Essays

Walk This Way

SO I HAVE this immobilizing boot thing stuck to my foot. Apparently, there are tendons in my feet, and I have annoyed mine. Or, there’s a fracture and I stressed it. Either way, my left foot is now encased in plastic and I drag it around with me wherever I go. I figured out that I can...

Nettleton to Squirrels: Drop Dead

TRUE STORY.  I heard a scrabbling noise at the back door a few mornings ago. I figured it was my husband trying to carry his 6-foot-tall string bass into the house after orchestra rehearsal but not having enough hands to hold onto the bass, fish out his house keys, and turn the knob. So I...

With Sticks and Stones

TWO DAYS BEFORE SEPT. 11, I visited one of my favorite Minnesota small towns and annual festivals. I went to Northfield for the Defeat of Jesse James Days. This year was the 125th anniversary of the fateful day when members of the James-Younger gang rode across the bridge into town. The people of Northfield take...

The Ties That Bind

HOMEMADE PASTE. The taste in my mouth on Valentine’s Day is not Godiva chocolate, but the humble flour-and-water adhesive my mother concocted in the kitchen each February. My sisters and I would gather around the kitchen table with pink and red construction paper, white paper doilies, and boxes of those hard-as-cement conversation heart candies. Then...

Out Here by the Lake

OUT HERE BY THE LAKE it is black, blackest in the places where the sky and water meet and blend and blur into a single, smudged, and near unending charcoal line, drawn inexpertly and redrawn over and over itself. Out here by the lake the stones grind to rock and then to sand and on...

Luck of the Draw

NO SOONER has the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie been served than we begin the exalted family ritual: the drawing of the names. There’s a certain historic economic sense to this in a family of six siblings. When we were all little girls, it was hard to make that $1.25 allowance stretch five ways, so we...

Ovations from the Stage

THERE IS A STORY told about Pablo Neruda. In a concert reading in his later years, the Chilean poet stumbled while reciting a poem and lost track of the words. He could be forgiven; the man produced so many hundreds of poems that by the time he was an old man in the 1970s,...

Burst Bubbles

SITTING IN THE ORPHEUM watching Riverdance, the shuffle-shuffle-ball-change suddenly came back to me. A 30-year-old seed of regret, along with a couple of tricky tap combinations, bubbled to the surface of my consciousness. It could have been me up on that stage. I, too, could have tapped my way across the country with handsome Irishmen....

Asking God to Sign In

AS SECOND GRADERS at St. Raphael’s Elementary School, we had to leave room on our chairs for guardian angels. Sister Emerita patrolled the aisles, prodding our 8-year-old bottoms with her yardstick, scootching us over another half inch. Apparently guardian angels had big tushes. While Sister paced the rows of desks, I peered into the air...