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February 9, 2011

Euchre and Neptune

by Kristina Amelong 

(PART 3 of Kristina's personal wellness story entitled "Golden Arches")

Perhaps it was the smell of the cigarette smoke enveloping me, or maybe it was the way the sunshine fell on my Calvin Klein jeans, or possibly it was the voice of Jan, my brother’s best friend’s mom, over the NPR host discussing the recent assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, but for a moment, as we drove away from the home I lived in with my mother and my brother, drove away from the crumpled bicycle, drove away from the fading lilac blossoms, I found myself welling up with a tremendous grief, a grief that wasn’t familiar, a grief that seemed as if it had determined to make itself a home within my body for a very long time.

“Buckle up, Kris.”

I pulled the belt over my waist, clicking it in place just as Prince, my gray cat, sauntered across the road, causing Jan to swerve ever so slightly.

We slipped through a stop sign at Forster and Troy; we passed the PDQ gas station, where a woman in a Green Bay Packers T-shirt put gas in her light blue Lincoln Town Car; we ran a very orange light at Northport and Sherman. We simply kept going forward: passing my McDonald’s, passing Noah’s Ark Pet Center, passing Kappel’s Clock Shop, passing Tenney Park Locks, and passing James Madison Park.

As Jan’s hand found itself on my knee, I found myself thinking back to church on Easter Sunday some time the month before. White lilies graced the altar. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Church was over; I was now looking forward to Easter lunch at my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm.

“Mom, mom, can Kenny and I go with Uncle Neal? He wants to take us to feed the calves, real quick, before lunch,” my brother Jay asked.

My mom opened her black clutch, looking for car keys. “Sure. Make sure you aren’t late.”

“Thanks, mom. We won’t be,” Jay replied, kissing her cheek while stealing a piece of gum from her open clutch.

“Hey, give that back. That’s my last piece!” But he was already out the broad church doors.

After a lingering lunch of ham, homemade bread rolls, green beans with bacon, red Jell-O with mini marshmallows, corn from the cob that had been frozen last summer, lots of butter, fresh milk from the Holstein cows in the barn, and Aunt Ruth’s poppy seed cake, we rearranged the tables in the dining room for our after-meal staple: the euchre tournament.

Mom and all of her sisters had learned to play euchre, once the national trick-taking card game, before they had learned to read. For all of us, there were few greater joys than being good at this game -- the pleasure, the tactics, the courage, the antagonism.

My mom and Jay were partners against my cousin Kenny and me. Mom had dealt. Turned up in front of her on the table lay the ace of spades.

Kenny, being to the left of the dealer, chose to pass his bid.

“Pick it up,” ordered Jay to my mom. “I’ll go alone.”

“Alone? You sure about that?” she teased him.

“Yup. Spades is trump and I’m going alone.”

Kenny led with the ace of diamonds. Jay trumped his ace with the 9 of spades. I had to follow suit with the 10 of diamonds.

“Awesome!” Jay exclaimed as he jumped out of his chair and spun in a circle. Still standing, he slowly, one by one, laid down his remaining four cards, a perfect loner hand: jack of spades, jack of clubs, king of spades, queen of spades. “There ain’t nothing better!”

“Four points for the bad guys,” I glowered mischievously.

After Jay and my mom whomped Kenny and me three games in a row, it was time for my family of three to traverse the roads back to our home in Madison. As the red sun was setting behind the hills of Ithaca, Wisconsin, Jay, my mom, and I entered the mudroom -- also known as the coatroom, as my uncle’s insurance office, as my aunt’s farm office, as the gallery for family photos. As we pulled on our coats and said our good-byes, we also scanned those photos, taking in the history of our extended family yet another time. To the right of the exit door hung a photo of my aunt and uncle’s farm and its surrounding countryside. In the top right corner of the photo was a country graveyard: Neptune Cemetery, just south of the farm land, just south of Ithaca, lying on the northeast corner of Highway 58 and Jaquish Hollow Road.

My mom’s hand reached for the doorknob as Jay pointed to the photo. “Mom, when I die, I want to be buried there.”


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