Outside, up out of our driveway next to the gravel county road, a couple pyramids of hay bales are stacked up nice and neat, waiting to be unrolled on the cold hard ground for the cows that we will be feeding this winter.
Dear Baby Girl, Last night I rocked you to sleep in your room, the lights were low and I hummed the tune it seems I've been instinctively humming in your ear since you arrived a year ago. If you asked me to recreate the melody without you in my arms I don't think I could, but with your cheek resting on my shoulder and my cheek resting on the soft fluff of the hair on your head, the song comes to me easily, like a breath or a blink or a sigh. In my life I've been lucky enough to know love, but every day you've been alive you show me more about it.
I just put the baby down for the night. I rocked her a little longer after she fell asleep in my arms, kissed her head and sat with her in the quiet darkness of her room before I laid her down in her crib. Her arms stretched up above her head as she let out a quiet little sigh and I paused to notice her soft cheeks and freshly washed hair, her small fingers curled around the satin edges of the blankie she snuggles into each night. I closed her door behind me and walked out into the light of the hallway and on into the kitchen where the dishes were waiting and so was more work, pausing for a moment of envy for a sleep that sound, a night void of worry or anxiety, complete safety in innocence.
"When you get married, marry someone with money," he said to our 13-year-old niece, sitting innocently at the kitchen counter, holding the baby and feeding her Cheerios. "Or just be rich yourself. That would be better." "But wait, don't just marry for money," I chimed in. "Make sure he's nice, too." "Yeah, she's right," he said. "Be rich. Or marry someone nice and rich."
I was a princess once. It was a long time ago in a faraway, mysterious frozen tundra called North Dakota. I was beautiful. My crown was made of glittery pipe cleaner, my dress a hand-me-down from my fair mother, shoulder pads for dramatic effect, taken in at the waist with 37 safety pins, and it swept (drug) on the ground ever-so elegantly, collecting fallen leaves, dirty snow and candy wrappers the way every magnificent princess ballgown should.
It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses' bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees. We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.
There are things I always envisioned doing once I had a child of my own in tow. One of them was sitting my baby on a hay bale at a pumpkin patch and taking a photo. It seems simple and maybe not such a necessary step on the path of raising a baby, but it was a club I wanted to be a part of, the club of moms and dads bundling up their children, pulling them along in wagons, picking out the best pumpkin in the patch and celebrating a season change with a forced photo or a hay ride or a chaotic walk through a corn maze.
It rained all day yesterday. Big sheets of water fell from the sky, straight down and then sideways, giant drops making puddles in places puddles rarely exist in the dry autumn months around here. If I were a kid I would have grabbed my slicker and boots and stood out in it just to know what it feels like. I would have followed the creek up the coulee to watch it fill and flow. I would have monitored the tiny waterfalls, tested the stamina of my waterproof boots, likely going in too deep and soaking my socks.
I woke up this morning in Minnesota, holding on to a baby who is only 10 months old but appears to be getting her one-year molars already. I found out because she had her first little fever that lasted too long for my taste, so we headed to the doctor. And Edie smiled through the entire checkup, our doc looking in her ears, her eyes, her mouth and, holy smokes, she wasn't expecting it, this child is getting four more teeth. So that explained it.
My mom keeps a small wooden box in her kitchen, tucked up in the cupboard next to her collection of cookbooks. On the front it reads "RECIPES" in the shaky, wood-burning technique of a young boy trying his hand at carpentry. And inside is an assortment of recipe cards, of course, notes from a kitchen and a cook who left us all too soon, taking with her her famous homemade plum sauce.