The five of us piled into the van before the sun came up, my grandpa hunched behind the wheel. We crested the mountain as the sun came up, the elevation wrapped us in cool air, despite the summer season.
We spent the rest of the day driving, miles of open space and nothing but highway in front of us.
Eventually, I peered out the back window of the van and saw a green billboard, “The Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder Next Exit.”
“Grandpa, can we go there?” I asked from the backseat of the maroon Econoline van. I don’t remember his response, or maybe he didn’t give me one. The interstate whirred by as we continued our family trip to Michigan. My parents, younger sister, and my grandpa—all packed into the van. This was the early 90s and my sister and I spent most of the trip lying down on the bench in the third row—no seat belt or booster seats in sight.
We made the drive from Wyoming to Michigan, and I’m sure that I passed some of the time reading, either the Babysitters Club or anything by Beverly Cleary, Goosebumps, or Little House on the Prairie.
On the way back from Michigan to Wyoming, my grandpa took that exit—and we spent the day where Laura had once lived. I was able to walk the same places she had, and I imagine I felt like I was inside her books.
I was 8 or 10 at the time, maybe 12. My elementary years all run together, with bits and pieces sticking out. I wish I could say I remember more specific things that happened that day in South Dakota. Did the air rustle through the prairie grass, reminding me of Laura and her beloved Jack the bulldog? Was it everything that I had imagined?
Every Christmas one of my favorite gifts in my stocking was a gift card to Barnes & Noble. My mom, sister, and I would drive the 90 miles to the nearest city where we could use our gift card. I searched the shelves for the newest James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Then made my way to the historical fiction shelves. The well-worn red and black paperback, Number the Stars, a favorite on my bookshelf at home since the 4th grade. Annemarie and Ellen were two characters I often imagined myself as. Ellen’s dark hair made it seem more likely that I was her—except I’m not Jewish. I often wondered if I would have been as brave as Annemarie’s family, had I been in their shoes.
College was full of textbooks, course syllabuses, and homework. I know I read for fun, but I couldn’t tell you any of the books I read outside of the classroom. I left my beloved Number the Stars and Little House on the Prairie in my childhood bedroom to collect dust throughout my 20s. After college, I spent those years finding myself, sometimes between the pages of books, getting lost in them when I was too scared to admit to myself that my life wasn’t where I had hoped it would be.
Near the end of my 20s, I met Rich. His farm on the prairie was nowhere near where I expected I would end up. Could I be as resilient as Laura and Ma? Even though I have the luxury of electricity and running water, it still takes some grit and a different mindset to live in the middle of nowhere. All those years ago when I convinced my grandpa to take me to Laura’s house in South Dakota, I never imagined I would find myself living on the prairie. But now I’m surrounded by it.
“Mom, it’s a rattlesnake!” Rhett runs from the dirt pile to the back of the house where I’m watering the newly planted trees.
I glance up from the tree, dropping the hose. I follow him to the edge of the yard that connects with one of the many fields we are surrounded by. The grasses sway back and forth, and I wait to hear the sound that upset him. Knots form in my own stomach, hoping it’s not a rattlesnake. Rich isn’t home, and I am not looking forward to having to deal with a big rattlesnake on my own.
The hot dry air surrounds us. Then I hear what he heard. The many grasshoppers that have filled our fields, yards, and the grill of my car, move their legs in rhythm, almost making a rattling sound.
“It’s just a grasshopper, buddy, not a snake. But good job coming to find me.” I reassure him. “Let’s go inside and get a drink,” I say.
We walk past the bookshelf, stacked with books I’ve read, books I plan to read, and Laura and Annemarie are here too. I knew when I got married, I was changing my story, and I was ready to bring them with me—their years in my childhood bedroom over.
Whether it was living in apartments alone after college or motherhood—but I’ve mostly given up suspense novels. Number the Stars was my gateway to historical fiction, and my GoodReads shelf of “Read” books is dominated by that genre. Despite the sadness, I’m still drawn to their stories. I’ve read the Little House series a few times since childhood, and hope to pass them down to my own children (along with the twig I have from DeSmet—tourism dollars at it’s finest).
Reading and writing come in waves for me. My book club often asks me, “Have you been writing a lot?” And the answer always depends on if I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t been able to manage both well at the same time. When I’m reading a lot, I’m hardly writing. When I find myself inspired to write my own story, I find it distracting to read someone else’s.
Years ago when I was a high school counselor, I never picked up a pen or put my fingers to the keyboard to tell a story. My love of writing was pushed to the side, my new career taking all of my time and brain space. But motherhood and farm life has brought back that urge to tell a story. And I’m surrounded by stories—from the farm to being a mom, and usually a mix of the two.
Over the years I’ve traded post-it notes lists of books to read for GoodReads. And I’ve tossed the guilt of starting and not finishing a book. Because I’ve learned that when you know, you know—with books and love.
This essay was written as part of the “Reading Well, Writing Well: Building a Writer’s Toolbox” workshop through Exhale Creativity.
One of the hardest parts about writing this was trying to remember the timeline of events—a lot happened in a short amount of time. Using my phone call log and notes from my midwife, I was able to (mostly) piece together the final moments of labor and delivery.
Before I start, there are a couple things I think you should know. I planned to deliver at a Birth Center, not a hospital. When I use the name Birth Center, I’m not referring to the labor & delivery department of the hospital. Several people asked if we called an ambulance, but we did not. The Birth Center is not associated with a hospital, and we called my midwife’s cell phone.
And to give context on where we live—we are 50 miles from town. Roughly half of those miles are gravel roads, the other half is highway—depending on which which road you take. The day of Nora’s birth we had to go the longer way, which is closer to 30 miles of gravel roads.
And now, the story . . .
“Feel my belly, the baby is kicking, or maybe he or she has hiccups,” I whispered in the dark. Rich rolled over in our bed and put his hand on my full belly. Within seconds he felt what I was feeling on the inside.
“Just think, this could be the last time I feel the baby in your belly,” he said.
I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn’t see me. I knew this wouldn’t be the last time he felt the baby in my belly. I was 38 weeks and 4 days—there was no way I would have the baby anytime soon. My second pregnancy with Allie had gone to 41 weeks, and I had been mentally preparing myself the last few weeks (months) that my actual due date didn’t mean much, and I should settle in for the long haul.
“I doubt that, I’m sure I’ll be pregnant for awhile,” I said.
“You never know. Night babe,” he said as he rolled back over.
As with every night in the last few months of pregnancy—I couldn’t sleep. I moved to the recliner in the living room where I mindlessly scrolled my phone until I felt tired. I had been having Braxton Hicks since around 30 weeks, so the twinges I was feeling as I sat in the chair didn’t concern me. Around midnight, I finally made my way back to bed.
At 5:30 a.m. I woke up and was immediately aware of the tightening in my belly. Although they weren’t painful, they seemed to be coming more often than normal. I kept turning over from side to side, but it didn’t make the contractions stop. I picked up my phone and found a contractions timer on my pregnancy app and started timing them. After about 20 minutes, I realized they were happening every 5-6 minutes, and were lasting between 30-45 seconds (some longer, some shorter). But I wasn’t in pain. I made my way to the kitchen, where I saw the wet grass outside.
Rich came into the kitchen with a big smile on his face, “I wasn’t expecting this rain.”
I smiled back and said, “I might be having contractions, but I’m really not sure.” Since this was my third pregnancy, I felt like I should really know if I was in labor. My due date was still over a week away, so surely this could not be real labor.
“Should I call my parents and give them a heads up they might need to take the kids?” he asked.
It was barely 6 a.m. and I didn’t want to get everyone excited when it could be a false alarm. “No. I still don’t know if I’m really in labor.”
I sat at the kitchen table and started to drink my hot cup of coffee while the kids were still sleeping. Every once in a while I stood up and paced around the kitchen, but I still wasn’t in pain. (I feel like I should make this part clear.) The kids eventually woke up and requested pancakes. As I was flipping the pancakes on the griddle, the twinges became more noticeable.
“Hey Rich, can you finish making the pancakes so I can take a shower?”
I made my way to the bathroom and decided if I really was in labor, I wanted to wash my hair. Who knew when I would feel up to doing that again?
Rich finished making breakfast and dressed the kids. Then he went out to his pickup to vacuum and get it ready to go. After my shower, I finished packing my bag for the Birth Center. (Hey, third pregnancy!)
Around 8 a.m., I began to feel more uncomfortable, and I had a flashback of being in the bathroom at the Birth Center when I was in labor with Allie. I then remembered from a previous appointment that my midwife told me, “When you feel like you need to sway back and forth, head to town. That likely means you’re dilated to around a 5.”
Knowing Rich was in the garage, I called from the bathroom, “Kids, can you go and get your dad?” They ignored me on the first ask, so I yelled again, “Rhett, go and get your dad!”
Rich immediately jumped to action and called his parents and told them we would be dropping the kids off. The kids were starting to get excited calling out, “We’re going to have a baby!”
“Is your bag ready to go?” Rich asked as I was getting dressed.
“Yes, I’m almost ready,” I said.
He grabbed my bag and loaded the kids into the pickup.
At 8:16 I called my midwife, Melissa. “Hey, this is Stacy, I think I’m in labor.”
She asked, “How far from town are you?”
At this point, I was kneeling on the floor of my bedroom, leaning up against the bed and I exhaled, “An hour.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the Birth Center. I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to take a shower first,” she said.
After hanging up, I texted my mom: “I might be in labor. But I’ll let you know if it’s a false alarm.”
Then I texted my birth photographer, “Hey, funny story—I might be in labor. I’ll text you when I get to town and let you know for sure.”
Ironically, she had texted me the day before to check in and I had immediately responded: “No signs of labor. I’ll still be pregnant for awhile.”
I went back into the bathroom to finish putting on my mascara (priorities, am I right?).
Rich called from the living room, “Honey, what are you doing? I think we need to go. The kids are in the pickup.”
The rain overnight made our gravel roads into muddy roads. I gripped the handle above my head as we bumped the three miles to my in-laws. Whether it was the bumps in the road, or just my body progressing naturally, there was no question at this point if I was really in labor. The contractions were becoming more intense. But with the kids in the backseat, I tried not to show I was in any pain. The kids chatted happily about getting to meet their new baby brother or sister and kept trying to talk to me.
“Mom, why aren’t you excited?” Allie asked.
Rich answered, “Mom’s excited. But it’s painful for her too.”
We pulled up in front of my in-laws’ house and Rich opened the back door and told the kids to go inside. It was still gently raining as the kids walked toward their grandpa standing on the front step.
I called out, “I love you!” as I sat on the edge of my seat, unable to get comfortable.
Rich glanced at the fuel gauge and said, “Should I put in a little gas?” (The bulk tanks for our farm are in my in-laws yard.)
I looked over at the gauge and saw that there was just barely enough to get to town and responded, “No. Just go.”
He hit the gas and we were on our way.
Around 8:36 I texted my sister, “I haven’t been able to get a hold of mom. I don’t have enough cell service to call her, can you tell her I’m in labor.” I put my phone down and hoped the text would eventually go through.
With each contraction I got onto my knees and faced the seat, wrapping my arms around the back of the seat and moaning.
Between contractions, I sat down and told Rich, “I can’t do this. It hurts so bad, I don’t think I can do it.”
With his hands gripped at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, he calmly told me, “You can do this. You’ve done it twice before. I know you can.”
The intensity of the contractions ramped up fast, and the thought of laboring for roughly 30 miles of gravel (plus the highway) felt like too much. I was already dreading the hardest part—pushing the baby out. Having had two unmedicated births prior to this, I knew what was coming.
Eventually I reached down and could feel the baby’s head, although it was still a few inches up the birth canal. Although the head wasn’t out, it was definitely coming.
After a few more contractions, I felt like I needed to push. It might have been during the first push or the second, (I can’t remember) my water broke—soaking me and the seat.
“My water just broke,” I panted.
I took off my romper (yes, I was wearing a romper—it was comfy and I fully expected to get to town and change into a gown) and threw it in the backseat.
At 8:47, Rich called Melissa to tell her my water broke. Instead of driving to the Birth Center, she headed out of town to meet us. Rich attempted to give her directions, repeating the road we were on, and he eventually hung up.
He turned to me and said, “Can you text her the name of the road?” Which I did. (She ended up missing the turn and was lost. But I don’t think she would have made it in time anyway.)
The final call to Melissa at 9:01 lasted seven minutes. With her on speakerphone, we kept driving and she told me, “Keep breathing.” To which I thought, “I am breathing.” But I didn’t have the energy to expend on speaking.
“Do I need to do anything with the cord?” Rich asked.
“No, just leave it,” Melissa replied.
It felt like they were talking about someone else. I was in my own world.
While leaning back in the front seat, I felt another contraction and I bared down to push again. Through gritted teeth, I closed my eyes, yelled, and pushed. I felt the ring of fire and knew what I would see when I looked down. I exhaled and opened my eyes—a head of dark hair was out and face down.
“The head’s out,” I breathed.
Rich hit the brakes and pulled over onto the side of the gravel road. He walked around the pickup and got into the passenger side. He then kneeled on the floor of the passenger seat to face me.
Melissa said, “Stacy, get up on your hands and knees and push.”
“I don’t think I can,” I said.
“Get up onto the console,” Rich told me.
I pulled myself up onto the console and leaned back against the driver’s seat. (I think we exchanged some other words, but I honestly don’t remember.) With one more push, Rich helped guide the baby out and brought it up onto my chest. Without any towels or blankets, we used our coats to cover the baby. Rich went back to the driver’s seat and cranked the heat up.
I sat back down in the seat, closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief. I’ll never forget how the baby felt on my chest: the warm, squishy, wet skin on my skin. The pain was instantly gone from my body, replaced by the weight of a baby on my chest.
“Is it breathing?” he asked. The baby was quiet and I couldn’t see the face.
Melissa was still on the phone and said, “Take your knuckles and rub them vigorously along the baby’s back.”
I started rubbing and the baby fluttered its eyes open and we could tell he or she was breathing. Once we confirmed with Melissa the baby was breathing, we disconnected the call at 9:08.
“Take our picture,” I told Rich. “Use my phone, it takes better pictures.”
I smiled, relieved to be out of pain, as he snapped two photos. (The time stamp on this photo: 9:09 a.m.)
We kept driving and a few miles later we met Melissa on the gravel road (we still weren’t to the highway yet). We pulled over and she opened the passenger’s door. Once she saw that the baby was pinking up and my bleeding was stable, she instructed us to meet her at the Birth Center.
With the baby clenched tightly to my chest and the umbilical cord still attached, we continued our way to town.
“Should I see if it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked.
I gently tried to pick the baby up off my chest. But the baby was so slippery, I decided it wasn’t worth trying. We had already waited nine months, what was a few more minutes?
Around 9:25 (almost exactly one hour after we had left our house) we arrived at the Birth Center. Considering it takes over an hour to get to town (while driving at a normal speed), it was impressive we made it to town in an hour—stopping for only a few minutes to have a baby. Melissa met me outside with warm blankets to wrap myself and the baby in. Becky, my birth photographer, was there too. She was smiling and shaking her head at me as Melissa opened the door of the pickup.
“Oh my gosh, Stacy!” she said as she snapped photos of our arrival.
At this point, some of the initial shock had worn off and I was starting to cramp. I grimaced as I stepped out of the pickup, suddenly aware of the umbilical cord that was still between my legs.
We made our way inside and onto a bed, where I soon delivered the placenta. Shortly after, we found out we had a second daughter. The exact moment was a blur—the most important thing was that she was doing well.
Rich and I kept going over the events that had transpired in only a few hours. “You must have a really high pain tolerance,” he said. “To be that far along in labor all morning and you didn’t even really know.”
“If we had left an hour sooner, we would have made it,” I said.
“Yeah, but just barely,” he replied.
As I laid in bed holding my new baby, I kept thinking back on the morning. I began to question myself—how I had let it happen. How did I not realize I was really in labor? But it all happened so fast and hindsight is 20/20. Roughly 15 minutes after my water broke, she was born. With both of my previous births, Rhett and Allie were born hours after my water broke. As I counted her 10 toes and 10 fingers, I was thankful it was a relatively easy delivery with no complications. Rich and I both stayed calm. I was grateful she was healthy—regardless of where she was born.
Rich called his parents to tell them not only did I already have the baby, but we had her in the pickup. His mom passed along the news to the kids that they had a sister. She said they started hugging each other and then Rhett said, “A baby brother?” (I think he’s come to terms with having two sisters now.)
We stayed at the Birth Center for a few hours, making sure she nursed well and her temperature was stable. Becky stayed and talked to us, snapping photos of our baby’s first few hours of life. Melissa and her assistant made us breakfast and I took a shower.
We had picked out two names while I was pregnant: one boy and one girl name. But that day, the girl name we had picked didn’t feel right.
We left around noon with an unnamed baby girl—this time in a car seat, instead of on my chest.
That afternoon at home as I sat in the recliner rocking our baby, Rich started to take apart the seat in his pickup—and we agreed on a name.
Nora Kate Bronec Born May 21, 2020 7 pounds, 10.5 oz. 20 inches
“When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world.” John 16:21
What a joy you are, Nora. I would do it all over again.
One of the first things I noticed when I came to Rich’s house (now my house) for the first time was the kitchen. The salmon-colored cabinets and orange carpet were hard to miss. The kitchen was a time capsule—frozen in 1955. The most impressive part was that (almost) everything worked—it was a fully-functioning kitchen, despite how it looked.
I embraced that kitchen for over six years. I never worried about cutting on the countertops—scratching them was the least of my concerns. I wasn’t diligent about scrubbing the cabinets like I should have—because I knew eventually they would all be torn out. I really did want a new kitchen, and I would often find myself scrolling Pinterest past all the ‘farmhouse’ kitchens—kitchens nowhere near any farms. But I didn’t push hard to get a new kitchen because I knew how long the process would take—and I was anxious about making so many decisions. What if I picked something I hated, but then I was stuck with it for the next 50 years? It all felt too overwhelming.
But this past fall we started moving forward with our plans. We picked the appliances and cabinets, then the countertops and flooring. The decisions felt just as daunting as I had imagined—but we took it one decision at a time and before Christmas we had everything picked out.
On January 19th we emptied the kitchen and moved out of the house. I stood in the kitchen for one last time, knowing the next time I saw the kitchen the cabinets would be ripped out, the carpet torn away. (I have more thoughts on all of this that I’ll share at some point.) I took a few final photos, then closed the door and walked away.
After 36 days (not that I was counting), we moved back home. The kitchen was one of the last remaining rooms in the house from the original build. There are still some elements to the house leftover from 1955, but we have put our stamp on every room in the house.
While it’s always felt like my home these past six and a half years—this kitchen really feels like mine.
“I think I’ve ruined him. He starts school tomorrow, and I feel like I’ve lost all my chances with him.” I say.
My husband, Rich, reaches across the console of the car and rests his hand on my arm, “I think you might be overreacting.”
I turn to face the backseat of the car, where a few seconds ago Rhett had stuck his tongue out at me.
“I know he’s not ruined.” I exhale. “But the first five years were all mine,” I say, looking out the window at the fields passing by. “Sometimes he’s disrespectful and doesn’t listen to me, and I wonder if I failed at everything I was supposed to do.”
“Do you think maybe you’re just sad he’s starting school?” he asks.
I shake my head, “A little, but that’s not all I’m feeling.”
The change is so subtle, it feels like it happened overnight. And maybe it did. Slowly, the morning light breaks through the prairie skies sooner, and the light lingers well into the 5 o’clock hour. Wasn’t it just yesterday it was pitch black by five? During the winter months, the light would vanish, enveloping our house like a cacoon—calling everyone in for dinner. The end of the light outside acting as a signal to come in. When I think back to an afternoon outside with the kids, I recall an edge in the air—so crisp it felt like I could reach out and grab it, and like a reflex, I would reach up to pull my hat down over my ears.
“Mom, I’m hungry!” I glance at my phone, not realizing it’s already nearing 4:30, and I have zero plans for dinner.
“Do you want a cheese stick while I figure out what we’re having for dinner?” I ask.
Once I’ve passed off two cheese sticks and a sliced apple, I search through the fridge and pantry, hoping something will magically appear. At the same time, I begin to wonder what time Rich will be home. I think back over the last few months of winter and how we had begun to fall into some semblance of a routine.
In the fall as the days shortened, his schedule did too. After a long spring of planting, followed by hot days of haying, then harvest, which rolled right into fall planting—the shorter days of fall and winter felt like a balm to my weary soul. A bit of the weight of carrying the kids, both literally and figuratively, had dropped from my shoulders. In the long seasons, I rarely count on him being home before dark—which in the peak of summer is after 10 p.m. The sun acts as a time card, he punches in at sunlight and doesn’t punch out until dusk or dark.
While I love the longer days and the extra sun hours of sun that stream through the windows. The longer days also mean more hours of being alone for the kids and me.
The next day, the kids open the shed in the backyard, pulling out their outside tractors and bikes, getting out their John Deere Gator, which was stored away for the winter. While they are still wearing their stocking caps to break the wind from their ears, they can feel a change in the season too. Even though it’s barely March, we all are ready for a change. But with that change also brings a sense of dread over me.
I feel guilty complaining about the hours of light coming back, and the sunny, warm days ahead. Instead of thinking of the hard moments yet to come, I close my eyes and think of all that spring brings. From the buds on the trees to my tulips in the front yard to the afternoons spent watching the kids ride their bikes up and down the gravel road in front of our house. I’ll switch out my stocking cap for a baseball cap. I imagine in the coming weeks I will sort through the box of hats and mittens, hoping to find all the pairs (a losing game to play). I’ll store them away, knowing that next winter some of them will be outgrown, the kids another year older.
While I know the coming days will bring hours of time when I’m alone, I want to remember how good the sun feels. I want to embrace the extra hours of light. I know some days that will be harder than others, and I’ll still find myself counting down the minutes until bedtime—while also reminding the kids that sometimes we go to bed when it’s still light outside (thank you, blackout curtains).
As I look out the window, I hear the sound of the Gator on the gravel. I pull the curtains back and see Allie driving alone—her bright pink hat contrasting with her blue jacket (Rhett’s hand-me-down). I watch in amazement as she steers the Gator into the garage, parking it without hitting anything. Last year she couldn’t reach the pedals, no matter how hard she tried. Now here she is, proudly driving alone. I quickly walk to the garage door and open it.
“Allie! Look at you!” I say. Her broad smile matching mine.
In the light of day, the changing of seasons brings more than just daylight—it reveals the growth that’s happened over the winter, and a gentle reminder of all the goodness yet to come.
“Not that I’m counting, but I see you with your second piece,” Rich says with a wink as I bring a forkful of tiramisu cake to my mouth.
I smirk and happily scrape the rest of the cake from the bowl, not wanting to waste a bite. “I’ll probably regret that tomorrow, but it’s so good.”
“Nah, you deserve it,” he says.
A couple of weeks earlier, while digging through the chest freezer looking for something to make for dinner, I found a Rubbermaid container filled with Rhett’s birthday cake. Dinner was pretty much forgotten once I discovered the cake. While the cake itself is made from a box mix, I use my mom’s recipe for buttercream frosting and then I decorate the cake. I don’t consider myself a pro by any means, but it’s my one “crafty” thing I do for my kids. And it’s the only true tradition I have kept going for five years.
Growing up, my mom made all of my birthday cakes too, which I know has influenced my desire to make my kids their cakes too. In the early years my mom picked the cakes she would make, but then I started picking my own designs, from Winnie the Pooh to the Tasmanian Devil. Each year on the night before my birthday, after I went to bed my mom would stay up and finish my cake. When I woke up on my birthday, the cake was perfectly made and displayed on the kitchen table.
I know my mom was up well past when I went to bed, and I only know this now because I’ve found myself up late, putting the final squeeze of frosting on the cakes for my kids. And every year I ask myself, “Why did I want to do this again?” But the next morning when the kids wake up and I see the looks on their faces when they see their cakes for the first time, I remember why I stay up late.
Now back here in my kitchen, I open the Rubbermaid container, impressed to see the cake still looking delicious—not a speck of freezer burn. Rhett sees the bright blue frosting and says, “My birthday cake! Is today my birthday?”
I pause, honestly surprised he remembered his cake from almost six months ago. I laugh, “No, this is just leftover from your birthday.”
After dinner, I slice the cake and each of us has one piece—and I am impressed at how well it tastes for being frozen.
One-piece remains, and I put the container back on the counter.
The next day, Rhett asks for the cake again and Rich tells him, “Nope, that’s Mom’s piece.” Whether he said it because he loves me or is scared to get between me and a piece of cake, I’m not sure. But I love him for it anyway.
According to Gary Chapman’s book about the five love languages, quality time is my love language. And while I definitely know that’s true, I believe cake is part of my love language too. It’s more than the taste of the cake, which don’t get me wrong, I love. It’s the time my mom spent making 18+ cakes in my life, and now the time I’ve spent making cakes for my kids.
Cake marks special occasions and traditions. From birthdays and weddings to the everyday—such as a solo trip to the grocery store. There are also the vacations I’ve taken to visit friends, where I’ve dragged them to the nearest Sprinkles cupcake store (shout out to Melissa and Sprinkles in Scottsdale). Or the times Rich has surprised me by bringing cupcakes home from town when I knew he had to go out of his way to get them.
Just like I can picture most of the cakes my mom made me, I hope my kids remember some of the cakes I make for them. The fact that Rhett knew this was his cake six months after his birthday, already gives me hope that this tradition is meaningful.
I don’t expect them to remember each cake, I just hope the memory of how they felt on their birthdays doesn’t completely fade. Even though my cakes are far from perfect, I want them to know I did it out of love for them.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a piece of cake in the kitchen that’s calling my name.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Love Languages”.
She can’t remember who called to tell her the news. Although the call wasn’t unexpected, it was the type of news no one is ready for. It was a cold Friday in January, there was probably snow on the ground, but she couldn’t tell you for sure.
A few weeks before, she’d traveled home for Christmas. Her new boyfriend drove down the day after the holiday to meet her family. They had only been dating a few weeks, but they’d both agreed the timing felt right. She wanted him to meet her dying aunt, her mom’s only sister. She was the aunt who never missed a birthday party and passed on her love of baking to her niece.
They went to her aunt’s house and talked while she laid in bed, but the aunt she once knew wasn’t there anymore. When they left, with tears in the corners of her eyes she whispered, “I wish you could have met her before.”
She thinks that was the last time she saw her alive. When she looks back on 28 years of memories she feels guilty she can’t remember the last moment. What did they talk about? What was the last thing she said to her? She assumes it was, “I love you,” but it feels like there should be something poignant she can clutch in her memories—a lingering hug, or her aunt’s words of wisdom to carry with her.
After she received the call, she went through the motions of her workday. She didn’t make plans to leave early—she thought she had enough time. She went home for lunch to pack her bag and put it in her car. Then she sat through her last class of the day, wishing she was with her aunt, instead of in a classroom with 12th graders.
When the school bell rang, she locked her office and left the building. It was dark soon after she was on the interstate. She didn’t hear any new updates from her family and assumed no news was good news.
Three hours later she arrived in her hometown and went to her sister’s house. She thought they would go see their aunt together, for what might be the last time. As she sat on the couch, she thinks she asked, “Do you want to go and see Aunt Dee?”
Her sister said something like: “Haven’t you talked to Mom?” The details are fuzzy, but the confused look on her sister’s face is clear in her memory.
“No, I just got here,” she said. Shortly after, their parents’ headlights crossed the front window. She isn’t sure who said, “She’s gone.” Was it her mom or her sister? She wishes she could remember. When she tries to grasp at the memory, when she tries to make sense of it all, she doesn’t have a face to put to the words.
Her first reaction was anger. Why hadn’t someone told her? As she sat in tears, her dad said, “We knew you were driving and we didn’t want you to be upset while you were on the road. And there was nothing you could do.”
She knew she should have left work earlier. Maybe if she had been able to say her final goodbye she would actually remember the moment. There might be a final word she could cling to, something she could hold in her mind as her memories started to fade.
The boyfriend became her husband, and now they have two kids. Her kids will never meet her beloved aunt, gone too soon at 50 years old. She has albums filled with photos she will show them over the years—but it will never be enough.
She doesn’t talk about how she feels losing her aunt. She didn’t lose a mom, or a sister, a wife, or a grandma. It seems like her loss is less than the others. So she keeps her feelings tucked close to her chest, thinking of her aunt often. She keeps their texts saved, wishing the conversation was still ongoing. That instead of the last text being about a guy she was bringing home to meet the family, she was sending photos of her kids playing in the snow, of them on their birthdays.
She knows there never could have been a perfect “goodbye.” And had she known the last time was going to be the last, it wouldn’t have been any easier.
Most of all, she wishes her aunt was still here. She wishes that January day never happened. But that’s not how the story goes.
Instead, she walks into the kitchen and takes out her recipe book. She reaches for the card with the familiar handwriting, running her fingers over her aunt’s lettering. She might not remember her aunt’s exact last words, but here in her kitchen—she is filled with her aunt’s voice, one scoop of flour at a time.
Deanna Ruth Walker was born May 5, 1962, and died on January 11, 2013. She was a beloved mom, wife, grandma, sister, friend, and, my aunt.
From morning til night, The requests never end. We just had breakfast. It’s almost lunch. How can you still be hungry? Someday I know I’ll miss being the keeper of snacks. But until then, can you go and ask your dad?
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “On Repeat.”
“There’s a fertilizer spreader outside of Chicago that I want to go and look at. Do you want to go and we’ll make it an anniversary trip?” Rich asked. “With the kids?” I responded.
“No, I was thinking we would leave them with my parents and have it just be us. What do you think?”
I paused as I think about seeing the city, mostly for the first time. Six years earlier, when I was six months pregnant with Rhett, we had driven from Montana to Ohio. We stopped for lunch, deep-dish pizza, of course, and to walk around “The Bean” at Millenium Park.
“If your parents are up for keeping them, let’s go!” I said.
Three days later, we were sitting on an airplane at 6 a.m., preparing for take-off. It wasn’t lost on me that 10 years before, my friend, Katie was still alive and living in Chicago. As we prepared to land at O’Hare, I sighed, wishing she was going to be there to meet us. Despite feeling sad, I was excited to see the city she loved so much.
The next day, as we walked down the busy downtown streets and onto Navy Pier, I silently wondered, Did she walk these same streets, to these same places? Who was she with? It was a windy and drizzly day, which seemed fitting for the ‘The Windy City,’ and I imagined her dark hair blowing into her face, the water splashing up onto the pier from Lake Michigan.
Sometimes we know a good thing when we see it, even at the age of five. Katie and I met when we were in kindergarten. I don’t remember a time before her or what drew us together–likely it was that we went to a small school, and our class was small. But it still felt special to us. She moved after second grade, leaving me heartbroken. We kept in touch with letters and pictures throughout the remainder of elementary school. As time passed, her family and her made more moves, while I continued to stay in the same place. Toward the end of high school, we slowly lost contact, other than exchanging senior photos and announcements.
At the end of college, we reconnected in a digital world. Thanks to a quick search on Facebook, I instantly caught up with her life. Our contact became more frequent, and we both realized we had thought of one another over the years but hadn’t reached out. We continued to keep in touch through messages and emails, liking one another’s photos and being able to see each other in real-time.
Many times we talked about meeting up. She lived in Chicago, working as a dance instructor after college. Her life appeared full of excitement, city adventures, and friends. I had always imagined living in a city, and at times I envied her life. By then we were several years past college, and I was working full-time and going to grad school, the fun of undergrad college days behind me.
On an otherwise normal day in April, I answered a phone call from my sister. Her calling instead of texting in the middle of a workday made me take pause, and I felt uneasy as I answered the phone.
“Katie’s gone,” my sister softly exhaled after I said hello.
“What do you mean? How?” I asked.
I quickly went to her Facebook page, confused as the last messages I saw were her friends and family wishing her a “Happy Birthday!” We didn’t talk on a daily basis, so it wasn’t unusual that I hadn’t talked to her in a few days—since I had wished her a happy birthday. We were only six weeks apart, and now we were both 25. As I scrolled down her page, I saw the posts I had missed, “I can’t believe you’re gone.” “You were such a light, and your smile lit up every room you entered.” And the posts went on. How had I missed these?
I went home after work and curled up in my bed. Guilt and anger, but mostly sadness, filled me that we hadn’t set a date and planned a trip together.
I never thought there would be a day that she wasn’t there anymore. I took time for granted.
In one of her last messages to me, she said, “I always knew I picked a good one back then.” I did too.
I’ll always be sad I never saw Chicago with her, but I’m grateful for the time I spent there—imagining it through her eyes.
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf, So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day Nothing gold can stay.