Raincoat with a sunny disposition

L-R: Iris, Jennifer's mother, and Jennifer of Just Delicious Scones in Roseville

Several years ago, while I walked Target’s aisles in search of a flip phone, a patch of yellow on a clothes rack caught my eye.
Spring coats! Just what I needed.
I almost didn’t carry my lovely find to the cashier. As my mother, I don’t like belts on my garments, and doggone it—the waistline sports a cloth belt through loops.
Furthermore, I seldom buy new clothing manufactured in Asia. This explains my thirty-year-old wardrobe. I’d rather buy resale. Yet, the price was right, I found my size, and the tag says “machine wash cold with like colors.” Utility sealed the deal.
The first day I wore my bargain out and about, perfect strangers stopped me to say, “What a cute coat!”
“Target,” I said.
“You’re kidding!”
Repeatedly, fellow grocery shoppers pass with strong declarations. “I love your coat!” for instance.
From Washington D.C. to Mackinac Island, it’s the same tune. “Where did you find that darling coat?”
This popularity borders on embarrassing. At times I’ve been tempted to untie the belt, unbutton the coat, and hand it over to the admirer so I may return to my normal, inconspicuous life.
Then I consider the dreadful experience of shopping for a replacement. Why submit myself to such torment at risk of not finding another attractive bargain that suits me? My yellow raincoat reminds me to trust whatever I need will find me. So I use what I have.
Undeniably, my favorite spring coat of all time possesses a cheerful personality. The designer created a floral pattern and fabric that serves many purposes.
It’s just the right weight, camouflages tea and coffee spills, and machine dries beautifully with little ironing required. What woman wouldn’t adore such benefits?
I’m learning to accept compliments. After all, yellow and I go way back to the early 1960’s on Wagner Street in Warren. There, for one spring and summer, I wore the daffodil linen duster my mother sewed me for Easter.
Yellow and I belong together come springtime.
That’s what Jennifer, owner of Just Delicious Scones said when I dropped in several weeks ago. The Roseville business is a bakery and home of the Royal Treat Tea Room.
The place smelled like my kitchen when I bake mocha pecan scones. Now, I admire a person who can bake a good scone. Jennifer blends dough for upwards of twenty variations.
“I really love your coat. It was made just for you,” Jennifer said.
I’d never heard that comment before. “Thank you.” I asked if she would pose with me for a picture.
“Sure! Why did you stop by?”
“I just left the Roseville Library and would like to buy your toffee chocolate scones.”
One question led to another. I purchased my order and Jennifer bought my novel.
Dear Reader, I’m glad my raincoat with character caught my eye. Its sunny disposition is just what I need on rainy days.
Oh, and I found a flip phone. It’s all I need to communicate when I’m on the road.

Spread the Good News

Jaema Berman, Director of the Addison Township Library, and me with my first novel
In perfect timing, the word processor appeared on the market when I launched my journalism career in 1993. Dyslexic, I’m a miserable typist and correct every line several times before advancing to the next.
While I praised the blessed cursor, the Internet romanced the planet with email and infinite information. The computer replaced my presence in The Oxford Leader newsroom where I previously delivered my column and the editor coached me on writing features and profiles. Instead, I lost sleep over Internet and computer failures.
In conversation with a professional photographer and self proclaimed philosopher, he said, “The Internet is the beginning of the end for libraries and newspapers.”
            I did not believe him. Civilized countries nurture their libraries. Americans honor and preserve our history and editorials in print. Public libraries subscribe to newspapers, magazines, and journals for their patrons. We read, listen, and learn.
The Oxford Leader has since celebrated its 100th anniversary. Last Monday night in the Oxford Library, the artist of my first novel and I presented a book talk highlighting the influence of art in composing and illustrating The Mantle.
I’ve lost contact with my photographer friend. I’d like to tell him about the twenty-eight libraries I’ve visited the past several months—thirteen this past week. Would he appreciate my joy and trepidation when I open doors of the houses where I sow my story?
Eye to eye, I greet the librarian who takes my donation. I scan surrounding stacks. Thousands of stories wait for a warm hand to slide them off the shelf and turn a page so they may speak. I leave one more name, title, and voice to add to the fiction or “local author” collection.
Throughout my life, libraries and librarians have inspired hope and led me in paths to grow personally and professionally. From east to west side of the state, their breed and buildings personify a community’s history and values.
For instance, I began last week’s library tour with the Marguerite de Angeli, Ruth Hughes, and Capac branches in Lapeer County. I arrived in downtown Capac before the library opened at noon. I spied Mr. R’s eatery on a green, well-groomed corner.
I ordered a delicious, chunky chicken, cranberry salad croissant with fresh greens. Jodi Rawlins, founder and executive chef said, “Please spread the news.”
“I will. Is there a bakery in town?”
Jodi pointed to Main Street. “There’s Tracy B’s on the corner.”
First, I carried The Mantle to the library’s circulation desk and introduced myself. “Is Breezy available?”
“I’m Breezy,” said one of the staff and took my book. “Beautiful cover,” she said, touching the dust jacket. “Thank you for your donation.”
I studied the building’s interior before I left for Tracy B’s. With ten more library stops on my tour, I ordered a coffee and box of pastries. For the record, I recommend Tracy’s orange, cranberry scone.
Dear Reader, please spread the good news. Libraries and librarians are alive and well. And Mr. R’s and Tracy B’s are ideal homegrown destinations to quench your hunger and thirst.
Tell them Iris said “hello.”

Morning Routines

Cuddles, our tortoiseshell cat

I hear a meow in my bedroom doorway. Smaller than her Siamese sister, Cuddles has escaped the kitchen gate again while my husband sips his first cup of coffee.
     At 6:45 a.m., amber eyes and white whiskers plead a place on my bed.
     “Come on up.”
     In one leap, Cuddles commences to nuzzle the journal on my lap and pen in my hand. In constant motion, she claims my books, pillows, comforter, and pajamas with her scent. She seizes my fine-point Bic in her jaws. Our tortoiseshell kitten is plum happy to interrupt my morning devotions.
      She attacks my toes under the comforter, stops to lick herself, then pounces again. I recall hot summer mornings when my sisters and me would wake with Toby biting our toes through the sheet. There was no sleeping in with Toby around.
     A lifetime later, I’ve become accustomed to what my mother often referred to as her “routine.”
   After raising five daughters and spoiling sixteen grandchildren, Mom had earned the privilege to rise no earlier than eight o’clock. She brewed her coffee, fetched the newspaper, fed Socks, her cat, and settled into a new day at her own pace.
     What is an empty nest for, but to watch a kitten play? As my mother, I learned too late to leave dirty dishes and laundry behind to allow blissful moments like this with my children.
     Those nights I followed Mom upstairs to our guestroom come to mind. “Iris, don’t ever get old,” she’d say.
     “I’ll do my best.”
     “I love my five babies,” she’d say when I tucked her in.  
     “And we love you.”
     Mel brewed their coffee each morning. He offered Mom the paper before he drove off to work. She could no longer read or remember Socks to miss her companionship. The day came when she mistook hot chocolate for tea. Mind, my mother loved her chocolate.  
     I use my feet to fold the covers over Cuddles. She springs up and bites the comforter again. Lick. Lick. Lick. She paws and chews the ribbon ends that mark pages in my puddle of books
     Two weeks ago, to protect our favorite chicken chair, Mel and I hauled it from the kitchen up to the guest room and brought down the wooden rocker. Next morning, he opened the basement door for Mittens and Cuddles. They darted to the chicken chair corner and stopped short before the rocker.  We’d foiled their morning shredding routine.
     We may solve such simple problems easily enough. Brevity of life, however, is stamped within our flesh.
     At the sound of the sliding kitchen door, Cuddles jumps down from my bed. Mel’s finished his second cup of coffee. Soon, I’ll rise for a fried egg and sourdough toast breakfast.
     Lest our routines become ruts, the season changes. The gardens call and I must go weed and sow seed. We’ll see if Mittens and Cuddles follow—if they earn their keep.
    But for this moment, dear Reader, I reflect; glad Cuddles broke my morning routine and found her place on my bed.

To Watch Laurel Grow

Laurel, age nine, Lavender Festival 2006

Eight-year old Laurel had a job to do.
“Please keep Mandy in your room until our meeting ends,” Laurel’s mother said.
“Okay, Mom.” She bounced up the stairs, her dog following.
Maureen, then President of Detroit Working Writers, welcomed fellow board members to her kitchen table. From start to finish we conducted business without a bark from Laurel’s hostage. Once released, Laurel and Mandy wormed their way into my heart.
Because my ninth year was the most remarkable of my lifetime, I have a soft spot for children that age, or on the cusp. There’s a glimmer of innocence in their eye, a ray of doubt-defying faith.
And the child loved to laugh.
A year later, I embarked upon developing my lavender farm on our property and hosting a festival. “What may Laurel and I do to help?” Maureen asked.
For hours, they stamped gift bags and filled sachets with dried lavender buds, amongst other boring tasks. Laurel never complained. The following summer Maureen said, “Laurel and I would love to help again.”
I couldn’t believe how the girl and her sandy blonde hair had grown. She wore a long white dress and yellow sunhat, passing for a pre-teen. “Would you like to demonstrate how to harvest lavender for our U-pick guests?” I asked.
She smiled and nodded with wide eyes.
Laurel took her positive attitude into a blooming field where she stood all day, scissors in hand. A volunteer photographer captured her profile as she held lavender stems. The following season, I painted Laurel’s photo for the festival’s poster. In 2007, Laurel appeared on the cover of my poetry book titled Growing Lavender & Other Poems.
As a graduating senior in high school, Laurel returned to the farm with a professional photographer to pose for class pictures. Later that summer during her graduation picnic, Laurel’s laugh rang above all others.
To witness another rite of passage, Maureen drove us to Albion College last week for the Honors Convocation and Laurel’s senior thesis presentation. “She’s the outgoing president of the Chevron Chapter of Mortar Board, a national organization of scholars. She’s announcing the names of the incoming inductees,” Maureen said.
I thought my friend would burst her buttons.
As we walked down the aisle of Albion’s United Methodist Church, I recognized Laurel’s face, the one I studied and copied thirteen years ago. She sat on the platform with other presenters.
Dear Reader, it has been a pleasure to watch Laurel grow into an accomplished, responsible woman. To observe her honor ceremony and thesis presentation was an unexpected privilege.
Laurel plans to leave for Maine after graduation. She’ll work as an outdoor education leader, advancing from four years as a cabin counselor. Eventually, she hopes to use her psychology degree in some capacity.
The girl who took dog-sitting and lavender U-pick demos seriously will find her place in this wide world, I believe. For Laurel carries laughter and a ray of doubt-defying faith wherever she treads. And with a glimmer in her eye.

Easter Seasons

L to R: Patty, Libby, Linda, and Iris O'Brien, 25708 Wagner Street, Easter circa 1960
Every Easter time of my childhood, my mother walked into Sew-N-Save. She selected three patterns, and then slipped her fingers between the raw edges of fabric to find the perfect material for three dresses. Finally, she searched for notions and pushed her cart to the cutting table.
Back home, her Brother sewing machine hummed morning, noon, and night until she approved the final fittings for my sisters and me.
She completed our ensembles with hats, gloves, and shiny black patent shoes and white socks with lacy trim. Eventually, our baby sister followed our Easter parade, tallest to shortest, out the front door to shiver on the porch while Dad filmed home movies. Once released, we twirled around and round in our dresses and can-cans.
Year after year, our neighbors observed the O’Brien girls grow out of our crinolines into hose, heels, A-line skirts, and purses we held like Mom did hers. I imagine the Rivards across the street laughed at my tantrum the Sunday I refused to claim that awful, bowler straw hat.
Sadly, before the fifth O’Brien daughter could join our Easter parade, our parents divorced. Soon after, in birth order, the first three girls began our leaving and marrying. In not too distant a time and place, we commenced our sewing.
One visit to my mother-in-law’s home, AKA Grandma Rosie’s, she carried a portable sewing machine to our car. “To sew for the girls,” she said.
I followed my mother’s footsteps into Sew-N-Save, slid my fingers between raw edges and sewed my best. The only Easter we resided in Plum Borough, Pennsylvania, I dared sew matching dresses, coats, and bonnets for my youngest two. What frustration to line a coat! And Mom made it look easy, like she did every domestic art.
Grandma Rosie loved to mail Fanny Farmer chocolate bunnies and eggs to fill our daughters’ baskets. The girls were thrilled to consider Grandma Rosie their Easter Bunny.
My mother-in-law also shipped darling handmade personalized ceramic ducks for each daughter and filled the wagon they pull with foil-wrapped chocolates.

My mother, Sadie McCoy, Easter 2007
Every Easter more chocolates and ceramic creatures arrived. Grandma Rosie favored her jumbo bunny with one floppy ear and false eyelashes. I named her Harriet, English for “rules the home.”
In birth order, my girls eventually shed their anklets for pantyhose and heels—my turn to endure that constant, awkward leaving and letting go.
What seemed impossible, doctors diagnosed my resilient and gifted mother with Alzheimer’s. We cared for Mom in our home for her last Lenten season. Of all Grandma Rosie’s critters, she loved Harriett best.
It takes a ruler of the home to know another.
Dear Reader, while I returned Harriet and my daughter’s ducks to their perennial stations in celebration of this season, I pondered the source of my mother’s and mother-in-law’s labor of love for their children and grandchildren.  
The only explanation is their faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am witness. In their last breath, He was their hope, joy, and strength.
We can trust the one who died for us.

Sustenance Worth the Cost

I load $164 worth of groceries into my car. I’ll take Shepherd’s Pie  to pass for my Monday night writing group, and the hens will gobble up our kitchen scraps. Otherwise, my husband and I will consume the bulk of this bounty in one week.
         How has this exorbitant cost and consumption happened the past forty years? In the 1980’s, I fed our growing family of five on $93 every two weeks
         Thank God for pantry stretchers like spaghetti, salmon patties, and tuna noodle casserole. I plated our meals from the stove to insure everyone received a fair share. With the jar under my guard, one batch of chocolate chip cookies lasted five days for four lunches.
         But $164 for two of us? For one week?
         Looking for soothing music, I tune in to 90.9 FM. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue soars as I turn north onto Rochester Road. I see my father standing by his turntable, punctuating vivacious piano notes with his index finger.
        Mom would say Dad spent more money on his stereo and albums than food and shoes for his girls. I understand, for we witnessed Mom in the kitchen and living room doorway, dishrag in hand, all but on her knees, begging Dad for grocery money.
         Dad would say Mom could whip up something out of nothing, which we knew wasn’t a compliment to her culinary mastery, but his defense to spend his income however he pleased. Kentucky bourbon, for instance.
         Much older, wiser, and under the influence of Gershwin’s spell, I don’t resent my bunions. They’re not that troublesome. Food and shoes are perishable. Every week or so I must buy more groceries. Every year or so I must shop for shoes. What we moderns call the cost of living.
         Music, the purest language other than birdsong, abides forever. Gershwin knew that. I like to think my father did also.
         Halfway home, Dad and I suspend our breath. We anticipate Gershwin’s tender, light as a feather strings, the movement that lifts us into heavenly places. And when the violins begin, with my hands on the wheel, my father and I ascend together through the hallowed door of forgiveness.
         I turn onto our dirt road and navigate around potholes. Gershwin’s rhapsody concludes another triumphant march into the future. In the continuous circle of love and melody, Dad and Gershwin depart. They shall return again and again to comfort me until I leave this temporal world.
        With thankfulness, I restock our refrigerator and cupboards and prepare chicken stir-fry for dinner. Other than my black patent Easter shoes, I cannot remember one pair from my childhood. Yet, the clarinet’s sassy sliding first note of Rhapsody in Blue echoes in my mind.
        Dear Reader, my father never walked into a symphony hall or took a music lesson. Neither of us could foresee the dividends I would gain from the purchase of his album. I consider his investment a marvelous gift of God’s grace.
        I would say sustenance in the truest sense. Worth the cost.

Erna's Garden Wisdom

Erna hoes a lavender field, 2007 Yule Love It Lavender Festival
 Don’t fork or spade soil until it is dry enough for the clods to crumble when they fall.
The Gardener’s Bed-Book by Richardson Wright, 1929

This time of year I recall my friend Erna Hermann and her weeding methods.
     First, she collects her garden wardrobe: long-sleeved shirt, pants, gloves, hat, socks and shoes.
     Second, she takes up her Warren hoe.
     Third, she works with a smile and song, a sanguine disposition inherited from her father, a German born immigrant who obeyed his relative when he said, “Come to America!”
    When Erna left Romania at thirteen-years old, weeding had already settled deep into her bones. She’d learned how to till the earth with her father’s Warren hoe in his gardens and vineyards.
     After she married Wally and moved to Romeo, they planted vineyards and a vegetable garden. Orchards. Berry patches. Flowers. You name it, they grew it.
     Erna tilled their Romeo vineyard twice a year with her father’s hoe. The “entire” vineyard, she likes to emphasize. Now at seventy-something, there’s no thought of retiring her primary garden tool. Wally has the heart-shaped blade sharpened at the ready.
     “To me, Dad’s hoe is more versatile than any other. Maybe I prefer it because I’m left handed. This is the only spade I’ve ever used for the past fifty years,” Erna says.
     She compares the Warren hoe to the common grubbing or nursery hoe, curved blade of the cavex hoe, or the “action” variety with its push-and-pull feature, and finds them lacking in performance.
     Erna uses the sharp point to whack under the weed’s root to extract it from the soil. Then she drops the weed on the earth for the sun to dry out the roots. Unless the nuisance has gone to seed or rainfall is pending, she leaves it for natural compost. 
     “In a small garden, you can gather weeds, but not in a large plot or vineyard. Turn the blade sideways to skim the soil for aeration and leveling,” Erna says.
     She also uses the spade’s point to dig furrows for planting and weeding between narrow rows. There’s no doubt about it. Erna’s Warren hoe is the star of her gardens, lifting weeds like they were sprouted in soft butter. All other tools are replaceable.
     Yes, I imagine Erna’s gathering her garden paraphernalia about now. She’s walking and watching her yards, the sky, and listening to the birds and weather forecast.
    “The soil shouldn’t be too wet, but damp,” I hear her say. “You don’t want to till the day before a rainstorm because the weeds you’ve removed won’t have time to dry out and most will re-root.”
     Dear Reader, several mornings ago, I read Erna’s garden wisdom again in Richardson Wright’s The Gardener’s Bed-Book. Those two often agree when it comes to cultivation.     
     I see my yellow-checkered long-sleeved blouse in my closet. I hear Erna hum with pleasure, her father’s Warren hoe striking the earth—sweet and fruitful music, an overture of praise for another growing season.

Bluebird Watch

One of two birthday bluebird boxes

A gray morning breaks. I walk our land. Three and a half acres. Enough space for two septuagenarians to dwell in relative peace.
The scent of wet earth revives me—winter’s damage strewn high and low, near and far. I start toward the garden steps to upright three small urns.
No—keep focused. Hen chores first, then inspect our two new bluebird boxes.
My friend Joyce handcrafted them for my birthday. A few weeks ago in a foot of snow, we secured them six feet above ground on two different posts that help support our vegetable garden’s deer-proof fence.
“You can observe the bluebirds with your binoculars from the kitchen windows,” Joyce said.
Clever idea.
She claimed she heard a bluebird sing. I took her word for it.
Someday, I’ll know the name of all our songbirds. It’s a matter of respect and praise. And I’ll know my trees. Good thing they don’t have a voice to ID. Well, in a way they do. Firs speak a different tongue than maples when the wind blows.

I find happy hens and one messy house. One more thing to clean up, come a warm day.
As I round the coup’s corner, peeling paint on the back door and under the eaves catch my eye. Can’t postpone that project another season.
A Dawn Redwood tree close by calls my name. She models new lichen gems on her branches and stems. They’re perfectly symmetrical—green botanical wonders, “interwoven fungal filaments,” she boasts.
Lichen grows on a Dawn Redwood tree

I’m beside myself to stand again upon and amongst growing plants. I think the millionth time to change my vocation to one outdoors. Well, John Muir did both, I remind myself. Balance. Will I ever achieve it?
No activity around or in the bluebird boxes. The little entrance begs for company.
Sorry, I won’t fit.
On I go to three paw-paw trees. Bare sticks point upward with promise. ‘Would you hurry, please, before I lose my sense of taste for your mango-banana fruit?” I say.

A downspout extension is blown loose from the pavilion again. A puddle of rainwater sits at the corner, a perfect wood-rot scenario. With a few grunts and exclamations, I rejoin the two parts and return my derrière to my desk to write the day away.
By 3:30 p.m., I’m eager to walk when Mel drives us to the Polly Ann Trail in Leonard.
“You won’t need that heavy jacket,” he says.
“Maybe not, but I’ll need the hood if it rains.”
A drizzle becomes a light shower as we turn at Bordman Road and aim toward our car. Sweaty and exhilarated, I kick lichen-mottled debris from our path.
Nature’s pruning again.
Dear Reader, I’d forgotten how pleasant a soft rain falls upon my face when burning up with spring fever. Soon, the grasses, gardens, and trees will unfurl their jewels of every color.
Meanwhile, I stand at my kitchen window with binoculars, wait for blue wings. Their song in the spring sky.

Origin of Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie
My devotion to good food comes from my mother’s kitchen. Not flavor, nor nutrition alone, nor the refuge of our family table, more so her stable and flexible practice influences what I choose to cook.
Mom held the humble and unvarnished wood handle of her favorite knife as if it was the most important tool in the world. Out of the blue, she’d open her knife drawer, remove a round gadget, and slide the blade through it. With caution, she’d touch her thumb to the razor-sharp edge.
“Don’t ever touch this,” she’d say.
My eyes widened in awe of her skill and courage.
Mom used this knife for everything she sliced. She cut up a whole chicken for dinner one day and carve a pork roast the next. Swift and exact, she chopped onions, celery, and hardboiled eggs for her famous potato salad. That meant she’d soon be packing the car for a picnic.
But when it came to peeling potatoes, Mom picked up a paring knife, as she did for peeling and coring pie apples. That meant to expect company for dinner. Mom went through dozens of those stubby knives while she sharpened a smooth curve in the middle of her beloved blade.     
A meat and potatoes Irishman, Dad wouldn’t eat casseroles, stews, or soups. He preferred his beef, spuds, and carrots on a plate. With these culinary limitations, my sisters and I never tasted a tuna noodle or chicken and rice casserole while growing up.
But Dad couldn’t smother our mother’s epicurean spirit. On his bowling night, she simmered a pot of spaghetti sauce or baked a pan of lasagna.
A woman who couldn’t resist a new recipe, Mom took to Chop Suey when the dish appeared on the cuisine scene in the mid-sixties. My older sister’s high-school boyfriends (self-proclaimed “bums”) got wind of Mom’s latest homemade experiment and dropped in on Friday nights in hopes of a meal.
Fifty-three years later, long after my parents’ divorce and the demise and subsequent rise of Mom’s family table, I decide to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Shepherd’s Pie.
A casserole.
My husband peels potatoes because he will eat the lion’s share. I chop onion and garlic with my Chicago Cutlery and sauté the seasoning in ground beef (you may prefer lamb). In go salt, pepper, tomato paste, Worcestershire Sauce, white wine, ground thyme and rosemary. Peas. Corn. Chopped carrots.
I taste. The wine and spices make all the difference.
With my favorite wood spatula, I spread the meat mixture in a deep ovenproof dish. The aroma makes my salivary glands weep. My mother’s would too.
Then I dollop on Mel’s mashed potatoes—thick, creamy, buttery russets blended with an egg. I drop pads of butter on top.
How could Dad refuse this?
I slide the Shepherd’s Pie into the oven where it bakes while I wash and dry dishes and knives.
“Don’t ever touch this,” I hear Mom’s voice.
Dear Reader, how I wanted to! That meant someday I’d love to cook like my mother.

Brief and Indelible Season

My favorite Girls Scout cookie

I can’t remember selling Girl Scout cookies in fourth grade. Most of the brief season with my Brownie troop remains a mystery.
Martha Bradley comes to mind. Her mother led our meetings at their home. Mrs. Bradley dressed like a Girl Scout and smiled a lot. She led us in the Brownie Pledge.
            “On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.”
            Brownie meetings were fun like Friday night Pioneer Girls at church. We learned a lesson, sang songs, and ate a snack. I was amazed that mothers led Brownie troops throughout Michigan, the United States, and the world!
            I remember the day Mrs. Bradley demonstrated how to assemble potatoes, carrots, and beef chunks on aluminum foil to make a hobo pie. We shook on salt and pepper then folded the foil over and sealed it around the edges.
            We carried our hobo pies into her backyard to a pile of wood. There our leader taught us a fire safety lesson. Then she placed a grill above the flames where we cooked our food. We sang camp songs new to me. One was a verse about a smile in our pocket. No wonder Mrs. Bradley smiled so much.
            Another we sang in rounds. “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”
            At first taste, that one hobo pie of my lifetime fixed a steadfast hobo pie molecule in my food DNA. Just when I thought Brownie meetings and food couldn’t get any better, Mrs. Bradley doled out the fixings for S’mores.

           You mean graham crackers, a Hershey bar, and roasted marshmallows make something so delicious you want “some more?” The S’more molecule entwined the hobo pie’s.
            My second Brownie memory is a fine, delicate vision inside the former Ford Auditorium filled with hundreds of red cushioned seats. My troop sat in a row toward the back. An empty stage lay in front.
            The lights dimmed. Slow, beautiful music began and swelled in volume from some invisible place until it filled the spacious high ceiling. My skin tingled.
            Magically, ballerinas appeared in fluffy short skirts. One after another, they danced onto the stage in a straight line. On their toes! Their arms and legs moved the same way like someone pulled a cord attached to them. I could’ve cried when the lights went on and Mrs. Bradley said, “Time to go.”
            Dear Reader, come March, when I have several boxes of Girl Scout cookies stashed in our freezer, I pour hot cups of tea and melt Thin Mints in my mouth. I celebrate my indelible Brownie lessons and adventures. The hobo pie and S’more. A blazing bonfire and beautiful ballet.
            I hum the silver and gold song, take to heart the good advice for friendships fallen upon stony ground. On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.