Thursday, April 28, 2011

Congratulations, You Crazy Kids

Ah, William and Kate.

The Heir (Not the Spare) and Waity-Katey.

How sorry are you two lovebirds that you didn't just elope already?

Unlike when William's parents tied the knot, I will not be up in the low single digits of the morning to see the festivities. I am old and will watch the recaps tomorrow.

I am so old, in fact, that I have vivid memories of sitting in my college dorm room and watching Diana ride through the streets of London in an open carriage. She was wearing her lovely wedding gown and waving royally (elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist-wrist), and the carriage was pulled by white horses. Katie Couric was reporting on the event and the background music for Katie's remarks was the Beatles rendition of "When I'm 64."

The only problem is that when I Google the event to find out if the horses were indeed white, I see that the Diana/Charles nuptials occurred July 29, 1981. This is five years AFTER I graduated from college, so either I dreamed the whole thing or I have compressed two memories--were any royals married between 1972 and 1976?

Anyway, since my invitation to tonight's wedding apparently was lost in the mail, I've participated in the party the same way 90% of the internet has: By making up my royal wedding name and referring to it as often as possible. According to the Facebook official rules, start with either Lord or Lady. Your first name is one of your grandparents' names. Your surname is the name of your first pet, then "of" followed by the name of the street you grew up on.  

So for the rest of the week, please refer to me as Lady Olive Pepper of 1621st Road.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Garden Magic

There are advantages to having whatever would be the diametric opposite of a green thumb. Because I know I am capable of killing any houseplant in short order, I am surprised and delighted daily by discovery of the changes spring brings to my flowerbeds. This morning when I went out to check my newly-planted vinca and begonias, I found the iris awash in raindrops.

The azalea I planted a few years ago has exploded in hot pink, tissue-thin blossoms, although I could have sworn its flowers were white last year.

And a peony (the correct pronunciation is PEE-uh-nee, you silly Texans) that was marked down at Wal-Mart a few years ago and hasn't shown its face since I stuck it in the ground is going to bloom this year!

By mid-summer I may lose my fascination with every new leaf and blossom that appears, but this is spring magic, and right now, I'm captivated.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My (Much) Older Sister

I have the two most wonderful sisters in the world. Not two of the most wonderful sisters in the world, the two most wonderful sisters in the world: the most wonderful older sister and the most wonderful younger sister.

Only one of them had a birthday yesterday, though, so I'm focusing today on my wonderful older sister and will save stories of my wonderful younger sister for another day.

Today's picture may be my favorite ever taken of the two of us because it is worth a thousand words in summing up our relationship. It was snapped in my dad's classroom when we were three or four years old. I am standing in sweet but puzzled befuddlement, which was my default setting, and J is leaning back against a table, grinning at the camera, knowing she has the world on a string and can yank the string any old time she pleases.

She was then, and is today, a force of nature. I mean, just look at us. Which one looks like she Has A Plan, and which one does not?

But let me give you a piece of wisdom gained over the years. If you know someone who Has A Plan, whether it's your wonderful older sister or someone else who loves you with fierce and no-holds-barred intensity, attach yourself to that person like a tail to her kite and don't let go. As you fly together to places that you would have been too scared to go by yourself, that person will encourage you, and empower you, and make you feel like the two of you together could feed the hungry and split the atom and knit a sweater all at the same time.

And when you're starting your first day of junior high or playing that violin solo or hitting "publish" on a blog post, you look over at that person who has said "You can do this!" and you know she's got your back so you take a deep breath and walk through the school doors or hit the first note or overshare to the entire internet.

But then suddenly the kite lets the tail go, and wheeee! You're flying by yourself! And you Have Your Own Plan, and instead of being the one pulling you along, the kite is flying and laughing with you and continuing to tell you that you can do it, and by golly, you are doing it.

Happy Birthday, J. I'm glad you're my wonderful older sister.

Also, I'm sorry I told Mom you were the one who sucked up the goldfish with the vacuum cleaner.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Understandable Confusion

Our Dog Pepper was due for her flea-prevention treatment last week. This is a two-person job, with Husband holding the dog while I squirt the preventive oil between her shoulderblades. The oil itself is hermetically sealed in one of those foil-covered plastic containers that require skill, persistence, and brute strength to open.

After trying several times to peel back the foil Husband gave up and grabbed my kitchen shears to cut off the top of the package.

"What are you doing?" I shrieked. "That stuff is poison! I cook with those shears!"

(And yes, this shriek was mostly in italics.)

He looked nonplussed as I handed him a pair of utility scissors from the junk drawer.

"Oh, sorry. How was I supposed to know those scissors were for cooking?"

A perfectly understandable mistake, given where they were stored (see photo). I mean, when something lives between the sugar canister and the toaster, no way would it be used for food preparation.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sons of Men and Angels Say Hallelujah!

This Easter did not start out particularly well.

I had slept poorly, one of those fitful nights that are inevitable when I try to cram an entire year of gardening into one fitness-impaired afternoon with resulting knee creaks and back tweaks. Then when I finally managed a deep sleep, the alarm went off so that I could start Easter dinner.

I discovered that it's impossible to grate Velveeta in the food processor, even though the recipe clearly call for grated Velveeta, and then I spent a precious 15 minutes digging gummy pre-chewed cheese product out of every cranny in the machine.

My hairdryer ground to a halt and blew puffs of smoke as I was hurrying to get to church in time for  choir practice, leaving my 'do undone.

Worst of all, when I put out Grandma's Fiestaware and the chicken napkin rings in preparation for Easter dinner, the stack of plates was only three high--one for me, one for Husband, and one for Mother-in-Law. This is the first major holiday in which we've had no Boys with us.

"It's okay," I told them when it became clear that schedules were not working out to have them at home. "Easter really is a spiritual holiday, not a command performance." (Thanksgiving, if they had any doubt, is a command performance.) And truly, I meant this, but I still missed my sons.

As I hulled strawberries and cleaned asparagus for lunch, though, I began to think of Easters past, when I went to bed exhausted Saturday night after making sure every Boy had clean dress socks and the right tie and a belt. (Dress socks and belts were forever disappearing. How? Where? Why?) Then Easter morning was a wild rush to get everyone through the shower and out the door. By the time I reached the sanctuary my mind was on lunch, and whether I remembered to turn the temperature down under the ham.

This year, though, was different. Without the bustle of Easter egg hunts and the responsibilities that go with being the mom, I felt my soul expanding. I thought of the conversation I had with my father yesterday, when we talked about how very fundamentally different this holiday is from all the others during the year.

"On Good Friday, when I realize it's about mid-afternoon, I feel grief in my soul, but Sunday is pure joy," he said.

This year, without the pull of Martha's distractions, I  followed Mary's example as she focused on the Savior. I thought of His sacrifice, and His love for me and mine, and once again Easter was pure joy.

Christ the Lord is risen today! Hallelujah!

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Is What Happens...

...when a day off coincides with a perfectly beautiful morning and a small crowd at the garden center. I have no plan or restraint, only an enormous cart and the intoxication of a gazillion baby plants around me. This leads to... astonishingly efficient check-out process, and...

...gratitude that I don't drive a Volkswagen, and...

...some heavy-duty stain pre-treating after unloading the soil. But the results are...

...gorgeous!  I think I'm done here.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yawn! Stretch!

Primary research material, also known as stuff I've stacked on a chair

The end of tax season in an accountant's house is like the end of hibernation season in a bear's cave. On April 16 (or April 19, thank you very much Uncle Sam) we end the three months during which Husband spends every waking hour probing the depths of the tax code and I spend every waking hour...well, I'm not sure what I do during tax season but it isn't anything adult or responsible.

We stumble out the front door, yawning and stretching and blinking and thinking primitive thoughts.

"Oooh, too bright!"

"Big round ball in sky!"

"What green fuzzy ground stuff is?"

Eventually we wake up and return to human thoughts that don't include deductions and extensions (which, in my case, refer to the hairstyles of the Real Housewives who have been part of the junk television watching cultural anthropology investigation I've been doing). And eventually we look behind us, and in my case, shriek in horror.

There, inside The House at the Corner of Drainage Street and Halfway Down the Hill, is the human equivalent of a hibernation's worth of old bones and cast-off fur. Newspapers stacked on chairs. Dust bunnies on steroids. Dried leaves scattered around the philodendrons that have clung to life through the long winter.

Complicating the chaos is an appointment I made during the days when I assumed tax season would never end. The House is something of a character in itself. It was built in 1927 by one of Small College's most notorious faculty members (Really! He testified at the Monkey Trial!) and a couple of months ago a history professor called to ask if a research class could interview us about The House's past.

"Sure!" I told him breezily. "We can do that as soon as Husband has a little free time."

So that would be today, and they'll be here in five hours, and I'm still decompressing from the last thrilling Cupcake Wars duel.

I'd better get busy scooping out bones and fur. Tax season is over.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Am I Doing Here Again?

In my heyday I was the queen of the multitaskers. I never was doing only one thing: I was reading a book while I knit and watched television, or I was quizzing Boy#2 on spelling words while I stirred macaroni and cheese and monitored Boy#1's piano practice. But just about the same time I became eligible for senior coffee prices at McDonald's (woo!), I discovered my brain is no longer agile enough to hold two things at once (boo!).

This morning I found myself standing in the kitchen door thinking, "Now what am I doing here?" I had been making coffee, and after I pushed the "brew" button I purposefully strode to the door, only to find I was clueless as to the purpose of the walk. Obviously my subconscious was guiding me like a willful seeing-eye dog with a particularly dense master--but why?

Fortunately, this is not a sudden decline or isolated incident and I've learned to cope by tapping into my keen analytical skills.

Okay, this kitchen door goes both in and out. Was I thinking of leaving or arriving?

Well, since I had already arrived, chances are that I was reversing that trend.

If I were leaving the kitchen, would I have been going outside or somewhere else in the house?

This is not an idle question. Our kitchen has FIVE, count 'em, five, possible exits. One to the living room, one to the dining room, one to the back yard, one to the side yard, one to the breakfast nook. Oh, yes, the house at the corner of Drainage Street and Halfway Down the Hill is not for the easily confused.

I have chosen one of the exits that leads to the back yard OR to the back stairs. Would I have been going upstairs or outside?

At this moment my conscious brain catches up with my pushy subconscious, and I remember: Aha! Water the tomato plant! So I grab the watering can and give my newly-planted future salad a drink.

For one more day, age and confusion are no match for experience and wisdom. This one goes in the win column.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Big Decisions

Husband and I were heavily involved in the Boys' undergraduate college choices. Almost as soon as they entered high school we began dragging them to sophomore get-acquainteds, and junior explore days, and senior this-is-serious-now visits, and we used pretty much every method up to a cattle prod to get them to their final decisions.We weren't going to tell them where they had to go to school, but we wanted to make sure they had all the information they needed to pick a place that was a good fit for them.

As it turned out, three of the four Boys ended up making extremely difficult choices between excellent and contrasting schools, and also ended up not deciding until the absolute last possible moment. We watched them becoming progressively more desperate-looking as well-meaning friends and family made small talk with them. An innocent "So, where you going to college next year?" practically made their eyes spin around in their heads.

The exception to this dramatic process was Boy#2. He knew where he was going to college the minute he stepped onto campus. It was one of those charmed school visits where the answer to every question is the answer you're hoping to hear, and the sky is blue, and flowers are blooming, and little birds fly out of the trees to sing duets with you. (And the bear pit with LIVE BEARS in the middle of campus didn't hurt, either.) Two couldn't understand why it was so hard for his brothers to decide where they wanted to go to college.

This spring, after a much-more grueling graduate school decision, he gets it. He's good at what he does, and what he does is in demand, so he's been the delighted recipient of the head-turning courting usually reserved for athletes. His visits to large, public universities, and smaller, private (but no less prestigious) universities were almost unanimously positive.

Husband and I have tried to stay out of the process, but considering that the location of his university will probably determine at least one vacation destination in our future, we had opinions when he asked for them. (I know! Who would have thought?) The decision was Two's, though, and it was a tough one. As of last Friday, the deadline for accepting or declining the fellowship offers, we still hadn't heard where our second son would be studying next fall. Husband even texted Two to see if the decision had been made.

Finally, the phone rang.

"I got your texts, but I was with people, and you've taught me how rude it is to answer a text when I can't talk," he said.


But when we considered it, he's right about the texting etiquette, of course, and made the right decision to not be rude. And of course, being right about small decisions is training for making big decisions as well.

So good luck, Duke. We think Two made a great decision.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Smartest Thing I've Done

During the first few years I was employed I filed my own taxes. It was a venture filled with apprehension.

Even though I made very little money and was a compulsive rule-follower, this did not lessen my fear of the Internal Revenue Service. I based my payroll deductions on the fact that I was a single person with no children, because, well, I was a single person with no children. Those daredevils who over-deducted and counted on this enforced savings program to bring them a hefty refund after they filed their returns were risk-takers on a scale I couldn't even imagine.

Nevertheless, even as a compulsive rule-follower I lived in terror that I would somehow mess up my 1040EZ form and that the government would come after me and my assets. ("Nooooooo!!! Don't take my 1971 Army-green Ford Maverick!")

Then I met and married Husband, and learned to embrace the complexities of tax law. He was aghast at the thought of deliberately over-deducting ("What? And let the government get that interest instead of you?") and knew all kinds of cool deductions and not-so-cool non-deductions, and saved me from jail time by knowing the difference between the two.

I smiled through tax season, knowing that at some point he would bring home a tax return, already filled out and with sticky Post-it arrows instructing me to "Sign Here!" six or eight places.We always have the same conversation. He says, "Do you want me to go through it line by line or just hit the high points?" And I look at him and wonder if the tax season has taken such a toll on my beloved that he would think I would prefer the former. Then I sign six or eight times, and voila! Done for the year!

I no longer fear the IRS will take away my Maverick, which is a good thing because she was traded in on a slightly newer vehicle a long time ago, and if there's one thing the government doesn't need, it's a Suburban that's transported four Boys from childhood into adulthood.

Marrying a CPA may have been the smartest thing I've ever done.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cheaper Than Shoes

We're experiencing a series of high-pressure days in the MomQueenBee house. The end of tax season, trustee meetings on campus, and some Big Life-Changing Decisions among the Boys mean we'll be glad to see this week receding in the rearview mirror.

So, naturally, the refrigerator developed a funny smell that had to be dealt with over the lunch hour.

After throwing away the softening pepper and the slimy asparagus, I rescued everything that could be consumed, and I discovered I had accumulated EIGHT POUNDS of carrots. Apparently when I grocery shop under stress I go straight for the vegetables.

I'm pioneering an entirely new branch of retail therapy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Awww, They Still Need Me

Some might think that the helping stage of a mother's life ends when her child goes off to college. Clearly she was needed when the babies were learning to walk, and when they were starting to navigate the dark waters of middle school. But is parenting really necessary once a child graduates from high school?

I'm not sure what we call this demographic--if ages 11 and 12 are not quite teens and we call them tweens, what do we call these 18- and 19-year-olds? I think Tah-Dah's! would be the appropriate characterization of the teen/adult age group.

They're competent and self-reliant, to the point that clicky eye-rolling is clearly audible when a parent asks certain questions. (The question currently provoking this reaction in the MomQueenBee household is "So, any summer plans?") Clearly, they need no help.

Every once in a while, though, I see glimpses of the days when the Boys were much more reliant on my parental skills and wisdom. These glimpses mostly come when I boot up my e-mail each morning.

Yesterday morning the subject line was in all caps:


Oh, yeah.

I'm not only MomQueenBee, I'm the Editing Goddess, and they may not need my advice on their romantic lives or career plans or even which tie to wear with which shirt, but they'll never outgrow their need for my unparalleled expertise concerning the serial comma.

Tah-Dah!, indeed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Tale of Two Earbuds

Our office-sharing arrangement led me to buy a set of alternative earbuds to hook up to to my desktop computer at work. (The rubber band ball has nothing to do with this essay--it's merely a prop for the earbuds--but how cool is that? And I won it! At an Office Max demonstration! A truly memorable life moment.)

Anyway, when I saw an internet deal-of-the-day featuring earbuds for $1 (shipped) I took the plunge and bought some to use at work. They are much more businesslike than the pair I use with my MP3 player, which are girly and lavender and were advertised as having marshmallow tips. (I was sadly disappointed that the tips were not made of actual marshmallows, but I suppose that would be sticky.) These earbuds give a quality of sound I hadn't experienced before.

The black set is better  than the lavender set for my work listening in that the black cord is significantly shorter. If I'm tempted to lean back and enjoy the spring that is springing right outside my window, they will have none of that, yanking my lolling head back into place with an unspoken "Back to work, missy!"

So if the lavender earbuds are more comfortable, sound better, and would facilitate my workday goofing off, why don't I simply switch the two sets? 

Two reasons. First, I paid an entire dollar for the black earbuds and I don't want to waste that investment. And second, 


Monday, April 11, 2011

Wisdom Gained

The wall of happiness and heartbreak
I'm trying to remember how many of my springs have been marked by music contests. At least half a dozen when I was in junior high and high school, then another dozen or so while my kids were of that age. Saturday I was on the school van heading toward contest at 6:30 a.m., and didn't pull back into the home parking lot until 7:30 p.m. This year I wasn't carrying a Boy's sheet music and emotional baggage; I am now the elderly accompanist with the bedazzled t-shirt and piano glasses on a chain around my neck. (Not really on the glasses part, because I wear tri-focals, but I saw that future me many times during the day.)

This year, in my supportive but non-related role behind the piano, I didn't take the triumph or trauma home with me.

Contest is Christmas for musicians, the day they reap the benefits of being naughty or nice. For those who have been nice, who have at least modicum of talent and have put in the practice time (more or less depending on the size of the talent) the reward is a I rating. A judge decides that on that day, during that three- to seven-minute slice of time, the performance merits another performance at state contest. This is triumph.

For those who have been naughty, who have not practiced or whose practice-to-talent ratio was not high enough or who simply have a bad few minutes, the final rating will be a II or a III, or even a IV. This is trauma.

I have seen both of these outcomes dozens of times over the years, and here are the things I've learned:

1. The II rating cuts a wide swath. The highly difficult solo by a senior that isn't quite perfected gets the same rating as the simple melody lisped by a beginning student, and both are the right rating. It doesn't feel fair, though.

2. Although judges are expert, conscientious, and well-intentioned, these Santa Clauses are not omniscient. They only see a tiny slice of this child, and there is no label of explanation attached. I have seen solos over-rewarded and under-rewarded (Husband is right when he points out that I only remember Boys' solos in this category), but in the end, the judge's decision is final.

3. (And this is the most important) No matter what it is, the rating is not a measure of the performer's potential as a human being, but the skills developed from contest participation very well may be.

That final point is wisdom hard-earned. Music is important in my life, and I wanted the Boys to love it as well. One of my regrets in my parenting style is that I placed too much importance on their performances at contest. I knew that the discipline they would gain from really working on a piece, and stretching to master something difficult, and learning to submit their accomplishments to both praise and criticism, would be life skills that would transfer to other areas of their lives. Learning to win and lose is important, and the knowledge that life isn't always fair is an essential morsel of wisdom for my children to possess.

But I didn't emphasize often enough that not a single person has ever asked me what ratings I got in high school music contests, and frankly, I don't remember. I'm so grateful that my parents encouraged (and subsidized) music lessons--of all of my childhood activities, this may be the one that gives me the most joy as an adult. Contest is important as a milepost, but is certainly not the end of the journey.

And that, more than the ratings, is why I still love contest.

High school musicians have the most lovely shoes I've ever seen but the lovely shoes never are on their feet.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Eclectic Tastes

Since we moved into our temporarily communal office space we've learned to make our own privacy. This involves a determination to pretend we're not listening to other people's conversations, even when those conversations are only a few feet from our ears.

It's kind of like camping, when I manage to convince myself that fellow campers walking by our pop-up trailer while I change clothes are inexplicably and temporarily blind: I know I'm lying to myself, but the truth would keep me from ever camping again.

In much the same way, the four of us now sharing a single room feign deafness as our colleagues meet with clients or chat with co-workers who stop by. The alternative is to throw in the towel and never get anything done at all.

Indispensable to this self-deception are a good set of earphones and some tunes. I've discovered I can keep my eyes on my editing as long as my ears belong to Pandora.

You've listened to this wonderful new invention, right? Pandora is a free internet service that lets the listener "build" a radio station based on personal tastes. I like a cappella jazz, Texas swing, old Spanish romantic music, and light indie music so my Quick Mix station draws on artists similar to Manhattan Transfer, Hot Club of Cowtown, Mocedades, and Jason Mraz, with Sweet Honey in the Rock thrown in for some variety.

The last six tunes I heard this morning are:
1. Propuesta, by Robert Carlos
2. Wordplay, by Jason Mraz
3. Doodlin', by Manhattan Transfer
4. Rivers of Babylon, by Jeff and Sheri Easter
5. Brown-Eyed Girl, by Van Morrison
6. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, by Fats Waller.

That playlist shows signs of serious musical attention deficit disorder, but I've been amazingly productive in spite of a full house in our little space.

Selective deafness for the win.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I was glad I pulled over to the side of the road Sunday afternoon. If I hadn't, I would have missed hearing the meadowlark barely visible on this fencepost. On a normal day I would have flown by at 50 miles per hour, windows closed and NPR filling my ears. Instead, I stood for a rapt moment, listening to the bird's simple, extravagant outburst.

This is perhaps the most beautiful spot in the world. It's just off the highway, and two miles farther down this gravel road is Shady Oaks. If you had my eyes, you'd see the grain elevator way out there on the horizon, and the trees lining the creek where a century ago an early settler hid in a cave to escape an Indian raid.

Oh, the stories I could tell about this stretch of road--about the man who drove off the road right here and spent the night in sub-zero temperatures then walked to our house, and how my mother wrapped his frozen hands in towels to protect them for the trip to the hospital. About Hamer's Pond, the huge indentation just beyond the next cross-road that always leaked itself dry before summer ended.

Last weekend I was back on the farm recharging my batteries and checking on Mom's tulips while Husband battled tax season. True spring is a few weeks off in that end of the state, but the morning was warm enough for a walk to the creek, a slow stroll that let me search for fossils along the way.

You'll find them everywhere, these fan-shaped indentations made of sediments and seashells and time.The rocks preserve the shape of the inland sea creature that lived thousands of years earlier, all of its soft parts long ago stripped away and only the essence preserved.

And it occurred to me that a few days on the farm have the opposite effect on me. My day-to-day routine pauses as I soak in the sights and sounds from my childhood that formed the outline of the person I would become.

There, my essence is restored.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And It's Not Even April 1

Spring, glorious spring!

The redbuds are budding. The birds are singing.

The sap is rising. The grass is greening.

God's in His heaven, all's right with the world. 

Also, apparently, the world is ending.

Monday, April 4, 2011

He's a Keeper

(Transcript of a call from me to Husband, as I made my way back from the farm to Small Town.)

Me: You'll never guess what I have in the back of the pick-up.

Husband (warily): I'm not sure I want to guess.

Me: Sheep compost! Two hundred pounds of it!

Husband: (silence)

Me: And a rusty old wheelbarrow! I love it!

Husband: (silence)

Me: I'm going to put pots of begonias in the wheelbarrow, and it will look great under the redbud tree. Woo!

Husband: Huh.

Me: Sheep compost! Wheelbarrow!

Husband: You know, I don't know why I'm still surprised when we have these kind of conversations. But I'm sure whatever you have in mind will turn out fine because it always does.

And then he left a towering stack of tax returns to unload 200 pounds of sheep compost and a wheelbarrow from the back of the pick-up. In the rain.

He's a keeper.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Quick! Look Outside!

When I was growing up on the farm, our closest neighbor was the maiden lady who lived on the farm a mile south. Elma had adopted us from the moment my young parents moved to Shady Oaks when I was 18 months old. She showed up regularly to sit at the kitchen table and drink coffee and talk while Mom went about her business.

By the time my older sister and I were old enough to walk the gravel road to Elma's house by ourselves we had three younger siblings so when Mom needed a break to care for the babies, she sent J and me to visit Elma. It was like having a play date with a friend--but that friend was old enough to drive and buy pop and candy! Woo! Elma  drove us all over the county, plying us with ice-cold Pepsi's in swirled bottles. She had an attic filled with antique toys, pet sheep (we "helped" her take them to the vet in the front seat of her car), an old barn where we looked for nests of eggs, and the wonderful misconception that these two little girls were perfect in every way.

Elma was the best playmate in the world, but in retrospect I realize she was not beautiful. She was a little wider than she was tall, had a mole on her chin that tended to sprout hairs, and avoided new-fangled inventions like underwear.

That's why, when Dad woke us up one spring morning by yelling, "Quick! Girls! Look outside! Here comes Elma in her bathing suit!" we set the land speed record for running down the stairs to look out the front door. And there was Dad with a grin on his face.

"April Fools!"

I woke up this morning knowing I would immediately text my sister: Quick! Look outside! Here comes Elma in her bathing suit!

And then I smiled.