected a bunch of moving boxes (from where else? Grocery and LIQUOR stores) and tossed them in my back seat. This was an enormous car, mind you--a white 1969 Mercury Montego with blue underpaint and a half-torn-off vinyl covered roof. I loved that car because it was a completely reliable V-8 and I knew NO ONE would ever try to steal it because it was such a godda*ned eyesore.

Anyhow I was heading home from Raleigh to Chapel Hill with the million boxes loaded. The road I took was Route 54 (through Durham). At that time there was not an expressway between Raleigh and Chapel Hill like there is now--only a piddly two-lane. How surprised was I to find my lil' ol' self with a Smokey on my tail? I had never been pulled over or had as much as a parking ticket in my life.

Sure enough, Smokey was pulling ME over. Honestly, he had the Smokey hat and the big beefy Smokey chest and the shiny badge and red face and the black belt and everything. I was so innocent I blushed fiercely and got a case of the fantods (that's a great thing to do, nearly faint in front of a state trooper). Worse, I had no idea what I was supposed to be ashamed of! To add to this royal embarrassment, my pulling over on a two-lane road caused all the da#n Friday traffic to go around me and everyone of course was gawking at the stupid blonde girl in the junker car.

I handed over the usual paperwork, and he went back and sat in his car for a dog's age. Up to this point he had not said a word to me about what I'd been pulled over for.

When he came back he started up a little conversation. Such as, why was my car full of boxes, and could he please see what was in those boxes, pretty please? I snorted with nervous laughter (the second thing I should not have done). I explained that I was moving on the next weekend, the boxes wree for my move, and that I had gotten the boxes from where else? Grocery and LIQUOR stores. Well Mr. Smokey jes' had to see fer hissef. He opened the back door and started rifling through the EMPTY boxes, for goddsakes. He kept rifling until he had examined every darned one.

When he was satisfied that I wasn't carrying contraband liquor, he backed off a little. As a world-traveler you may know that in NC you have to go through friggin' security gates and show your ID and stand on your head while juggling and singing "The Star Spangled Banner" if you want to enter an ABC store--and I forget what ABC means but the A is "alcohol." (How about "alcohol, bullets, and cigarettes?" Sounds close to me.) Also there are all these rules about limits to volume and what various combinations you may legally acquire in a single purchase. My guess is Mr. Smokey man was hoping he had intercepted a major moonshine run to assure a forthcoming bonus check, but he had found himself out of luck.

After he shut the door I asked him, "Officer, for what did you pull me over?"


"Miss, a crime has been committed and the getaway car matches the description of your vehicle."

Well, bless his heart. I soooo wanted to say, "Officer, could you please give me a complete description of said 'getaway vehicle'?" But I didn't want to make another mistake. I quickly remembered that I had been a Thespian in high school and now was the time to put my acting skills to good use because it took every ounce of self control I had not to crack up right in his face. RIGHT! If there was a single other white 1969 Mercury Montego with blue underpaint and a half-torn-off vinyl roof still on the road in the continental United States at that moment I would have eaten my own head. I still would!

Finally there was a tip of the hat and an "I apologize for taking your time, Miss. You take care and BE SURE'N CHANGE THE ADDRESS ON YOUR LICENSE when you move."

I believe I saw circle flies that evening.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Stupid Mom

No matter what they do, moms are always wrong. They're wrong when they know they're wrong, and they're wrong even if they are completely, blissfully unaware that they have done something heinous. I speak from several years' experience as the mom of a teenager and a young Virgo boy. It's a tough audience.

This morning I was toasting happily under the covers in our sub-zero house when Tyke, readying himself for departure on the school bus, yelled across the hall. "Moooooommmmm! Moooooommmm, I can't find my book!" He is reading competitively for a Battle of the Books quiz contest, and has just segued from his first to his second book. (Frankly, I think the books they have assigned fifth-graders are well below his level--he could have read them in second grade--but all the easier for him in the contest.) "Mom, I put my book on my bedroom floor with my clothes for today, and now it's gone!"

This is precisely the sort of thing that makes Virgos cry, and I could hear the beginning of a whimper in his voice. In typical wrong-mom fashion, I said, "Well, why was it on the floor where it doesn't belong instead of on one of your bookcases?" [Not helpful. I am crabby in the morning.]

"I put it with my clothes so I couldn't possibly forget to take it to school." [Solid logic.]

"Which book? Just in case Isaw it somewhere."

"Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man," he sniffed.

"Look under the bed. Maybe it got kicked there accidentally."

"No, my sleeping bag is hanging all the way to the floor and nothing could have gotten under there."

"Well, I don't know where it is. Nobody went into your room after you got in bed." Of course at this time I was searching my groggy mind for what precisely had happened between his going to bed and mine. Just as I heard him tromp, defeated, downstairs toward the door, I remembered yesterday.

When Tyke had arrived home from school, he triumphantly presented me with a wadded up brown paper towel and a wall-to-wall smile. "What's this?" I asked.

"Remember my tooth that was driving me crazy? It finally came out today!"

One of the ways I have typically been wrong as a mom in the past has been in the Tooth Fairy department. I'm routinely amiss in the Pay-for-Tooth Program. Yesterday, therefore, I resolved to absolutely, positively remember to compensate Tyke immediately this time. So---I was wrong again! I had said I hadn't been in the room when I most assuredly had. I remembered sneaking up a few minutes after he went to bed to slip a dollar under his pillow. And, even worse, I specifically remember thinking as I tiptoed into the pitch-dark room, "Who knows what a person might step on in here?" Well, a book, for instance?

After completing my morning ablutions I went into his room to see if I had, indeed, kicked a floor-dwelling book into an obscure corner, but none was to be found.

On my way downstairs I pondered the irony of this event. I had ordered Tyke's books from Amazon, and they had inexplicably sent TWO copies of Sammy Keyes. For one thing I am lazy, and did not feel like going through the return process. For another thing, I knew that other kids would be participating in the Battle of the Books, so I decided somebody else might well benefit from this copy. I had sent it in with a note to the librarian who is emceeing (is that a word?) the Battle. Just yesterday she had sent me a thank-you. Thus, where we once had two copies of this book, apparently we now had none. The Fates are giggling . . .

I got down to the bottom of the stairs and there, in the middle of the family room floor next to a pile of newly folded laundered Tyke clothes was the book. Staring me right in the face. And to think the Tyke had spent much of his morning in that very room . . .

See? Moms are always wrong.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Farm Market

This morning I woke up hearing the drip of spring melting. We've had a few minor snowfalls here this winter. Certainly nothing to complain about, except for black ice keeping me out of my driveway and garage for a few weeks. Listening to the thaw, I conjured a picture of the white ground in my mind, and smiled to think we would see what was under the snow soon. For some reason I suddenly got excited because I thought of my favorite local farm market, The Pickin' Patch. I had desperately missed the market since we last went there at Halloween to take a hayride and haul our pumpkins. Some weeks hence, The Pickin' Patch would open and offer tender garden plants. In the summer, depending on the month, we would be able to get a map of this year's farm in the shop, walk or drive out into the vast fields, and pick succulent non-Big-Agra produce.

Next, I tried to remember the last time I'd been to the market.

Late last summer, almost too late to get anything at the farm, my in-laws brought our 15-year-old niece to visit over a long weekend. We all thought it would benefit her to see another part of the country and get her out of her rather stifling, boring routine at home. She is a very introverted girl who seems unsure who she is. We don't know, either; but perhaps a change would open her horizons a little. She is quite sweet and level-headed, even if she insists on wearing smudged black Goth makeup around her eyes and spike-studded leather bracelets on her arms. And skull rings. And Chuck Taylor high-tops. (You'd have to expect this. What else? When she was a baby and little girl, her mother never let her wear anything but frilly pink and blue girly clothes. She's gotta throw something back in her mother's face.)

We gave her the Tyke's room, and the Tyke stayed on the pull-out sofa (wicked! He loved it! The sofa rocked!). We decided that on Saturday or Sunday morning I would take niece to the Pickin' Patch, and we'd go grab us a mess o' stuff. I was really looking forward to taking her out there, huffing and puffing as we trudged to the correct plot, and tromping around in the mud and yanking live fresh food out of the ground. I was sure she had never done this before, and it would do her good, and we could bond a bit along the way.

The morning came and we all had our breakfast. Niece spent part of the morning up in Tyke's room reading, and then came down for bagels. Then she went back up with the mandate that her purpose was getting ready to go to the market with me.

Quite a bit of time passed. Grandma and I cleaned up, and we killed time by discussing little articles Grandma had snipped out from newspapers and magazines and brought to us. Grandma and I nervously looked at the clock several times. Odd--Niece is usually pleasantly compliant in addition to her extreme quietness. But Niece didn't come down. And kept not coming down. I was waiting. We had other plans for the afternoon (touring Mark Twain's house just down the road, for instance), so I started pondering going it alone in order to get back in time to do the next activity.

Finally I picked up my purse and started heading down the stairs. Grandma said, "Well, I thought you were going to take [Niece] with you?"

"Well, yes, that was my plan; but it's been more than an hour and she hasn't come down. That's okay. I'll just run out and get a couple of things and be right back." Grandma looked at me a bit askance, but agreed that it was odd that Niece hadn't come back down.

I went over the mountain to the Pickin' Patch and got my instructions about where to go from the clerk kid at the cash register in the shack. I was after yellow crookneck squash and a big mess of Swiss chard. I was wheezing and immediately was sorry that I had chosen this day to go to the patch; the plots I needed to access seemed miles away from the shack and my inhaler wasn't helping eradicate the asthma at all. I walked and walked and finally got there.

At first the pickin's seemed slim. Then I realized I was in the cucumbers. A really respectable gang of weeds camouflaged every vegetable I was looking for. This actually made me happy; it meant the farm wasn't bombarding the crops with pesticides, and that the surviving plants were hardy. I wandered around from row to row until I could identify what I wanted, and went in for the pick. I got such a huge bag of chard, and such a haul of squash, and so many whole bushes of basil, that I was sorry I hadn't brought some duffel bags or rucksacks--or a wheelbarrow, or a horse. It was hard to hold the plastic bags without their tearing my hands or my dropping them. But what a satisfying piece of work!

After I trudged for what seemed an hour, I arrived back at the shack and set my haul down. I got a few of the season's last tomatoes from inside the stand and paid for the lot of it.

When I got home, Niece was out of Tyke's room, reading at the breakfast table. Grandma was waiting for me, with her hand over her mouth.

This is what she said, very quietly.

"Well, remember how I thought it was so strange that you would leave without Niece? It's a good thing you did. During the time you were gone, I finally went up there to see what she was doing. It turns out she was up there the whole time locked in Tyke's room. She couldn't get out because that darned doorknob came off again and left her stranded. But she didn't holler or ask for help or anything."

We had us a grand meal that night.

Hats off to you, Pickin' Patch! I look forward to the next time I can unknowingly, viciously, lock my niece in my house of horror and drive off in search of fresh produce.