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Weeds: Missing the family visit

It’s a long list of things that COVID has taken from us, many of them distressing. Seed shopping isn’t on top of the list. But I’m going to miss it.

After harvest, I sit down with Dan Steffl in his pole barn office with a Grain Belt to talk farming and consider Pioneer Seed choices for next spring. Ron Geiger and I look at Channel Seed over pizza and beer at the Ridin’ High Saloon in Cobden. Bart Kretschmer brings over a 6-pack of craft beer, and we sit at the kitchen table to see what Fertile Crescent Seeds has for options.

I know. There’s a common theme. I like beer.

This year all that’s been replaced by phone and mail, which is functional without the “fun.” Bart did stop over to pick up a check and we talked, loudly, 15 feet apart. We did a condensed version of our usual afternoon-long visit. How’s the wife, where are the kids at, what kind of yields did you get?

I asked about Bart’s mom Irene. Irene and my mom were in Study Club together. Our dads, Hugo and Sylvester, helped each other with corn shelling and silage making. Now Irene is the last of our parents living. She’s at Divine Providence, so that’s been difficult these months with evolving restrictions.

This Christmas will be a challenge for everyone, none more than folks in any sort of assisted living. Bart’s family will try to spend time with Irene in whatever form that takes.

Last year, in case you can remember last year, Bart could pop in on his mom when he was running errands in town. Bart’s wife, Katherine, made a regular Saturday morning cookie stop with whatever kids happened to be around.

The Kretchmer’s son Billy missed most of those. He was finishing up at St. Thomas and then starting a job in the Cities. Trips back to the farm are sparse for Billy, although he tries to get back to help in the fall. Last Christmas, Billy decided to block some time to visit his grandma. She wasn’t going to be around forever. Bart reminded him of that. Sometimes guilt is good incentive.

Billy went there the Saturday before Christmas. After checking at the nurses station, he went down the hall to Irene’s room. On the door was a collage of family pictures, mostly old. There was Billy’s 7th grade photo. He cringed, bemused at his early adolescent look, like most of us.

He knocked lightly and slowly pushed the door open. Irene was sitting in her recliner, silhouetted by morning light coming through the shades. “Grandma?” Billy said, above a whisper.

Irene straightened in her chair, “Oh Bart! Come in, come in.” Irene has bouts of memory lapses, a main reason she’s at the nursing home. It comes and goes. The present blends seamlessly with the past for Irene.

“Grandma, it’s Billy. I’m Bart’s son.”

“Oh, Billy, of course. I know that! Sometimes I get mixed up. I don’t know why I do that.” Irene shook her head slightly. “I’m glad you came to see me. Come in. Do you want a cookie?” She pointed at a small plate of wafers from her last night’s supper.

“No, but thanks.” Billy moved closer for a sideways hug, the kind that young men give their grandmothers. He sat down on the crisply made bed. “I’m home for a couple days, and thought I’d come see you, Grandma. How are you?”

Irene squinted, “Oh, the same. There’s not much on TV. I read some. Sometimes I sit and think about things. That’s what I was doing now.”

Billy smiled at her, “That’s a good thing to do. I sit and think sometimes, too”

“Did you see Hugo when you came? He went out to the barn. I thought he’d be in by now.” Moments like that are tricky for the family. Hugo passed away ten years ago. They’ve decided it’s best to let Irene’s mind spin in place.

“No, I didn’t see Grandpa. Has he been busy?”

“Oh, heavens yes, there’s bedding and scraping out the barn this time of year. I think I should help, but I don’t get around much now. It’s hard going outside for me.”

Now Billy thought he should push back to present time. “Grandma, I’m going to graduate from college this spring. I wish you could come. Right after that I’m going to visit you, so we can have a little graduation party right here.”

“Oh, that would be nice.” Then Irene’s brow furrowed, “Billy, do you have a girl? I think I know that but can’t remember. I wish I could remember things. I don’t know why I don’t.”

“That’s okay Grandma. I’m seeing Jessica a lot. You met her last summer. We came to see you. You liked her.”

Another squint from Irene as she dug in a memory vault that was often locked. “Well, good, Billy. I’m sure I did. I’m glad for you. Are you going to marry her?”

Billy hates those questions. But coming from his grandma they’re harmless. “I don’t know. We talk about it. I’m going to be starting work and Jessica wants to finish school.”

“Good for her, Billy. I wanted to finish school. Ma and pa needed me to come home after country school sixth grade. Ma needed help in the house and pa outside. It was okay. I liked to help them. But I always wondered what school would have been like.” Irene said as she looked out an opening in the shade to what daylight there was. Then her eyes turned back to her grandson. “Billy, are you going to farm after you get married?”

Billy took a second. Another one of “those” questions. “Dad and I talk about it. I don’t know, he and mom have a while to go, and we don’t run that much land. I don’t know, Grandma. Maybe? Some day?”

“Well, Billy, it’s a good life. Hugo and I liked it. We worked hard. We had fun, too. It was a good place to raise your dad and the others.”

Billy saw a chance to mine some memories. “Grandma, remember Christmas then?”

A smile crept on her face, “Oh, Hugo always surprises me with a present from town. Something from the drugstore or McKnight’s. He even went in Anthony’s one year to look at clothes. Can you imagine Hugo going in Anthony’s! A couple times I had to pretend to like his present. I always sewed something for Hugo. I think sometimes he pretended to like it. That’s how it is sometimes when you’re married.”

She nodded to Billy, “Do you have a present for your girl? Darn, I can’t remember her name.”

“Jessica, Grandma, that’s okay. I got her something, some pottery I think she’ll like. Maybe I inherited my present-giving from Grandpa. She might have to pretend she likes it.”

They went back and forth for a while: something remembered, something forgotten, “What was her name?” It was a good visit. Billy was glad his dad guilted him into it. Grandma wasn’t going to be around forever.

Came time to leave, and Billy said he’d be back with his family on Christmas. “Grandma, you be good. Else Santa might bring coal for your stocking.”

Irene smiled at the thought of something she was scared of 90 years ago. “I’ll try to stay out of trouble. Billy, when you go out, could you see when Hugo’s coming in for dinner? He’s down in the barn.”

“Sure, Grandma. I’ll do that.”

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