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Creatures of habit (02/07/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Iím just fine; itís my body thatís turned to marshmallows. I sometimes think Iíd like to go back to the world of movers and shakers. I miss those outrageous days and nights on the go. At the same time, I mourn my good health, left behind with miles traveled.

Winter motions to my free spirit, through latched, long-faced windows. Its barren branches nod, laden with the last plenteous snowfall. I feel the urge to retrieve bulky gear from storage and to venture outdoors, making fresh boot tracks leading to our red maples and lone ash, where I can, once again, replenish bird feeders.

Afterwards, thawed and cleansed by steeped Earl Grey Tea, I could sit idly inside, free of guilt, wrapped in the fleece blanket my daughter-in-law Christie made for me, watching the frenzy of avian colors and familiar antics at the feeders. But this year there are no feeders, only occasional sightings of creatures on the move: chickadees, jays, cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, purple finch, and rarely a woodpecker.

One by one, they pause deftly on the deck railing or scrunch atop skinny limbs of the ash, as if confused by the absence of the hearty meal that was once plenteous there. Our feathered guests continue to return to the same feeding stations and watering holes (winterized yard fountains) season after season. Perish the thought that any of these scavengers may have used up their frequent flyer miles only to find their meal reservations rudely canceled.

For slow-moving humans, winter is more like hibernation than a vibrant season. Thatís not exactly a downer. Now, as when I was still working, laboring over figures on bank statements and computer business programs, winterís wiles draw me into a comatose reverie, a time to wind down, to rest, to rejuvenate the bond of family togetherness over the holidays, and to store up ďfood for thoughtĒ for springtime. Itís become a daily prayer.

Way back home, on Fremont Street, the second door from the twelve-grade Lewiston school, we had a brief walk to school in every kind of weather. No whiny stories from us Lewis kids about trudging for miles, through heaping snow, in frigid 30-mile-anĖhour winds. It was one hardship from our ďgood ole daysĒ that we couldnít burden our kids and grandkids with.

It was my dadís nature to be thoughtful, to help out whenever and wherever he could. Elderly neighbors lived on either side of us the whole time we resided there. To me, that meant three lawns to mow, three snow-filled sidewalks to shovel, and accepting no money for our hard work. The Hvorka sisters, Mary and Frances, and their brother Ed, had peculiar ways and spoke in broken English.

Their grassless backyard, spooky with towering piles of this and that and various relics resembling tools, instigated many haunting games of Flash Gordon and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. In time, we would work our way to the rickety door, hanging by one hinge on Edís dingy workshop. In the flashing glow of his soldering iron, the round as a pumpkin, rutty face of a giant of a man, in metal-stained, bib overalls, climaxed our greatest adventures of all!

When Mary Hvorka broke her leg, they borrowed our Radio Flyer wagon, and Ed pulled her downtown to get groceries. She cackled, from her near-toothless face, all the way down Fremont Street. Following a catastrophic tornado in St Charles, Dad loaded the three of them into his prized Ford Fairlane, crushing us kids in cramped quarters. We viewed the stormís aftermath in silent awe. It was a sad sight Ė too close to home.

Iím touched that Dad, gone 39 years now, was the unselfish creature of habit that he was. The burdens he silently carried on a bad back didnít keep him from going the extra mile for others.

We humans are creatures of habit; by the time we appreciate the virtues of loved ones in our lives, itís often too late to tell them how much they mean to us. Somehow, I have a feeling that Dad knows...that heís very much among the living.

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.  


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