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A Strange Spring - Read it here!

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

This is my latest work. It appeared in The Savannah Reporter as a serial between April 1, and May 27, 2020.  It is the story of the Vogels, a rural Missouri family, during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

I plan to share more chapters, under the title of An Uncertain Summer on the website.

Read A Strange Spring in its entirety below!

A Strange Spring: A Sophie and Sadie Story

By Kathy Bunse

Chapter 1: “I’m bored!”

Emerald green grass covered the yard and pastures. Butter yellow jonquils and daffodils appeared in the flower beds. Warm weather called, “Come outside and play!” It looked like a typical spring, but it certainly didn’t feel typical at all.

Grace was home from school instead of playing softball in PE with her friends. Mom was working from home. So was dad. But dad didn’t count. Being a farmer, he always worked at home. As usual, he was working on equipment and gathering supplies, preparing to plant crops. Farming was the only normal spring activity happening in Grace’s community.

A new virus had disrupted life. Everyone needed to stay at home as much as possible to keep it from spreading. No one knew how long this strange new routine would last.

Grace sat on the porch steps with Sophie and Sadie on either side of her. Nothing they did seemed to cheer her up. They wagged their tails. She didn’t react. They laid their heads on her lap. Still nothing. They licked her hands. Finally, she gave each of them a limp pat on the head. “I’m bored!”  she said.

“Wow!” replied Mom. “That happened sooner than I thought it would. I was sure you could stay busy for a few more days.” Mom had taken a break from her computer and was weeding a flower bed nearby. “Let’s see,” she continued. “Did you finish your online assignments for today?”

“Yep,” answered Grace.

“You could read your library book,” said Mom. 

“Finished it,” Grace replied.

“Well,” Mom paused to throw a giant dandelion in a bucket, “did you walk back to the south pasture and check the water tank for the cows? Sophie and Sadie would probably love to take a walk. It would really help Dad too.” 

“We went this morning. Everything looks good,” said Grace.

“Okay. What about Teddy? You’re always saying you want to spend more time with your horse. Now’s your chance,” suggested Mom. 

“After lunch, I gave him a good brushing. In fact, I gave your horse, April, and Dad’s horse, Leon, a good brushing too. Then, I rode Teddy in the round pen for about an hour,” Grace replied.

“You accomplished a lot while I was working on the computer and making phone calls for work. I suppose I can understand why you’re tired,” commented Mom. 

“Oh, Mom,” said Grace with a sigh. “I’m not tired. I’m bored! No, maybe I’m lonely. I love you and Dad and Sophie and Sadie and the horses, but I miss my friends. I miss going places. I can’t even ride my bike up the road to visit Grandma Dora and Grandpa Marvin. I miss them so much.” She covered her face and began to cry.

“Oh, honey, come here and let me hug you. I know it’s hard,” Mom said as she pulled off her gardening gloves and wrapped Grace in a hug. Sophie and Sadie pressed close to Mom and Grace, giving comfort.

After a while, Grace dried her tears and backed away from Mom’s embrace. She bent to pet Sophie and Sadie. “Thanks,” she said.  “I feel better now.” 

“Good!” replied Mom. “Because, I have a couple of ideas you just might like. The first one is about visiting Grandma and Grandpa. You and Sophie are signed up for the 4-H dog obedience project, and it’s never too early to start practicing for the show at the county fair in June. Now that you have extra time, you could work with Sadie also.”

“But Mom,” Grace exclaimed “The show is over three months away! That’s a long time to wait to see Grandma and Grandpa. Besides, the way things are going, the show might be canceled!”

“Calm down and listen,” Mom replied, taking Grace’s hand. “Practice for a few days. When you think the girls are ready to perform, I’ll call Grandma and Grandpa. They can sit on the front porch, and I’ll help you put on a show in their front yard. What do you say?’

“I say yes!” Grace said with a big smile. “What do you say pups?” Sophie and Sadie looked up at Grace with wagging tails and doggie grins of agreement. “That’s settled. What about your other idea?  You said you had a couple.”

“You finished your library book, but you could write a book.” Mom began. 

“Really? Write a book?” asked Grace. 

“Actually, keep a journal,” Mom continued. “There are several new spiral notebooks in the file cabinet. You could write about things you are doing and planning to do. Draw some pictures or take some photos and glue them in. Best of all, you can write about your feelings. I’m going to start a journal myself. Someday, I may want to look back on this time in my life.”  

“Hmmm, I do like drawing dogs and horses, and my teacher liked the last story I wrote. I’ll try it!” replied Grace.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” said Mom. “Could you give me a hand dumping these weeds in the compost pile?  It’s almost time for me to start supper.”  

“Sorry, Mom,” Grace replied. “I promised Dad that I would feed the cows tonight. I’ll help you with supper when I’m finished. Come on girls, let’s feed those cows.”  Sophie and Sadie trotted beside Grace to the barn lot.

Chapter 2 “Dogs in Training”

The next morning, right after breakfast, Grace began gathering supplies. She grabbed a purple spiral notebook (her new journal) and clipped an ink pen to the front cover. Next, she filled her jeans pocket with dog treats and took two leashes from the hook by the door.  

“Come on girls,” she called to Sophie and Sadie. “It’s time to start training for a very important show.” Her dogs eagerly followed her to the back yard, tails wagging.

“I’m going to start my journal today by writing about your training,” she told Sophie and Sadie as she took a seat on the patio. “Let’s see,” she said. “Today is Wednesday. It’s the third day of no school. The first day was March 23, so this is the 25th. When you can’t go to church or school, it’s hard to keep track of the days.” 

She wrote March 25, 2020 at the top of the first page, followed by Dog Training: Day 1.

After closing her journal, Grace turned to Sophie and Sadie, who had been waiting impatiently on either side of her chair. They smelled the treats in her pocket.

“Who wants to go first?”  she asked.  

Sophie’s front legs pranced anxiously. “Bark! Bark!” she answered.  

“Okay, you’re up first,” Grace smiled as she clipped Sophie’s leash to her collar.  Turning to Sadie, she explained, “Sorry, but you’ll have to wait in the dog pen while Sophie and I work. Then, Sophie will wait while you have a turn.”  

Sadie dutifully walked into the dog pen. Grace gave her an affectionate pat before latching the gate.

“First, we’ll practice heel on a loose leash,” announced Grace. With Sophie sitting at her left side, Grace stepped forward on her left foot as she said “Sophie, heel.”  

They walked around the yard, with Grace using the leash to make corrections if Sophie got too far behind or ahead of her. Sophie wanted to please Grace, so most of the time, she stayed by her side. But sometimes, she put her nose to the ground and pulled ahead. The yard was full of tempting smells to investigate.  

They practiced heel for fifteen minutes, turning left and right around the garden beds and zigzagging through a row of trees and bushes. Every few minutes, Grace stopped. Sophie was supposed to sit at Grace’s left side when she halted. Most of the time, Sophie remembered to sit, but sometimes Grace had to tell her.

After the heeling exercise, they practiced sit and down. Sit was a breeze. Each time Grace signaled with her hand and said sit, Sophie obeyed and was rewarded with a treat. 

Down was harder. She understood what to do when Grace said down and pointed to the ground, but she didn’t stay down long. Almost as soon as her tummy touched the ground, she popped back up in anticipation of a treat. Grace had her do ten successful downs before she said, “Your lesson is over for today. Good job!”  

As Grace took off her leash, Sophie rolled over for a tummy tickle. Grace obliged.

Next, Grace opened the gate and let Sadie out of the pen. Sophie was glad to go inside and take a long drink from the water bowl.  

“Let’s see how you do, Sadie,” Grace said, as she fastened her leash. Sadie looked up at Grace and wagged her tail as if to say, “I’m gonna do great!”  

Grace gave the command to heel, and they set out for a walk around the yard. Sadie stayed glued to Grace’s left side. “We won’t stop as often as Sophie and I did,” Grace told Sadie.  “Your arthritis seems to be acting up today. I know it hurts you to get up after sitting and laying down.”  

Like Sophie, Sadie also wanted to please Grace. Each time they stopped, Sadie slowly sat down and slowly rose again to continue walking. Each time, Grace said, “You’re such a good dog!” before rewarding her with a treat and a hug. After practicing a few sits and downs, Grace removed Sadie’s leash and said, “Take a well-deserved rest. You were great today.”  

Sadie thumped her tail on the ground while Grace petted her and gave her extra treats.

Before going inside, Grace stopped to write in her journal: Worked on heel, sit and down with both Sophie and Sadie. Sophie needs to auto-sit each time I halt. She also needs to maintain “down” until released. Sadie heels, sits and downs slowly due to arthritis. Tomorrow, add stay for both dogs. 

“Enjoy some time outdoors, girls,” Grace said as she picked up her things and went into the house. “It’s time for me to get on the computer and do schoolwork.”

“How was the first day of training?” asked Mom as Grace entered the kitchen.

“Pretty good. We practiced heel, sit and down. We’ll add stay and come in the next few days. We should be ready to put on a show by next Thursday,” announced Grace.  

“Great! Maybe you can do a rehearsal for Dad and me the day before,” replied Mom.  

“Sure,” answered Grace. “I’m going upstairs to do schoolwork. See you at lunch.”

Sophie and Sadie followed Dad inside at lunchtime.  

“How was your morning, ladies?” he asked, as he ladled tomato soup into his bowl and took a grilled cheese sandwich. 

“Mine was very productive,” Mom shared. “I did three loads of laundry and worked online.”  

“I started training Sophie and Sadie. We’re putting on a show for Grandma Dora and Grandpa Marvin next Thursday,” said Grace.  

“They’ll love it!” replied Dad. “I’d like to see it myself. I may take a break from planting and calving to watch.”

“Does anyone want to split the last grilled cheese with me?” Dad asked.  

“I do,” Grace answered. She took the half sandwich and cut it into two pieces. Then, she cut one of those pieces into two pieces.  

“Dad gets half, I get a quarter and Sophie and Sadie each get an eighth,” Grace said as she left the table to give each dog a piece.”  

“I’m impressed!” said Dad. 

“Today’s math lesson was about fractions,” Grace replied.

Each day, Grace trained with Sophie and Sadie, adding new exercises. By Friday, both dogs had mastered heel, sit and down. Next, Grace introduced stay and come. Sadie slowly performed sit or down, then happily stayed focused on Grace, waiting for her signal to come.  After each attempt, Grace rewarded Sadie with a treat and a hug.

Sophie excelled at sit, stay and come. But if Grace placed her in down and asked her to stay, Sophie often popped up to a sit, yet kept her focus on Grace. When Grace bent forward, hands on knees and called “come,” Sophie ran to receive praise and a treat.

After Saturday’s training session Mom asked, “How are your students?”  

“Both of them are doing well. In fact, I can drop their leashes and walk away with my back turned. They will stay until I walk back to them or call them,” Grace replied.  

“Wow! You must be a good teacher,” Mom responded. 

“Maybe.  They’re definitely bright students,” Grace said, giving each dog a hug.

On Sunday afternoon, Grace set up a jump. She adjusted the bar to 1 inch off the ground.  

“Remember this, Sophie?” she asked. “You had fun jumping last fall.”  Sophie followed Grace to the jump and sat down. Grace took a treat from her pocket, held it in her right hand, and waved her arm across the bar as she instructed, “Over!” Sophie jumped across the bar and waited for her reward. 

“You remembered!” Grace praised her. “Now, let’s try to go over and back.” She waved her arm across the bar twice as she said, “Over” and “Back”. Sophie jumped over and back.  “Yeah!” Grace shouted. “Now, let’s go for two in a row.” Sophie completed two, then three jumps over and back.  

“You’re a rock star,” Grace told Sophie as she tickled her tummy. “Now, let’s see what Sadie can do.”

Sadie showed Grace a slow and steady jumping style. In fact, she stepped over the bar one foot at a time. But she went back and forth successfully several times.  

“You’re amazing, Sadie! I love you!” Grace exclaimed, as she wrapped Sadie in a hug.  Sadie joyfully wagged her tail. “Come here, Sophie. Time for a group hug.” 

Embracing both dogs, she declared, “We have three more days to practice. I can’t wait to show Grandma and Grandpa what you two can do.”

Chapter 3:  Almost Show Time!

Bright sunshine greeted Grace the day before the show.  “Perfect!” she said to herself, as she went downstairs to breakfast.

     “Good morning, sweetie!”  said Mom.  “What do you have planned for this beautiful day?”

     “Sophie, Sadie and I have lots to do.  First, we will rehearse all of our obedience exercises and tricks.  Then I’ll brush both of them, bathe them and brush them again.” replied Grace.  “I’m glad there’s no rain in the forecast for a while.  It’s hard to keep a white dog and a blonde dog well groomed when it’s muddy.”  

     “Woof! Woof! Bark, bark, bark!”  sounded from the back porch.  “The girls are calling us. I’m coming, ladies,” Mom announced as she walked to the back door and let them inside.

      Both dogs headed straight toward Grace.  She petted both of them and asked “Are you ready for a big day?  We have lots of work to do before tomorrow’s show.  But first, you need a delicious, nutritious breakfast.”  Sophie and Sadie watched as she filled their bowls.

  Sophie gobbled her food down and finished with a big burp.  Sadie   took her time eating, then laid down on the rug near the stove to wait for Grace.  Sophie took her usual spot under the table, near Grace’s chair.

     “I’m going to do some work online,” said Mom, heading into the living room with a mug of coffee.  “Let me know if you need help bathing the dogs later.”

     “Thanks, Mom.  I will,” answered grace.  As soon as she finished breakfast, she grabbed leashes and called Sophie and Sadie.  “Cone on, girls.  It’s time to practice.”  Sophie rushed to the door, followed by Sadie. 

  Once outside, Grace took Sadie, then Sophie through a series of obedience exercises, sit, down, stay and come.  Next, each of them demonstrated their jumping ability.  “Excellent, girls!” Grace exclaimed.  “You’re more than ready to put on a great show tomorrow.”  She bent down to pet Sophie and Sadie.   Both dogs wiggled excitedly and wagged their tails.

     “Now it’s time for the spa portion of your day.  Both of you get a thorough brushing to get rid of tangles and shedding hair.  Then, each of you gets a bath so you’re clean and fresh.  When you’re dry, I’ll brush you both again.  You’ll look so pretty!” said Grace.  She removed their leashes and went into the house to get a brush and comb.

     When she returned, she approached Sadie.  “You get to go first.”  Sadie laid on her side and closed her eyes.  Grace’s gentle brush strokes and the warm sun soothed her.  Tufts of hair floated upward and rolled across the lawn.  “You’re shedding enough hair to make another dog,” Grace told Sadie.  Carefully, Grace turned Sadie over and brushed her other side.  Sadie gave a contented sigh.  Finally, Grace declared.   “That should do it for now.  Your turn, Sophie.”

     Sophie trotted over and sat down.  Like Sadie, she enjoyed being brushed.  She even rolled on to her back so Grace could brush her tummy.  When Grace switched to the comb and started on her tail, she quickly let out a loud yelp.  “Sorry, girl.  That was a bad tangle,” Grace apologized.  She carefully combed the long hair in Sophie’s tail a section at a time.  When Sophie’s tail was smooth as silk, she said “All finished.  Take a break before your bath.”

     She walked over to Sadie, who was napping in the sun, put her leash back on and walked her over to the old milk barn.  “Time for your bath,” Grace told her.  “Actually, it’s a shower because we are using a hose instead of a tub.”  

With several hoses, hot water and lots of floor drains, the barn was a great place to bathe dogs and do other messy projects.  Since the barn was designed for cows to walk in and out of easily, there were no steps.  This was especially good for Sadie’s arthritic legs.

  Grandpa Marvin and Grandma Dora operated a dairy on the farm for many years.  When they retired, they sold the milk cows and Dad began raising crops and beef cattle.   Over the years, lots of things on the farm changed.  But many stayed the same.

     Grace made sure the water was warm before beginning Sadie’s bath.  She poured shampoo into her hand and spread it down Sadie’s back, head to tail.  Next, she put a rubber scrubbing mitt on her hand and worked up a lather.  Sadie loved the massage.  “You’re not too dirty, so this will be a quick bath.  But you’re still shedding.  Look at all that hair!  But you’re a Labrador retriever and Labrador’s shed,” Grace said, pulling a glob of blonde hair from the mitt.  After Grace dried her with a towel, Sadie returned to dozing in the warm sun.

     “Sophie, oh Sophie,” Grace called as she walked out of the barn.   “There you are,” she said when she found her fluffy pup on the porch. Sophie didn’t enjoy baths, but she endured them for the reward of going to a show.  She loved to perform.  Inside the barn, Grace sprayed water on Sophie’s long white coat.  “I can’t get over how small you look when you’re wet,” Grace commented.  “You start shrinking when the water hits your hair.”  Sophie sat stoically as Grace lathered and rinsed, then rinsed some more.  Each time Grace put down the hose, Sophie began walking toward the door.  “Sorry, girl,” Grace said leading her back to the hose.  “There’s still shampoo in your coat.  Long baths are the price you pay for having a thick gorgeous coat.”  

     At last, with her coat rinsed clean and towel dried, Sophie rushed to the door.  She couldn’t wait to roll in the grass.  “Not so fast,” Grace told her.  “You’ll need to stay in the house with me until you’re completely dry.”  She put Sophie’s collar and leash back on her and walked to the house.

    When they entered the kitchen, Mom was setting the table for lunch.  “Just two plates.  Isn’t Dad stopping to eat?” Grace asked.  

“No.”  answered Mom.  He took some snacks with him to the field.  He plans to work until supper time.   So, it’s just us girls this afternoon, you, me and Sophie.”  Sophie looked at Mom and wagged her damp tail.

     Later, as she cleared the lunch dishes, Grace said “I’m really excited about seeing Grandma and Grandpa tomorrow and I’d like to take them a gift.”

   “Good idea,” replied Mom.  “What do you have in mind”

        “I ‘d like to make Cuckoo Cookies because things are really cuckoo now.  Also, everyone in our family likes them,” said Grace.  “I just hope I can make a good batch.  Grandma Dora’s are always so yummy because it’s her recipe and she’s been making them for years.”

        “That’s a lovely idea.  However, now isn’t a good time to give away homemade cookies.  You and I and Dad don’t have symptoms of the virus, but there’s still a chance we could transfer it to others.  That’s the reason we’re keeping distance between us while you put on the dog show,” explained Mom.

     “You’re right.  I sure don’t want to make Grandma and Grandpa sick.  Life is so complicated now,” Grace finished with a sigh of frustration.  “Is there anything I could give them?’

     ‘Yesterday I was talking to Grandma Dora on the phone.  She said she was disappointed because none of her spring flowers are blooming yet.  Some of my tulips, daffodils and jonquils are in bloom,” Mom remarked as she glanced out the window at her flower beds.  “We could take her a bouquet.”

     “Okay,” Grace agreed.  “She does love flowers.”

     “We can still make cookies for the three of us.  We’ve been working very hard, especially Dad.  Let’s treat ourselves,” said Mom.

     “I could use a treat,” Grace replied.  “It looks like we’re making Cuckoo Cookies this afternoon.”

Mom took her recipe box down from the shelf and began sorting through dozens of handwritten index cards.  The box contained recipes from family members:  mothers, grandmothers, aunts and cousins.  Some of them had been handed down for generations.

     “Here it is, Cuckoo Cookies,” said Mom.  “I got this recipe from your Grandma Dora and she got it from her mother May.  May would be your great grandmother.”

     “I didn’t know that.” replied Grace.

     “Let’s get started,” said Mom.  “I’ll read the list of ingredients and you find them.”

     “Okay.” Grace answered.

     “Flour and sugar,” Mom read.

     “Got it,” Grace replied, setting two canisters on the counter.

     “Salt, baking soda and cocoa powder,” continued Mom.

     “Yep,” Grace said, setting a salt shaker and two boxes next to the canisters.

     “Do we have plenty of vanilla extract?” asked Mom.   “We need it for the cookies and the frosting.”

     “We do,” replied Grace, taking out a small brown bottle and holding it up to the light.

     “Shortening is in the cabinet by me,” said Mom as she took it out.  “Now, for the refrigerated items, eggs, milk and butter.”

     “Here they are,” said Grace, bringing them to the counter.  “Is that all?’

     “Two more ingredients left,” replied Mom.  “Powdered sugar and marshmallows.”

     Grace retrieved both items.  “We have a full package of marshmallows, but not a lot of powdered sugar.”

     “That might be enough,” said Mom, examining the bag.

     Grace mixed the ingredients for the chocolatey bottom layer and dropped the batter onto cookie sheets, a spoonful at a time.  While they baked, she and Mom cut marshmallows in half for the gooey middle layer.

     When all of the cookies were out of the oven, Mom said “Let’s make the frosting so it will be ready when they cool.”

Mom got a clean bowl and Grace began measuring the powdered sugar.  “Oh, no!” she exclaimed.  “The recipe calls for 2 cups of powdered sugar and there’s just a little over 1 cup.  What will we do?  We can’t run to the store for just one thing.”

     “Relax,” answered Mom.  “We’ll simply divide the recipe in half.”

     “But only half of the cookies will have frosting,” wailed Grace.  “They’ll be ruined!”

     “I really miscalculated the amount of powdered sugar.  But that doesn’t mean the batch is ruined. We’ll top part of the cookies with something else and create a new kind of cookie,” announced Mom.  “But we’ll have to find something now while the cookies are still warm.”

     Grace rushed to the cabinet where she had found the other baking supplies and began looking.  Suddenly, she shouted “Sprinkles!”

     “Good choice,” said Mom.  “I’ll finish the frosting while you sprinkle half of the cookies.”

     The afternoon flew by, filled with baking and washing dishes.  After dividing the cookies into 3 batches, one to freeze for later, one for the cookie jar and a plate for supper, Grace looked around for Sophie. 

  “There you are,” she said when she found Sophie napping under the kitchen table.  “You’re all dry now and you look like a big fluffy marshmallow.  I’ll let you outside now and be out to brush you later.”  Sophie eagerly followed Grace to the door.   She ran down the steps and into the yard to find Sadie.

     Soon, Dad’s tractor chugged down the driveway toward the machine shed.  Mom and Grace met him at the door.  “We have a surprise for you,” they chorused.

     “I hope it’s something good to eat,” replied Dad.  “I have worked up an appetite.”

      “Oh, it is!” Grace said, smiling.  She led Dad over to the counter and uncovered the plate of cookies.

     “Cuckoo cookies. They’re my favorite!” Dad exclaimed as he took a bite.  “Wait a minute.  I see another kind.  What’s it called?

     “Make Do Cuckoo Cookies,” answered Mom.  “We ran out of powdered sugar and couldn’t frost all of the cookies.  So, we made a substitution and created a new cookie.”

     “I wanted to take some to Grandma Dora and Grandpa Marvin,” Grace added.  “But Mom said that wasn’t a good idea right now. “Well, you’ve discovered a new taste sensation,” said Dad, as he sampled a second cookie. “For now, you’re welcome to bake all the cookies you want for us.  I’ll happily be your taste tester.”  He gave Grace a hug.

     “That’s enough cookies, Justin,” Mom scolded Dad.  “You’ll ruin your supper.”

     “Yes, mam,” Dad replied with a grin.  Everyone laughed, especially Grace.

Chapter 4:  It’s Showtime!

     Grace bounded out of bed and over to her desk.  She took out her journal and began to write.  “April 1, 2020.  The big day is here at last!  Sophie and Sadie are ready and so am I.  Best of all, I get to see Grandma Dora and Grandpa Marvin.  More later.”

     “Good morning!”  Mom greeted Grace as she entered the kitchen.

     “Yes, it is,” answered Grace.  “I can’t wait to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and show them what Sophie and Sadie can do.”

     Dad came inside carrying the morning paper, followed by Sophie and Sadie.  “Good morning, ladies.  I’m ready for breakfast and a dog show.”

     “So, you’re coming?  You don’t have work to do this morning?” asked Grace.

     “It can wait.  I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” replied Dad.

     “Great!  Then we’d better get moving.  Come on girls.  It’s time for breakfast,” Grace told Sophie and Sadie as they followed her across the kitchen to their bowls.

     After breakfast, the whole family sprang into action.  Mom picked a bouquet.    She chose tulips, jonquils and daffodils, wrapped them in colorful tissue paper and tied them with a bow.  Grace brushed Sophie and Sadie one more time and grabbed a bag of treats.  Dad loaded the jump and some lawn chairs in the bed of the pickup.

     Mom climbed into the front seat.  Grace opened the back door and said “Up, Sophie!”.  Sophie eagerly hopped up into the seat.  Grace sat beside her.

     “Your turn, Sadie,” said Dad.  He lifted her into the back seat, then took the wheel.  “Let’s get this dog show on the road.”

     “Oh, Dad!” Grace groaned.  “That was lame.  But I’ll forgive you because I’m so excited.”

     They drove a short distance up the road and pulled in beside a mailbox labeled Marvin and Dora Vogel.  Mom walked to the front porch and placed the bouquet in a lawn chair.  Dad and grace unloaded the dogs and set up the jump and chairs.  Sophie pranced and Sadie wiggled with delight.  The show would take place in the middle of the front yard, a safe distance from the front porch.

     “May I hold one of the dogs for you?”  Mom asked as she made her way back to a lawn chair.

     “Sure,” Grace answered, handing Sadie’s leash to Mom.

     “Dora, they’re here!”  Grandpa called as he stepped out onto the porch.

     Grandma hurried through the front door.  “Grace, Justin, Beth, it’s so good to see you!  I’ve missed you so much.  It’s only been a week, but Grace, I believe you’ve grown.  Oh, I wish I could give all of you a big hug,” she shouted across the lawn.

     “Take a breath and calm down a bit, “Grandpa said as he led his wife to a chair.

     “Just look at these beautiful flowers!” exclaimed Grandma, picking up the bouquet.  “Are they from your garden, Beth?”

     “They are.  Grace wanted to bring you a gift.  I remembered that you said your spring flowers weren’t blooming yet, when we talked on the phone earlier in the week,” answered Mom.

     “Now, I really wish I could hug you,” Grandma said, wiping tears from her eyes.

     “We could give each other a long -distance hug,” said Grace.  “Here’s how.  Look at the person you want to hug and wrap your arms around yourself like this.”  Grace demonstrated the hug.  The rest of the family followed her lead.

     When the hug finally ended, Grandpa asked “How are things on the farm, Justin?”

     “Pretty typical for this time of year,” Dad answered.  “We’ve had four healthy calves, two bulls and two heifers.  All of my equipment is in good shape and the fields are prepped for planting.  I even planted a little corn in a field near the house.  Things are okay, except you aren’t there to help out.”

     ‘I’m itching to get back to work.  Staying home and staying safe is the smart thing to do, but it sure isn’t easy.”  Grandpa shook his head and continued “Enough talk.  I’m ready to see Grace and her dogs perform.  You’re up, kid.”  He smiled and pointed to Grace.

     “Are you ready, Sophie?” Grace asked as they walked to the center of the yard.  “Bark!” Sophie responded with a wag of her tail.

     Grace and Sophie demonstrated walking at a heel. sit, down, stay and come.  After each exercise, the family applauded loudly.

     “Thank you, “Grace said as she took a bow.  “And now, for our finale, Sophie will perform a series of jumps.”

     Sophie jumped back and forth over a bar set at 2” high.  Grace re-set the bar and Sophie made another successful jump over a 4” high bar.  Finally, Sophie completed a jump of 6” high.   Grace took another bow.  Sophie sat up so that Grace could shake her paw.

     “Let’s hear it for the amazing Sophie!” yelled Dad.  The rest of the family applauded and cheered.

Grace handed Sophie’s leash to Mom and took Sadie’s.  As they walked across the yard, Grace announced “Our next dog show contestant is Sadie.  She will perform the same exercises as Sophie, just a little more slowly.    Sadie kept her eyes on Grace and followed her commands to heel, sit, stay and come.  When they finished, Grace took a bow and pointed to Sadie seated beside her.  Sadie thumped her tail on the ground.

     “Yay, Sadie!”  shouted Grandma Dora over the family’s applause.

     “We’re not finished yet,” Grace announced.  She moved the jump bar back to two inches.  Sadie sat on one side of the jump, stepped over the bar then stepped back.  Grace rewarded her with a hug and a treat.

     “Way to go, Sadie!” hollered Grandpa Marvin as everyone clapped.

     When the clapping stopped, everyone fell silent and looked at one another.  No one knew what to do next.  Finally, Dad said “It sure was good to see you, mom and dad.  I hate to say this, but I guess we’d better head home.  We’ll keep calling and do another social distancing visit soon.”

     Mom, Dad and Grace packed the pickup and stood beside it.  “Good bye, Grandma and Grandpa.  Love you!” sighed Grace.

     “Good bye, Dora and Marvin.  I’ll call you again,” Mom assured them.

     “Let us know if you need anything,” continued Dad.

     “Thank you for coming.  I love you all,” replied Grandma.

     “You did good with your show, kid,” Grandpa complimented Grace.  “Come back and do another one soon.”

   Mom, Dad and Grace climbed in the truck and turned for home.  Grandpa waved and Grandma blew kisses until the truck was out of sight.  Mom and Grace waved and blew kisses in return.

     Everyone was quiet as they unpacked their gear and let the dogs out into the yard.  Sophie and Sadie weren’t sure why the family seemed sad.  Mom, Dad and Grace had been so happy before the visit.  What went wrong?  They followed their people around, trying to cheer them up.

     “Thank you, girls.  You did a great job,” Grace told her dogs.  Then she hugged them and went inside.

     Up in her room, Grace took out her journal and continued writing.   “Right now, I am happy and sad.  I’m glad we saw Grandma and Grandpa.  But we just saw them.  No hugging and no sitting on the porch with them.  We talked, but we had to talk very loudly to hear one another.  We usually don’t shout at each other. I want to visit them again soon, even if we have to stand far apart and yell.  But I sure hope this virus goes away soon, so we can go back to normal.”

     Mom and Dad stood in the driveway deciding what to do next.  Sophie and Sadie stood beside them, hoping to be helpful.  

     “That was the strangest visit I have ever had with my parents.  But I’m glad we went,” Dad commented.

     “Me too.  We’re lucky that your parents live close, so that we can see them, even if it’s from afar.

Mom replied.

     “Well, I’d better get back to work.  Sadie, do you want to check the cows with me?” Dad asked.  Sadie fell into step with him as they headed toward the pasture.

     “I’m going to check emails then figure out something for lunch,” Mom stated.  “Sophie, shall we go into the house?’  Sophie followed her, tail wagging.  Once inside, Mom knelt and held Sophie close.  “You and Sadie may never know what a comfort you are to us.  Thanks for helping us through this strange situation.”

Chapter 5:  Home-made Greetings

Finished!”  Grace exclaimed as she typed the last sentence of her social studies assignment.  “This afternoon, I’ll do something fun.”

     Before she could decide on an activity, her thoughts were interrupted.  Mom was shouting downstairs.  Could she be in trouble?

     Grace ran down the stairs.  Her heart pounded and her thoughts raced as she anticipated Mom’s problem.  Was she hurt?  Was Sophie or Sadie hurt?  Had mom seen a mouse?  (They always freaked her out.)  Worse still, had Millie, the cat, left another live garter snake on the back porch?  Last week, Millie’s “gift” snake slipped inside the house.  Mom became hysterical.

     Grace reached the kitchen and caught her breath.  “What’s wrong, Mom?”

     “Nothing, dear,” replied Mom, in her normal tone of voice.  She sat calmly at the dining room table with a mug of coffee and her phone.  “why did you think something was wrong?”

     “I heard you shouting from my room,” Grace answered.

     “I’m talking to your Grandma Francine.  She doesn’t hear well, you know.  Would you like to talk to her?” Mom asked.

     “Sure!” Grace spoke slowly and loudly into the phone.  “Hi, Grandma!  I miss you.  Easter won’t be the same this year without our annual egg hunt.”

     “Did you say your leg is hurt?  How did you hurt your leg?  Is it serious?” Grandma’s questions streamed out of the phone.

     Grace took a deep breath and tried again.  “NOT leg hurt.  EGG HUNT.  I said I would miss having our Easter egg hunt with you.”

     “Oh!  I’ll miss it too.  I love stuffing those plastic eggs with candy and hiding them all over the yard almost as much as I love watching you kids find them, “Grandma mused.

     “I know what you mean,” said grace.  “Last year, I had more fun helping Reece and Ryan than finding eggs myself.”

     “By the way, how are Jill, Adam and the boys doing?”  Mom asked.

     “They’re all fine.  I don’t know what I’d do without them.  Jill calls to check on me every day.  Either she or Adam bring groceries once a week and set them on my front porch.  Every time they come, it makes me happy and breaks my heart at the same time.  I just want to hug my daughter and son-in-law and play with my grandsons instead of waving through the window.”  Grandma sounded close to tears.

     “Let’s hope it won’t be long before we can visit and hug and play again.”  Mom gently comforted Grandma, and continued.  “Jill and Adam must be extra busy working from home and keeping two 5-year-old boys occupied.”

     “Land sakes,” began Grandma, “I don’t know how they manage everything.  Reece and Ryan can wear me out, but I love them.  I must have had lots more energy when you and Jill were young,” she chuckled.

     “Hey, Grandma,” Grace said.  “This afternoon, I’m going to make you an Easter card.  Watch for it in the mail.”

     “Wonderful!” exclaimed Grandma.  “You know, I love cards from you kids.  I keep all of them.”

     It was true.  Cards, drawings and even scribbles covered Grandma Francine’s refrigerator.  Each was neatly labeled with the artist’s name and date it was received.  When the refrigerator became too crowded for new artwork, she moved pieces to shelves in her living room or placed them in a box marked “Masterpieces”.

     “Well, I hate to let you go, but I’d better start some lunch.  Justin will be back soon.  Stay safe and remember we love you.”  Mom wrapped up their call.

     “Love you, Grandma!” Grace added before Mom hung up.

     After lunch, Grace gathered her art supplies.  Since the day was sunny and warm, she decided to make cards outside at the picnic table.  Sophie and Sadie trotted over to join her.

     “Let’s see, girls, what should I draw?”  she asked the dogs.  “Maybe I should draw something besides bunnies and baskets of eggs.  This isn’t a typical Easter.  It needs something unique.”  Sadie thumped her tail in agreement.  The best part of Grandma Francine’s Easter egg hunt is our family being together.  Whatever I draw needs to include all of us.”

     Grace turned to Sophie and exclaimed “I know exactly what to make!  Grandma Francine, Aunt Jill, Uncle Adam, Reece, Ryan, Mom, Dad and I will be under a rainbow.  The story of Noah’s ark says a rainbow promises better days ahead.  I believe things will get better.  Besides, I like drawing rainbows.”  Sophie offered Grace her paw to shake.

     Over the next two hours, Grace created three identical cards while her dogs dozed.  After she finished, she called to them “Lets go inside and find some envelopes.  If we jury, we can mail these this afternoon.”  Sophie and Sadie followed, eager for a cool drink and a spot under the ceiling fan.

     “Those rainbows are beautiful!” declared Mom when she saw the cards.   “Rainbows mean the storm has passed.  When this virus is under control, we’ll visit our family and friends again.”

     “That’s what I’m counting on,” replied Grace.  “As soon as I find some envelopes, I can get these cards on their way.”

     “These might work,” Mom pulled a box from the desk drawer.

     Grace addressed two cards and handed the third to Mom.  “This one is for you and Dad.”

     “Thank you!”  Mom hugged Grace.  “Let’s put it on the mantle where we can see it often.”

     “Who wants to go to the mailbox with me?”  Grace asked the dogs.  Sophie and Sadie followed her outside and across the road to the mailbox.  As soon as they got back in their yard, the mailman came.  “We made it!” called Grace as she waved to the mailman.  Her home-made greetings were on their way.

Chapter 6:  Thistles and the Coronavirus

“What a morning it’s been!” Dad exclaimed, as he sat down to lunch.

     “Was it a good morning or a bad morning?”  Mom sat a plate of sandwiches on the table.

     “It was a very good morning,” Dad answered.  “I started spraying the pasture for thistles.  I’ve wanted to do something about the thistles for the past few years.  But another job took priority or I simply procrastinated.  Last fall, it looked like they were taking over parts of some pastures.  So, I made up my mind to spray this spring.”  He took a bite of his sandwich, then continued.  “It’s slow work, but I’m making progress in the south pasture.”

     “That’s wonderful!” Mom gave Dad a smile.

     “How do you do it, Dad, and how do you keep the cows safe from the spray?”  Grace asked.

     “Those are good questions.  I’m glad you asked,” Dad responded.  “First, I moved the cows to the east pasture.  They will stay there for a few days.  By then, I will be finished spraying.”

     “Oh, that’s good,” Grace interrupted.  “I was worried about the cows eating plants that had chemicals on them.”

     “Your dad is always careful with chemicals,” Mom assured Grace.

     “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Beth.  I do my best to protect our farm,” Dad said.  “Being careful and thorough is why it takes so much time to spray.  I use the small sprayer with a hand pump.  It fits in the box on the back of the four-wheeler.  I drive slowly through the pasture, looking for thistles.  When I see one, I can target just the thistle.  The surrounding grass is still safe for the cows to eat.”

   “Since you’re spraying now, will the thistles be gone for good?” Grace asked.

“Oh, no,” Dad shook his head vigorously.  “I wish I could spray once and be finished forever, but that’s not how it works.  Seeds will blow in from other areas and new plants will sprout.  Hopefully, there will be fewer each year, but I’ll still need to keep checking pastures and spraying.”

    “Maybe I can help you next spring,” Grace offered.

     “Maybe.  However, I hope you’re back in school by then.  You won’t have as much time for farm work as you do now,” Dad replied.

     “I hope so too!”  Grace exclaimed.  She paused, then continued apologetically, “Not that I don’t like doing farm chores, but I really want to be in school again.”

Dad reached over and patted her hand as he spoke “I understand.  We’re all anxious for things to change. Waiting is never easy.”

     “I’ve been thinking,” Mom began.  “Managing thistles, well, weeds in general, is a lot like controlling the coronavirus.”

     “That’s an interesting observation.  Tell us about it,” Dad responded.

     “Your responsibility is ridding our farm of thistles.  It’s an ongoing task, but worthwhile. Over time, the pastures will provide more healthy grass for the cows.” Mom explained.

     “And horses,” Grace broke in.  “Horses need good grass too.”

     “Yes.  The horses will benefit also,” Mom continued.  “The three of us have a responsibility to care for our farm.   And, each person in our community has a responsibility to care for one other.  That means following the rules which can keep the virus from spreading.  Everyone will have to be careful and stay alert for a long time.  But it will be worthwhile because more people will stay healthy.”

     “When we get a vaccine, everything will be normal again, right?”  Grace sounded uncertain.

     “Well,” Mom thought for a moment, then spoke.  “Doctors and scientists don’t anticipate a vaccine being ready for at least a year.  Then, everyone will need to be vaccinated.  That will take time.  Sorry, hon’. “she gave Grace a sad smile.  “We have to keep waiting.”

     Grace stared at her empty plate.  “Wow,” she whispered.  “I never thought this virus would stick around that long.”

     “None of us did,” Mom and Dad replied in unison.

     Dad pushed his chair back from the table and took one last swig of iced tea.  “In the meantime, I have thistles to spray.  Beth, Grace could you mow the yard this afternoon.  Sophie will get lost soon, if we don’t mow.”

     “Oh, Dad, you’re being silly,” Grace giggled.   “The grass isn’t that long.  But, yes, I’ll help Mom mow.”

     “Before we mow, we need to get rid of some thistles too,” Mom informed them.

“Are there thistles in the yard?”  Grace asked.

     “There certainly are.” Mom replied.  “They escaped from the east pasture.  The fence line runs right along the back yard.”

     “Well, ladies, it appears that you have a full afternoon of yardwork ahead.”  Dad grabbed his cap and headed for the door.   “Thanks for the delicious food and stimulating conversation.  See you for supper.”

     “Bye!  See you tonight,” Grace and Mom said as he left.

     After they loaded the dishwasher and stored leftovers in the refrigerator, Grace and Mom went out to the shed.  They gathered a sharp hoe, a spade and a 5- gallon bucket and walked to the fence line.

     Grace called her dogs.  “Come on, girls.  Maybe you can sniff out thistles.”

     Sophie and Sadie woke from their mid-day naps.  They stretched and yawned in the shade of the Magnolia tree.  Then, they ambled over to the fence where Mom held up the first thistle in her gloved hand.

     “Yay, Mom!”  Grace clapped as Mom dropped the thistle in the bucket.  Sophie and Sadie wagged their tails.  The four of them continued down the fence on their mission to clear the yard of invading thistles.

A Strange Spring Chapter 7:  A Pleasant Surprise

Mom and Grace had just settled down for a morning of study and work when Dad poked his head through the back door.  “Beth, Grace, come outside,” he called.

     “What’s going on?” Mom asked.

     “I have something to show you.  It’s a surprise,” Dad answered.

     “I’m coming!”  Grace slipped on her ratty old shoes and rushed out the door.

     “Me too!”  Mom followed right behind her.

     As they passed the dog pen, Sophie and Sadie barked out their protests at not being invited.

     “Why can’t they see the surprise?” Grace questioned Dad.

     “This surprise probably doesn’t like dogs,” Dad informed her.  “In fact, Sophie and Sadie might scare the surprise away.”

     Mom and Grace exchanged a smile.  “Kittens!”  they exclaimed.

“Oh, rats!   I gave you too many hints and you guessed it, “Dad replied.  “Yes.  We are going to see a brand- new litter of kittens.  Their eyes are still closed.”

     Slowly, quietly they entered the old wooden barn.  Giant bales of fragrant alfalfa hay were stacked in neat rows.  They nearly covered the length of the barn and almost reached the roof.  The small spaces between bales provided a safe and cozy place for a mother cat to raise her kittens.

     Mom and Grace followed Dad as he squeezed into a narrow passage between a row of bales and the wall, then maneuvered toward the back of the barn.  There, they found a yellow cat with four kittens nestled against her belly.  Two were gray and black striped tabbies.  One was a tortoiseshell, covered in patches of black and gold fuzz.    The fourth, a black, gold and white calico actually had long hair.

     “Yeow!  Growowowow!  Hissss!”  Mother cat threatened the intruders.  But she didn’t move.

     “They’re adorable!”  whispered Grace.  “I wish I could touch them.”

     “Not a good idea,” Mom whispered back.  “I believe their momma just told us to stay back or risk nasty scratches.”

After a short time, Dad put a finger to his lips and motioned his family to start back down the passage.  Once outside, they brushed wisps of hay from their hair and clothes.

     “She’s one wild, feral cat.” said Dad.  “We’ll have to keep paying her short visits, if we want to earn her trust and tame those kittens.”

   “A steady supply of milk and cat food wouldn’t hurt either,” added Mom.  “She will need to eat lots of good quality food to feed her babies.”

     “That mother cat looks familiar.  A few weeks ago, I saw a yellow cat in the backyard with Bob, our friendly gray guy.  He came to me and rubbed against my leg.  The yellow cat ran and hid in the peony bushes.  I decided to call it Banana, since it worked for a yellow cat, boy or girl,” Grace told her parents.

     “Now that we know that Banana is a girl and a mother, we’ll bring her meals twice a day,” announced Mom.  “With us to serve her, she’ll feel like every day is Mother’s Day.”

     “I’ll feed her in the morning,” offered Dad.  “Can you girls bring her supper?”

     “Sure.  No problem,” Grace replied.  Mom nodded in agreement.

     Banana greeted everyone with growls and hissing during the first week of meal deliveries.  Yet each time they went to the barn, they found empty bowls.

     “She must wait until we leave then devour her food,” Grace lamented at the end of the first week.  “I thought by now she would eat while we were in the barn.”

     “Give it time,” Dad assured her.  “Banana came to the farm as a stray.  It will take time for her to trust us, especially since she has kittens to protect.”

     Sophie and Sadie quickly learned the twice-daily drill:  go to the dog pen and wait.  But their frustrated barking let everyone know “We’re not happy!”.

     Banana stopped growling at her visitors during the second week.  She even allowed them to move closer to her kittens.

     “You were right, Dad!”  Grace exclaimed when she returned from the barn.  

     During the third week, the kittens opened their eyes and began exploring their home.  Sometimes, Banana left them alone while she walked around the pasture to stretch her legs and hunt for mice.  If Grace, Mom or Dad found the kittens alone, they couldn’t resist petting them.  Three of the four enjoyed the attention.  But the little calico continued to shy away from them.

     “She’s so cute.  I want to cuddle her,” Grace told Mom.

     “I do too,” Mom replied.  “She must take after Banana.  Maybe Bob is their father and the other three inherited his friendliness.”

     By week six, the kittens began lapping the milk and trying some of their mother’s food.  Even Banana ate in the presence of people.  She allowed the humans who fed her to pet her kittens.  The kittens enjoyed human company, mewing and approaching whoever brought their food.  But Banana refused to let people touch her.

     “Even the little calico is coming around,” Grace reported after her daily visit.

     As the tenth week rolled around, Banana left them alone quite often.  She enjoyed hunting and frequently returned with a mouse to supplement their diet of milk and dry cat food.  Having thoroughly explored the barn, the kittens ventured into the pasture.  If a grazing cow mooed or sniffed at them, they scurried back to the barn.  Dad had a good laugh after witnessing one of these encounters.

     When the kittens were three months old, they became extremely curious moving farther and farther away from the barn.  One evening, they followed Grace back to the yard.  She hadn’t noticed them until she heard “mew, mew, mew”.  When she turned around, all four of them were at her heels.

     “Welcome, to our house.”  She smiled and picked up the tortoiseshell kitten.

     “Woof! woof! Bark, bark, bark!”  In the dog pen, Sophie and Sadie insisted on being released.

     “Oh, dear!  How can we have kittens and dogs in the yard together?”  Grace asked herself.   “Mom, I need help!”

     “What’s the matter?” Mom came to the back door, wiping her hands on a dish towel.  

     “Look who followed me home,” Grace said, pointing to the kittens.

     “Hello, cuties,” Mom cooed as she knelt beside them.  A little tabby crawled into her lap.  “This is great, honey.  They trust you enough to follow you into the yard.  What’s the problem?’

     Grace’s hands were full of kittens, so she leaned her head toward the dog pen.  “How can we have Sophie, Sadie and kittens in the yard together?”

     “Hmmm.  That could be tricky,” Mom admitted.  After a moment, she continued.  “I know!  We could put the dogs on the leashes and introduce them to the kittens.  That way, if there’s a problem, we can take care of it right away.”

     About that time, Dad drove in and parked the truck.  “Hey, look who’s here!”  He broke into a wide smile.  “May I hold one?”  

     Grace handed him a squirming tabby and said “Listen to who wants out.  Mom and I decided that having Sophie and Sadie on their leashes would be the safest way to introduce them to the kittens.  Do you want to be in charge of the kittens while we get the dogs?    

     “You bet,” Dad replied.  “Come here, kids.”  He drew the kittens close to him as Grace and Mom went to get Sophie and Sadie.

      “Here we come!”  Mom and Grace warned.  Both dogs eagerly trotted toward Dad and the kittens, tails wagging.

     “What are those things?”  they seemed to be wondering.  Sadie, and Sophie sniffed at them, then jumped back quickly.  All four kittens puffed themselves up and hissed in unison.  Dad, Mom and Grace couldn’t help but chuckle at the tough little felines.

     “Sorry, girls.”  Mom and Grace apologized to the stunned dogs.  

     Sophie looked at the door as if she couldn’t wait to go inside.  “Okay, I’ll let you in, “Grace assured her as they climbed the steps and Sophie slipped in the open door.

     Sadie approached the kittens once again.  This time, a couple of them sniffed her back.  Sadie wagged her tail and flopped down.

     “She has always liked cats and they seem to like her.  I’m going to take her leash off and see what happens,” Mom said.

     “Go for it,” replied Dad.  “I am ready to rescue them in case something goes wrong.”

     Everyone held their breath as the kittens investigated the big yellow dog.  Sadie lay quietly, patiently as they crawled up her legs, onto her back and batted at her tail.

     “How about that.  I believe Sadie wants to be a kitten sitter,” declared Dad.

     “It sure does,” Mom responded.

     “Sadie, you’re amazing!”  Grace complimented her.

     Soon, the family, including both dogs went inside for supper.  Every once in a while, someone left the table to check on the kittens.  Each time they saw them, playing hide and seek among the bushes or wrestling in the grass under the clothesline.

     “I think it’s time we named them,” said Dad.  “What are your suggestions?”

     “The long-haired calico is so beautiful.  She needs an elegant name.  How about Chloe Belle?’ asked Grace.

     “Ooh!  I like that!” Mom exclaimed.  “The tortoiseshell looks like a Tootsie to me.  I don’t know why.  I just think it suits her.”

     “So, we have the girls named.  What about the two tabbies.  I think they are boys, “said Dad.

     “Why don’t you name the boys, Dad,” replied Grace.

     “Alright.  The biggest one will be Harley.  He looks like a tough guy.”  Dad flexed his muscles for emphasis.  “The other boy is always going someplace.  The rest of the kittens follow him, as if he’s their leader.  Let’s call him Scout.”

     “Those are all good names,” Mom declared.  “I hope they are happy here.  Maybe, by the end of the summer, Banana will visit the yard too.

     Chloe Belle, Tootsie, Harley and Scout felt right at home with the Vogels. Mom, Dad and Grace showered them with attention.   Sadie played with them and protected them.  Even Sophie got used to them following her around.  

     Sometimes, Banana watched them from the edge of the yard.  Satisfied that her babies were happy and well cared for, she returned to her place in the barn.

Chapter 8:  Let’s Plant a Garden!

     “It’s time to plant our garden,” Mom announced.  “We’re halfway through May.   Hopefully, there won’t be another frost.”

     “Okay!  I’ll help,” exclaimed Grace.  “What should we do first?”

     “Good.  I was counting on your help.  First, we have to look at the seeds left over from last year.  Then, we’ll make a list of what we need,” Mom answered.  “I’ll get my coffee can of seed packets from the shed.”

     While Mom was gone, Grace looked out the kitchen window at the garden beds.  All were empty except for the strawberry patch.  Green leaves and white blossoms filled the whole bed.

     When Mom returned, Grace remarked “Thank goodness the strawberries survived the cold.  There must be hundreds, maybe thousands of blooms.  That means lots of strawberries for pies and shortcake.”

     “Indeed, it does.  In a couple of weeks, we’ll be picking strawberries.”  Mom sat down at the table, opened up her coffee can and took out four small envelopes.  “Carrots, lettuce, spinach, radishes, enough for some short rows.”  She reached in again and retrieved a fat packet secured with a rubber band.  “That should be enough green beans.”

     “What about potatoes and onions?  Dad loves both of them.” Grace asked.

     “We’ll need onion sets, but there are some tiny red potatoes we didn’t use in the basement.  They’re sprouting, so we can cut them up, plant them and harvest big red potatoes.  Dad’s favorites are covered.” Mom explained.

     “So, we have six vegetables ready to plant now.  I’ll start a list of what we need from the garden center.”  Grace found a pen and paper and sat down at the table.  “I’m ready.”

     Mom began to dictate her list.  “A bag of onion sets, three pepper plants, three or four tomato plants, two zucchini plants and, if they’re not sold out, 6 to 8 broccoli plants.  Now, for flowers.  I want to get some marigolds, petunias, geraniums, rose moss, snapdragons…”

     “Slow down, Mom.  My hand is cramping,” Grace interrupted.

     “Sorry, sweetie.  You know I get carried away when it comes to flowers,” Mom apologized.  “Should I repeat anything?”

     “I got rose moss and snapdragons.  Anything else?”  Grace asked as she flexed her right hand.

     “Lantanas and sweet alyssum,” Mom added.  “Butterflies and bees like them.”

     “Should we call Grandma and Grandma Bunse?” Grace asked.  “They may need some plants for their garden.  We could save them a trip to the greenhouse.”

     “Great idea!” Mom replied.  “Why don’t you call them while I get some boxes for our plants.”  She handed Grace her cell phone.

     Grace dialed the number and heard Grandma’s cheerful voice.  “Hi, Grandma!  Mom and I are going to the greenhouse.  Would you like us to pick up some plants for you?”

     “How nice of you to offer.  But Grandpa and I went over to Grant’s Garden Center yesterday and picked up some pepper, tomato, zucchini and melon plants,” Grandma replied.  “Be sure to take your mask.  That’s first on their list of rules for customers and employees.”

     “We will.  Thanks for making those masks for us,” Grace responded.  “I’m glad you got melons.  We can give you strawberries in a few weeks and you can give us melons later.”

     “It’s a deal,” Grandma chuckled.  “Have fun in the garden.”

     Grace hung up the phone and found the masks.  She put them in Mom’s purse so they would be handy when they reached the greenhouse.  About that time, Mom returned.

     “Did you add anything to the list for Grandma and Grandpa?”  she asked.

     “They got their plants yesterday.  She reminded us to wear masks and said that there are rules we need to follow for shopping,” Grace told her.  “I put our masks in your purse.

     “Good thinking.”  Mom looked in her purse and saw the masks.  “Just let me run a brush through my hair and we’re off.” She rummaged through her purse for a brush, then replaced it along with the masks.

As they walked to the car, Sophie and Sadie followed.  “Sorry, girls, you can’t come to the greenhouse with us.  We’ll have lots of boxes of plants on the way home.  There won’t be a place for you to sit,” Grace told the dogs.  Disappointed, they returned to the porch and lay down with a sigh.

     Several cars were parked at Grant’s Garden Center when Mom and Grace arrived.  They put on their masks, unloaded their boxes and joined a line of customers spaced six feet apart.  After a twenty- minute wait, they reached the door of the greenhouse.  Owner Sam Grant greeted them.

     “Hello, Beth!  Hello, Grace!  Good to see you.  Sorry, but you’ll have to wait a little longer.  We can only have six people in the greenhouse.  That includes employees and customers,” Sam informed them.  

     Spying shelves and tables lined with plants at the entrance, Mom asked “May we shop in this area while we wait?”

     “Help yourself.”  Sam smiled.

Mom searched the shelves and tables, putting plants in her box and commenting on them.  “Oh, boy, broccoli!  These French marigolds will be perfect for the front porch.  Geraniums are on sale.  Look at the parsley.  I think I’ll get two of them.”

     “Mom, your box will be full before we get into the greenhouse,” Grace cautioned.

     “Not a problem,” Mom replied.  “Your box is still empty.”  

     “Gotcha,” Grace gave Mom a smile.

     Just then, a man and woman, carrying boxes heaped with flowers, left the greenhouse.  “Beth, Grace, it’s your turn,” Sam called.

     Inside the door, they found a cart and loaded it with their boxes plus a couple of flat cardboard trays from a nearby stack.  They followed the arrows down one-way aisles.  Before stopping to select plants, they looked around to make sure they were a safe distance from other customers.  Grace checked items off the list as the cart gradually filled with colorful flowers and vegetables plants.

     As they approached the checkout stand, Mom said “Let’s do a quick double-check.  I wouldn’t want to forget something and have to come back.”

     “Me neither,” replied Grace.  She didn’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings, but she was tired of shopping.

     “Are you ready, Beth and Grace?” Gail asked from behind the cash register.  Gail and her husband, Sam, had been running the greenhouse for the last ten years, with Gail’s parents, Dwight and MaryJo.  They knew everyone in the county.  People came from miles around to buy high-quality plants and garden supplies.

     “I believe we are,” Mom answered.  “Everything looks beautiful, as always.”

     “Thank you!  We got off to a slow start due to stay-at-home orders.  But with call in sales, curbside pickup and now, the social distancing measures for shopping, business is picking up,” Gail responded.

     “I’m happy for you.  Not all businesses can say the same.” Mom replied.

  Gail started ringing up the second box of plants.  “I feel for some of the other merchants I know.  We’re fortunate to have loyal customers.  Plus, our products encourage people to get outside.  Everyone could use a dose of fresh air, sunshine and nature to lift their spirits about now,” she concluded.

     “That’s for sure,” said Mom. Grace nodded in agreement.

     “Your total is $68.98.  Will that be cash, check, or a debit or credit card?  Gail asked Mom.

     “Check.”  Mom began filling in the amount on the check.

     ‘’Thanks, Beth.”  Gail placed the check in the cash register drawer and asked “Would you like help loading your plants?”

     “We can do it ourselves.  That’s why I brought her.”  Mom smiled and pointed at Grace.

     “It’s nice having kids at home,” Gail chuckled.  “Bye, now!  Happy planting.”  She waved as Grace wheeled the cart outside.

     At the car, Grace lifted the hatchback and began arranging boxes in the back.  “Wow, Mom,” she began.  “You got a lot of plants and spent a lot of money!”

     “Not really,” Mom opened a back door and placed a box on the floor.  “It seems like a lot now.  But it will pay off in lots of delicious veggies, lots of gorgeous flowers and lots of peaceful, calming time outdoors.  You can’t put a price on that. “

     “I suppose you’re right,” Grace mused as she shut the hatchback and walked to the passenger side.  “Right now, I’m tired and want something cold to drink.”  She fastened her seatbelt.

     “Me too.”  Mom started the car and began the drive home.  “After we unload these plants, we’ll take a break for some iced tea or lemonade.”

     “Alright!”  Grace replied.

     Sophie and Sadie stepped up to greet them as they got out of the car.  “Hi, girls!”  said Grace.  “We could use your help planting all of this,” she held out a box toward them.  The dogs sniffed the plants inside, looked at her and wagged their tails.  “That must mean yes,” Grace laughed.

     “But first, some refreshments,” announced Mom.  “Come on, Sophie, Sadie.  I’m sure we can find some cool water and a treat for you.”

     Everyone went into the kitchen to relax before tackling the garden work.

Chapter 9:  Memorial Day a New Way

Well, journal, another holiday here.  This time it’s Memorial Day, a long weekend that usually begins three months of summer fun.  Not this year.  It will be an uncertain summer.  Will we go on vacation?  Have our family reunion?   Will the pool be open?   What about the county fair or baseball games?  All anyone can say is “We’ll see”.  

     “Grace, Dad and I could use your help putting flags out at the cemetery,” Mom called from the hallway.  “I ‘d like to take flowers to decorate our family’s graves too.”

     “I’ll be right there, Mom,” Grace answered. 

      Before leaving her room, she finished her journal entry.  Time to decorate graves, remember veterans and family members.  That hasn’t changed.  More later.

     Sadie followed Mom around the yard as she cut yellow, gold, purple and burgundy iris, plus pink peonies.  “Do you think that will be enough?”  she asked.  Sadie gave her a tail wag of approval.

     Meanwhile, Grace put plant food in a watering can and filled it from the old-fashioned pump.  Sophie looked at her expectantly.   “Sorry, Sophie.  This is for flowers, not dogs,” Grace explained. 

This time, Sophie barked and stared at her empty water bowl, a few feet away from the pump.  “Oh, I see now, you need a refill.”  Grace placed the bowl beneath the spigot and pumped fresh, cool water into the bowl.  Sophie took a long drink and wagged her thanks.  “You’re welcome.”  Grace gave her an affectionate pat.

Soon, Mom’s flowers filled a five-gallon bucket.  “Let’s pour a little water in the bucket.  Then, they’ll be ready to load.”  Grace and Mom carefully loaded the bucket of flowers, watering can and containers into the back of the pickup.  Coffee cans, painted white had held their Memorial Day bouquets for years.

     Dad came out of the house with a large box of small American flags and a clipboard with a long list of names attached.  The box took up half of the back seat.  “Sorry, Grace,” he apologized.  “You may be a bit cramped.”

     “It’s okay.  It’s not a very long ride.”  Grace replied.

     “Are we ready?” Dad climbed into the front seat.

     “Yes.  But please drive slow, Justin.  I don’t want the flowers to be damaged,” Mom chided.

     “In that case, you’d better move them up front beside you,” Dad said.

     “Wait a minute, I’ll be back.”  Mom got out, grabbed the flowers and placed the bucket on the floor by her feet.

     “Are we good now?’  Dad asked.

    “Absolutely,” Mom answered.  She placed a protective hand on the bucket as they drove away.

     When they arrived at Farmdale Community Cemetery, everyone took a grocery sack and loaded it with flags.  Dad handed Mom the clipboard.  “Would you read the names on the graves we need to decorate?  Let’s start here close to the road and work our way to the back of the cemetery.”

     “No problem,” Mom replied.  “The first one is Row A, Corporal James Farley, U.S Cavalry, Civil War.”

     “Wow!” exclaimed Grace.  “I never thought about how old our town is before.  Maybe I’ll learn something today.”

     “You just might.”  Dad planted the flag beside Corporal Farley’s headstone.  “I notice something new each time I come here.”

     “In Row B we have another Civil War soldier, Private Frederick Meyers.”  Mom directed them to the middle of the row.  “His tombstone is badly worn, but I think this says infantry.  I can’t make out the rest.”

“If I remember correctly, there’s a Spanish-American War veteran in Row E.”  Dad pointed the way.

     “You’re correct,” Mom confirmed.  “It’s Sgt. Jonathan Markham. Was he with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders?”

     “His relatives told me he drove a supply wagon.  It didn’t make him a national hero, but it was important work,” Dad answered.

“We are going to need lots of flags for Rows G -J.”  Mom ran her finger down the list and counted silently.  “By my count, there are 10 WWI veterans in each row.”

     “Forty flags!” Grace shouted.  “We may have to go back to the truck for more.”

     They slowly made their way down the rows, emptying two of the three bags.  “Some of these men were so young, just teenagers,” Mom commented sadly.

     “There are lots of other people in these rows who died in 1918 and 1919.  Some of them were babies and kids.  What happened to them?”  Grace turned to her father for an answer.

     Dad knelt down, placed his hand on her shoulder as he explained.  “The Spanish Flu, swept our country.  It spread to other countries as well since soldiers left to fight in WWI.  The world was in a similar situation to what we face today.”

   “Oh, that’s so sad.”  Grace’s voice quivered and tears stung her eyes.

     Dad drew her close in a hug.  “Yes, it is and it’s okay to cry.  When you feel better, we’ll continue.   As you walk along, I think you will see that people survived.  They went on to live long lives, have children and grandchildren and that’s how we ended up here now.”

    Soon, Grace wiped her eyes and asked. “Should we get more flags?  I could go back and fill the bags.”

     “I have a better idea.  I will drive the truck up here,” Mom offered.  “Then I can put bouquets out too.”

     “Sounds good.  Hand Grace your clipboard and we’ll start on the WWII veterans,” Dad agreed.

     As they moved farther ahead, Grace spotted several stones marked Vogel.  Dad turned into Row N and planted a flag beside one.  

     “Leroy Dean Vogel and Lena Maria Vogel,” read Grace.  “Are they your grandparents or great-grandparents?”

     “They were my grandparents, your great-grandparents,” answered Dad.   “He was an airplane mechanic in a new branch of the military called the Army Air Corps.  Later, it became the United States Air Force.  That man could fix anything.”  Dad smiled and shook his head.

     “Cool,” responded Grace.  “Was this woman over here, Margaret Ann Vogel, his sister?”

     “Yes, she was.  And she served as an Army nurse during WWII.”  Dad bent to place a flag on the grave.

     Mom returned with the truck.  She arranged her bucket of flowers and containers on the tailgate and began creating arrangements.  Each bouquet paid tribute to a Vogel ancestor.

     “Beth, those are beautiful,” Dad remarked as he took the remaining flags from the box.  To Grace he said “We’re almost through.  “I’ll point out a couple of my great-uncles who served in Korea and an uncle who died in Viet Nam.”

     When their jobs were finished, Mom, Dad and Grace packed up and started for home.  Scanning the flags and flowers dotting the cemetery, Mom said “Perhaps it’s strange to say this about a cemetery, but it really is pretty.  I hope all these departed know how much their family and friends love them.”

     “I don’t think it’s strange.  I wasn’t looking forward to doing this today, but I’m glad I did,” admitted Grace.  “I learned some things about my family tree and about the history of Farmdale.”

     “I’m glad,” replied Dad.  “Tomorrow, let’s do something fun like go horseback riding.”

     A loud “Yes!” erupted from Grace in the back seat.

     “It’s been a while since all three of us have ridden together.  I’d like that,” said Mom.

     The following afternoon, Mom, Dad and Grace saddled up for a family ride.  They warmed up the horses with a tour of the south pasture.  “Oh, no, Dad!  I see a thistle by the pond,” Grace teased.

“Where?”  Dad craned his neck to look for the offending weed.  “By golly, you’re right.  I did say getting rid of thistles is an ongoing project.”

     “What do you say to riding up the road to Grandma and Grandpa’s house?”  asked Mom.

     “Let’s do it!”  Grace answered.  “Who’s going to get off to open and close the gate?”

     “I will, since it was my idea,” offered Mom.

     As they approached a gate adjacent to the gravel road, Mom dismounted, checked for traffic and opened the gate.  Dad and Grace passed through and waited while Mom latched the gate and remounted.  They headed up the road, single file, with Dad and Leon in the lead, Grace and Teddy in the middle and Mom, on April, bringing up the rear.  

    Several neighbors passed by in their cars and trucks.  Each vehicle took care to slow down and give the riders room.  Dad, Grace and Mom smiled and waved to their friends.

     “Marvin, there are horses in our driveway.  I think it’s the kids,” Grandma Dora announced as she went to the front porch.  Grandpa Marvin got up from his easy chair and followed.

     “Surprise!” Grace gave a smile and a wave.

     “This is a pleasant surprise,” Grandma declared as she and Grandpa moved a little closer.

     “We visited the cemetery this morning.  You did a good job with the flags,” Grandpa told Dad.

     “Thanks.  It was a family project,” Dad replied.

     “It was a pretty sad job, but I learned a lot about my family and the history of our town.  I would like to find out more,” said Grace.

     “We can help you with that,” replied Grandpa.  “I’ve researched our family tree and Grandma has lots of photo albums and boxes of keepsakes.  Come on up anytime.  We’ll put on our masks and bring it all out to the porch.”

     “Okay.  I can ride my bike up on Monday afternoon.  It’ll be fun!”  Grace planned.

     “Good seeing you, mom and dad.  I think we’re going to ride a little further then, head home for a cookout.”  Dad turned Leon toward the road.  Mom and Grace followed.  They waved and called “goodbye” as they left.  Grandma and Grandpa stood in the yard for awhile watching them ride away.

Back home, Dad and Grace unsaddled, brushed and fed the horses.  They decided to give Mom a break.   After all, she volunteered to open and close the gates twice.  Of course, riding the shortest horse made it easier for her to get on and off.

     Mom used her “break” to prepare for the cookout.  Sophie and Sadie perked up when she brought a plate of hamburger patties to the patio and ignited the gas grill.  “You may each have a burger,” Mom said as she looked at their expectant faces.

     Dad took over the grill after he and Grace took care of the horses.  “I see that I have two canine cooking assistants,” he remarked.  “Help me get these burgers just right.”

     “Grace, can you give me a hand setting the table and carrying out side dishes?”  Mom asked.

     “Sure.  I’m starving after our long ride,” She went inside, washed her hands and began making trips to the patio with plates, cups, silverware, potato salad and baked beans.  

     Mom brough a tray with buns, cheese slices and a special treat.  “Look everyone.  This morning I picked our first strawberries of the season.  There aren’t too many, but I know they’ll taste delicious.”

     “Perfect timing.  The burgers are ready.  Let’s eat!”  Dad said, lifting his spatula in the air.

     “Maybe we should say a blessing first”.  They bowed their heads and Mom began.  “Thank you, Lord, for this food and our family.  We are grateful for the many blessings we enjoy in the area where we live.  Guide our country and the world through this difficult time.  Amen.”  

     After her prayer, she grabbed two paper plates, cut up two hamburgers and served Sophie and Sadie first.  “You are part of our family,” Mom told them.

     When supper was over, Grace decided to write in her journal:

 May, 22, 2020

This Memorial Day has been sad, happy, unusual and “normal”.  Well, it’s the “new normal”.  Mom tries to cheer me up by saying that normal is just a setting on a washing machine and even that is rather vague.

     The strange spring is over and an uncertain summer is starting.  But I have a project to keep me busy.  Even if we can’t take a vacation, I will have an adventure.  I’ll travel back through time and learn about my Vogel ancestors from Grandma Dora and Grandpa Marvin.  Who knows, maybe I’m related to someone famous.  If I am, I’ll write about them.

Ashton Markt, of Oregon, MO is the illustrator.  This series is our second collaboration as author and illustrator. See more of Ashton's work at

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