Category Archives: Sara Etgen-Baker

November 6 – Ode to My Gardening Gloves

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Alas, beautiful gardening gloves, I knew you well. I remember the early March day I opened the package and slipped you onto my hands. At first, you were a bit stiff and uncomfortable; but over time you softened and became my weekly companion, pulling weeds, cutting flowers, and guiding the nozzle on the water hose that allowed our foliage to flourish even during the hot summer months.

You’ve faded from our days together in the sun; the bubble grippers on your fingers are worn, and your fingers are tattered and torn and worse for the wear. I will surely miss you as I will miss the warm, languid summer days we shared together.

Sadly, I’ll soon cover my hands with my woolen mittens and furry gloves. But you’ll hold a special place in my heart as I stand on my front porch shivering and yearning for next spring’s arrival. And inside my desk drawer, I’ve placed my new pair of gardening gloves already purchased for next spring.

Each morning when I open my desk drawer, I’ll slip them onto my hands and say, “Spring’s coming. Spring’s coming.”

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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October 26 – Memories and Ghosts

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In the two days since my arrival, Granddad and I exchanged only a few predictable, cursory words.

“Here’s your cereal; no milk, right?”

“Right, Granddad. Thanks.”

“You sleep okay?”

Although his silent house had kept me awake, I respectfully replied, “Yes sir. I did,” followed by, “How ‘bout you?”

Granddad Stainbrook

“I’m old: I never sleep well,” he grumbled.  “Just too many memories and ghosts.”The house became still as we struggled with what to say to one another. So we ate breakfast in silence; a silence so thick I could feel it drape around me like an old shawl. I pulled it against me as I plopped down into my grandmother’s chair suddenly aware of something else in the house, something different; a faint rustling, a soft presence of some sort. I didn’t know what it was.

Perhaps it was the lilt of Granny’s lavender perfume that lingered in the rich tapestry fabric, stirring memories of when I sat in her lap reading a book or sharing hot cocoa. Perhaps it was Granny herself. I closed my eyes and remembered that the house was full of noise and laughter when Granny was alive.

Now, though, the house seemed empty, lifeless, and unnervingly silent. I was young and impatient and needed to shatter the silence and to understand why Mother had sent me to visit my grandfather. I just couldn’t make any sense out of her cryptic parting words: “Remember, this visit isn’t about you.”

Granddad glanced up from reading his morning newspaper. “Your grandmother loved sitting in that chair and watching her grandchildren.”

“I loved sitting in Granny’s lap when she sat in this chair.” I watched his face. “It still smells like her.”

“Yes, it does.” He adjusted his glasses. “Her memory keeps me awake at night.”

“The silence at night frightens me and keeps me awake.” I choked back the tears.

He slowly raised one eyebrow and fumbled for words. “Why…uh…uh…why are you afraid of the silence?”

“Because the silence just makes me miss her more.”

Granny Helen Morain Stainbrook

“I miss her too.” He peered over his glasses. “In the silence, I hear her voice and feel her spirit rustling through the house. In that silence, I don’t miss her as much.” His chin trembled and his voice cracked. “I’m terribly afraid I’ll lose her forever if I don’t keep the house silent.” After another moment’s silence he mumbled, “Like memories and ghosts, she quietly lives in the silent shadows of both of our lives.”

“You’re right, Granddad,” were the only words I could muster.

We hugged one another; Granddad shuffled off to his bedroom. Nothing more need be said.

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.

October 1 – A Fading Memory

by Sara Etgen-Baker

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Veneratio

It was a perfect autumn day. Far enough from summer to have lost the heat and not close enough to winter to have that bite of cold. I slipped into a lightweight jacket and stepped outside, smelling the sweet air that was all around me. The rising sun had dyed the sky purple and gold; the rain had stopped, and the clouds had disappeared. But there was a chill in the post-dawn air reminding me that winter wasn’t far away. I walked down the street, and the crisp autumn breeze welcomed me like an old friend.

I could almost see the wind, for it seemed to move everything slightly like it was in control of the whole earth. Crisp copper leaves fell, and I watched them fall off the trees that gently swayed in the wind. Ahead of me, leaves tumbled from weary branches, twisting and rocking as they fell through the almost still air.

A single golden leaf caught my attention as it pirouetted down an invisible spiral breeze, spinning through the air as it let itself be carried down. It shook slightly as if it could’ve been whisked away any second by the grip of an icy wind. But it kept floating down the twirling course, blowing past my face and landing lightly on the ground. It was so delicate; I wanted to reach down and pick it up and hold it close to my heart, smoothing out any creases. But something told me that it belonged here, this corpse of what was once summer.

I meandered along the promenade, torn between keeping my eyes high to watch for falling leaves dancing their way to the carpeted ground or looking down to spy on the crunchy ones. Suddenly, the wind shifted to the north, and my hair whipped into my eyes carried by the now brisk autumn breeze. Wind like this amazes me with its chilly blend of cinnamon and warm spices, carried by whispers of comforting winter fires yet to come.

Leaves continued raining down; “lively blends of red and orange softened the hard edges of the coming cold season into a picturesque transition. Although the sun is still bright, still brilliant in the sky, it is cooler now even on the days that lack clouds. I shivered deep inside thinking about how autumn days fall by as fast as the leaves from the trees. The sun rises and sets as if on fast-forward as if there is some divine hurry to reach winter.

Soon every bough will be only brown, and the fiery colors they brought us will dim to a fading memory. But I will remember autumn, grateful that she showed me how beautiful it is to let things go.

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.

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.

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.