Category Archives: Sara Etgen-Baker

September 9 – Catching Lightning Bugs

by Sara Etgen-Baker

When I was a little girl, Granddad and I spent many summer evenings together sipping lemonade and swinging back and forth on his metal porch glider. On one such evening, I sat with him; and we watched the sun sink lower in the Missouri sky, slowly draining away the light of day. The trees gradually became silhouettes against a newly silver sky, its blue hue all but gone until dawn. Their branches gently swayed in the wind, and the first sound of the nocturnal creatures came; chirping crickets, buzzing mosquitoes, a hooting owl, and a skittering rabbit taking cover in the hedgerow. Soon it grew dark, and a closeness and silence enveloped us.

Out of nowhere, a mysterious yellow twinkling appeared in the night, quick flickers and crackles of incandescent light too fast for the naked eye. The soft warm glow of lightning bugs sliced through the darkness, dipping beneath the black walnut trees. I was enchanted and imagined Granddad and I had discovered the lair of a great magician.

“Want to catch lightning bugs?” Granddad asked, a smile spreading over his face.

“Capture that magic?” My voice quivered with excitement. “Can it be done?”

Granddad looked at my face; jumped out of the swing; and fetched a Mason jar from his work shed, its lid pierced with holes. We walked barefoot into the darkness, following the flickering lights. I ran toward them hoping to capture them, but in my eagerness, they escaped. Granddad cupped his hands and lunged.

“Look!” he said, making a peephole into his hand. With my face pressed against his thumbs, I caught my first close-up glimpse of a firefly.

The jar grew full; and when Granddad tucked me in that night, he placed it beside my bed. The glow of the lightning bugs mesmerized me; and long after everyone else was asleep, I was still wide awake watching the golden lights flare in the darkness.

Now, so many years later, I’ve forgotten most of my childhood dolls and toys. But the night Granddad and I caught lightning bugs and made them into a nightlight is forever imprinted in me. And I’m reminded that there’s so much ordinary magic dancing around the backyard.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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August 31 – Runt of the Litter

By Sara Etgen-Baker

Eddie, Sara, Fritz Von Etgen, and Dave – The Etgen Family

“Hilda’s in labor!” yelled Mr. Davis. I leaped off the porch, ran next door, and watched Hilda strain as five milk-chocolate-colored Dachshunds slowly wriggled their way from her belly. The first was a runt who immediately captured my heart. I giggled, watching it and the other four bundles of energy squirming beneath Hilda’s tummy, all begging for lunch at the same time. But the magical moment ended when Hilda nudged her runt puppy away. The runt inched his way back, but she shoved him away, pouncing on his tiny back and breaking his tail.

“She’s hurting him!” I screeched. “Make her stop!”

Mr. Davis scooped up the injured pup and placed him in my hands. “Run, kiddo. Get a shoebox and put that pup in it!”

I darted inside, gingerly holding the wounded pup in my hands; found a shoebox; placed the runt in it, and watched it stretch its tiny body ever so slightly.

“Hilda’s mean, Mr. Davis! Why would a mama dog hurt her own puppy?”
“Kiddo, Hilda’s not mean; her instinct tells her that her puppy’s too small to survive; she loves her pup and believes killing it is the loving thing to do.” Mr. Davis patted me on the back. “Kiddo, you got a doll blanket and baby bottle back home?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go get ‘em. We’ll save ‘dis pup.”

I dashed home and found the two items. We wrapped the runt in the blanket; placed it in the shoebox; heated some milk; added Karo syrup to it; and poured the mixture into the baby bottle. The runt sucked on it, wiggling contentedly. I caressed its tiny body with my fingers; he fell asleep; serene and out of harm’s way.

“Kiddo, many runts die ‘fore they ever open their eyes. If’n we can keep this runt alive till his eyes open, he’ll prob’ly survive. If so, you can have him.

So for fourteen days, we handfed him until his eyes opened. I named him Fritz and took him home. Slowly, the runt developed into a high-spirited, mischievous, loving Dachshund with a slightly broken tail. We were constant companions, spending time together on the back porch where he licked my face and barked at anything or anyone just to protect me. Later, Fritz became my confidant; the one with whom I shared my thoughts and fears.

Fritz was primarily an outside dog, occasionally sneaking inside the house through the open door; I chased him around the house trying to catch him. But Fritz was half-a-dog high and a dog-and-a-half long with short, stubby legs and tiny feet; often running down the hallway and sliding out of control with the back of him always going in front of him.

For twelve years Fritz graced my life protecting me, showering with doxie kisses, entertaining me with his shenanigans, and showing me how to live exuberantly. As he grew old and achy, he lived optimistically showing me how to face adversity. Mostly, though, he taught me about friendship and loyalty.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

August 13 – Summer Punch

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The home I grew up in was a two-bedroom, one-bath cracker box house. Minus the garage, it was only about 950 square feet. Like most post-war homes, ours didn’t have any air-conditioning. During the summer, Mother opened the windows for circulation and summertime heat relief.

Most summers, our neighborhood wilted under a hard Texas sky, sweltering in temperatures that stayed fixed in the mid-to-upper nineties. The cloudless sky was painfully bright whether I looked up at the burning sun or down at its reflection on the concrete pavement. The birds were silent; the grass stood still as if it was too hot to move. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar. At night there was very little relief from the heat; our pajamas and nighties stuck clammily to our damp skin.

Most summer days, Mother sat inside in her easy chair sipping on fruit punch and dabbing at her brow with a wet hand towel she kept in the fridge for that purpose. My brothers and I escaped the oppressive heat inside the house and played outside on our shaded front porch. My brothers played war games with their green, plastic Army men; and I played jacks. One particular summer day while playing jacks, my ball bounced out of control striking down my brothers’ Army men who were in the midst of a critical battle.

“Look what you did, you stupid girl!” my older brother shouted, throwing my ball and striking me in the face.

“I’m not stupid! Take it back!” I sprang from my sitting position, knocking over all the green Army men.

“Look what you’ve done!” he yelled as he stood up and glared at me.

“I hate you!” I said, punching his shoulder.

“I hate you MORE!” he said, returning my punch. My younger brother joined in the ruckus. The three of us slapped at each other, striking one another’s arms and legs. Words were exchanged. Within a few short minutes, Mother flung open the screen door and marched onto the front porch.

“Stop it right now!” she hollered. “I’ve had enough of your bickerin’ and fightin’.” Mother raised her arms and lightly clenched her hands into fists. “On the count of three, I’ll start punching. May the best man win! Ready? One…two…three!”

She threw her fists in our direction, packing quite a punch as she struck our shoulders and arms. We froze in place, unable to defend ourselves against our otherwise mild-mannered Mother; the same mother who rarely raised her voice and who never even spanked her children. We ran off the porch, convinced Mother had gone stark-raving mad! Mother wasn’t crazy, of course. The ever-present heat inside the walls of the tiny house had closed in around her, short-wiring her temperament.

Although my home is air-conditioned and bigger than Mother’s, like her, my temperament short-wires during August as summer’s relentless heat bears down on me. Walls close in; my patience runs thin, and I’m more easily agitated. So, I pour myself a glass of summer punch; sit down in an easy chair, and wipe my brow with a cooling rag, resisting the urge to snap or pick a fight with those around me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

July 12 – Ties To The Past

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The author wears her own apron, created in 1965.

My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.

Grammy’s Tulip Apron

All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.

Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.

At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.

Mother’s Holiday Apron

There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.

But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

June 28 – Tending Roses

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Unpruned Rose BushI strolled through our backyard, the footpath sparkling and crunching like sugar underfoot.  Under December’s dove gray sky, the colors of my world donned their winter coats, each hue darker and richer than before. The flowers in my garden slept, and the bare branches of the oak trees showed their lofty arms. A hushed silence enveloped me; and the crisp, cold air brought me right into the now. Oh, no! Winter’s here!  I sighed and scurried inside.

January arrived bringing weeks of sunless harsh days. Snow and ice laid like a glistening white sheet over the backyard, and winter’s dreariness settled over me. I often stood on the back porch, the frigid air penetrating my skin and chilling me to the bone. I shivered and felt myself being silently drawn by the strange pull of something; an undefinable, almost mysterious stirring or yearning in my soul.  I dismissed my feeling as the one I typically get in winter, the one that longs for spring. Yet part of me sensed there was more to this yearning.

Winter was unbearably long; and I grew discontent, not just with the winter weather, but with myself. By late February, the first signs of spring grew boldly as if commanding warm weather to come even faster. I so wanted the flowers to emerge and could almost smell the promise of their fragrance. I slipped into my gardening boots and trampled across the backyard where I found my husband pruning a rose bush along the fence. I watched him snip and clip until the bush was nothing but a stump of nubs and limbs.

“Do you think you’ve overdone it, Bill?” I asked. “Can anything possibly bloom out of this?” I found myself staring at it with a twinge of sadness and a sudden sense of kinship.

“Pruning removes the dead wood and actually encourages new growth,” he replied confidently. “Pruning shapes the rose plant and gives it a new direction.”

Can that possibly happen in my life? Can pruning and cutting away the old bring an unfurling of newness in me? I don’t know. I’m discontent, but I don’t know if I want to grow back any differently.

“Do you suppose that sort of thing happens to people?” I asked, unaware I’d spoken the thought out loud.

“Why not?” he said. “Something completely new can happen to you.”His remark stirred something inside me. There it was again; in the midst of springtime’s promise was that mysterious, unsettled feeling I’d felt during the depth of winter.  What if things that mattered before no longer matter to me, and the things that never mattered suddenly do? What if I become different; so different that no one recognizes me? How will my life change?

As the days of spring peeled away, I recognized the need to tend to my rose garden and do some pruning, shaping, and letting go. Like the unfurling of spring’s rose petals, I needed to open myself up to a newness I couldn’t always control.

 

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

June 17 – Gone Fishin’

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Early one Saturday morning when I was about ten, Father gently nudged me from a deep slumber. “Time to go fishin’, Sweetie.”

Reluctantly I uncovered my face; blinked; closed my eyes, and blinked again. I sat up, stretched my arms above my head; and yawned, remembering how I’d pleaded with him the night before.

“May I go with you, pleeeease Daddy?” I begged.

Taking me wasn’t easy, for I was squeamish around worms and water. But I’d tolerate almost anything just to have some alone time with Father.

“But Daddy, it’s dark outside. Aren’t the fish sleeping?”

“They’ll be awake soon enough. Get a move on!”

He loaded me and his fishing gear into his pickup truck and drove to the nearest lake where at the crack of dawn he launched his flat bottom boat, the Nini-Poo, into the water. It was a sultry, windless August morning; and the lake, flat as any mirror, lay before us without a single ripple as if time itself had been frozen. From the tall pines around the edge came not a sound, no movement of branches and no birds calling.

Father tugged on the choke of his outboard motor and pulled on the starter rope three times before the engine sputtered into action. We skittered across the lake, shattering the lake’s glassy appearance. Once we reached an isolated cove, Father turned off the ignition, letting the boat come to a gentle stop. He reached under his seat; fetched his bucket of worms; nabbed one of the larger ones; and drove the hook into the thicker end. He cast my live worm into the water and handed me my cane pole.

“Watch the bobber,” he said, his finger pointing to the water. “When a fish nibbles, let him have a taste, then pull.”

“Okay, Daddy. I will.”

He baited his own hook and cast his line into the water; we sat and fished for hours. From the pine trees around the lake’s edge came nary a sound, only the sound of my father’s breathing. For a moment I forgot to watch my pole. The end splattered into the water, sending dragonflies off their lily pads. “Whoa, watch your fishing pole!” he said, reaching over to steady the cane pole.

Father sat as still as the pines as if time were suspended and our minutes were as countless as summer strawberries. “Daddy,” I rested my cheek against his arm, “are you SURE there’s fish in this cove?” He chuckled and kissed me on the cheek.

Suddenly, the bobber zinged under the water. “It’s a whopper!” he cried. I leaned back into his arms; we pulled together. Breaking through the water, erupting into the glimmer of the morning light, burst the biggest fish I’d ever seen. Father unhooked the shimmering fish. I held my breath, and Father beamed. Neither of us spoke; we just stared at one another. The gift of that afternoon spent with Father was one of the best presents I ever got.

The Author and her Dad – 1999

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

May 13 – Shaping Words

By Sara Etgen-Baker

winifred christine stainbrook etgen

Winifred Christine Stainbrook-Etgen

Before giving birth, Mother undoubtedly read child development books and baby-proofed her house. But no one could tell her what to anticipate. No one could tell her that the little girl she’d soon birth would come with a personality all her own and it would often run in direct opposition to her own.

I guess what got me thinking about Mother was a Mother’s Day keepsake the six-year-old me prepared for her in school. Our teacher mimeographed pictures for us to color; I selected the rose picture and colored the roses red because Mother’s favorite flower was red roses. When I ran across the keepsake in one of my scrapbooks, my mind was flooded with memories of Mother.

I remember the summer I picked plums with her from the tree beside our house and made plum jelly. I remember walking with her to the nearby corner store, buying a package of M&Ms, and washing them down with a diet Dr. Pepper. I remember her making me peanut butter sandwiches; combing the tangles out of my wispy, fine, hair; and making me wear the itchy, frilly dresses that she made. I remember the five-year-old me sitting on her lap while she read me books. The older me remembers her reading the dictionary to me every night.

“Words are powerful,” she repeatedly said. “Learn their meanings, how to spell them, and how to use them properly.” The teenage me half-heartedly listened as she impressed upon me, “Choose your words carefully and kindly when conversing with others.”

Mothers Day Card FrontFrom kindergarten on, she dropped me off at school. As she drove away, she rolled down the window and said, “Remember, you’re smart. You’ll do well in school.” Whenever I wrote a paper for any class, she always read it before I turned it in. Rather than offering criticism, she asked, “Is this your best effort?” Even now, her words echo in my mind whenever I’m critiquing or editing my own writing. Her methodology gave me confidence by teaching me to measure my own abilities and efforts from an internal standard and compass.

Mothers Day Card Inside

I thank Mother for her shaping words; words that made a difference. There have been those times in my professional career and personal life when I felt stretched beyond my ability. But I would always hear her gentle voice telling a younger me, “You’re smart; you can do whatever you need or choose to do.” Her words pushed me beyond where I might have been tempted to stop.

The much older version of me stares into the eyes of the reckless, demanding, know-it-all child I was; it must’ve been difficult to be my mother, for my personality and hers clashed. Frequently, I think about the words I said and wish I could take them back. I was unbelievably blessed with the quintessential mother. Were Mother still alive, I’d thank her for the words she gave me and the non-stop encouragement she administered; encouragement that’s sustained me my entire life.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.