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Issue 19

Nunc Dimittis

Helen's House

On old house.


I find it funny that the tropes of the Catholic schoolmarm were in my childhood manifested in a Dutch Reformed farm wife: Helen. She ruled with a wooden spoon the dozens of children entrusted to her care. We all feared and loved her. As is the case with many religious sisters, it was a mystery how old she was. Was she ninety? Fifty? I never knew. Her light orange, pink-tinted hair and stern squared jaw never gave it away. She lived a life of celibacy after she was widowed and devoted her life to caring for others’ children. She fed an army every day with pucks of hamburger, mountains of homemade mashed potatoes (the best I’ve ever had), rolls drowning in butter, red Jell-O dotted with sliced banana, and ears upon ears of corn on the cob. Sometimes bologna sandwiches were served as a side.

She fed us like farm hands, and she would often put us to work. After dinner, Helen would give orders to go “tame the cats.” She sent us out uniformed in oven mitts and thick aprons to the barn or the milk house or the old grain bin where we would corner the feral felines that kept multiplying on her acreage. We drew out our plans in the sand with sticks to illustrate how one contingent should wait by the front door, ready to seize any creature that bolted out of the barn, while the others went around back to do the same and yet another squadron would be sent into the fray to rustle the hay bales and lure the scaredy-cats out of hiding. It worked. Once the wild animals were captured, we held them tightly until they stopped biting and scratching. It was a characteristically Helen-istic approach, if you will. We very suddenly and forcefully required these creatures to respect us, and then naturally they accepted and returned our love. Thereafter, they were our pets.

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About the author

Mattie Vennerstrom

Mattie Vennerstrom is a Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow at the Catholic University of America currently writing her dissertation and raising her family from Denver.

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