When I asked Nick yesterday

Aug 17, 2001

When I asked Nick yesterday if he’s still interested in becoming a firefighter, he answered, “Yes, more than ever.” He’d just returned from three days of range fire patrol, part of his volunteer fire fighting duties in Nevada. Fires are in the news this week, as Nevada, Washington and Oregon fight numerous blazes. Nick joined a couple of guys to patrol the back lines of a fire, spraying smoldering tree stumps to make sure they didn’t reignite. He slept in a sleeping bag on the grass, just like Zane Grey would. One day, Nick glanced at his buddy’s boot to see a orange scorpion crawling near the pant leg. At Nick’s warning, the guy flailed his leg, kicking the scorpion right at Nick. The scorpion bounced off Nick’s chest, and I’m sure Nick was dancing for a few moments there.

Matt returned to DeKalb this week to begin his second year at Northern Illinois University. During his summer stay in Honolulu, he became a musician; Matt bought a ukulele, and Dad then paid for lessons with one of the Ka’au Crater Boys, a local Hawaiian band. Matt’s been strumming since, trying to learn the songs of Israel Kamakawiwoole, the gentle giant of Hawaiian music. Perhaps when the Manassas Grass band reunites, Matt can join. How would a ukulele sound together with guitar, banjo and mandolin?

My mother is on the move again. Her stint as principal at St. Therese school in Aurora, Illinois finished when her contract wasn’t renewed (cheaper to have a nun be principal, you know). So mom looked far and near for a new challenge, and found a principal’s position in Sturgis, Michigan, just off the turnpike and over the border from Indiana. Good luck, Mom. Your new school is lucky to have you.

292 Juniper is no longer in the hands of the Zuikers, but the memories are flooding us all. Here are some other essays that have come by e-mail:

From Aunt Susan: How many times did I rummage through Dad’s “hand-made” boxes of jewelry, or stand in front of the huge, beautiful, shell mirror in the dining room, trying to find just the “right” necklace or pair of earrings? How many times did we talk about our “trade-goods” and what we would swap for the necklaces and earrings I found? (I knew what dad liked—home-made jellies and pickles.) How many times did I view the latest cucumber climbing the back porch, or the latest tomato, hidden among the vines? How many times did I listen to dad with his wisdom on “this or that”, as we sat around the dining room table, dad leaning on the back two legs (how did he do that and not fall?) How many times did we sit around listening to dad, trying to pluck out a few notes on the banjo? And mom always “puttering around”, or wandering around the yard, or gazing out the kitchen window or door. Or all the hours we sat at the little kitchen table and mom wanting to know what was new and exciting in our lives?...There is much history at 292. I wonder if the new tenants will feel any of it from time to time!

From my father: Dad waiting at the IC for my train to come in and always excited to see me and have a visit. The basement tour with the chance to see the energy and talent of our pops, the beautiful nature birds, eagles, etc. The raw smell of pops composting venture in the basement, and mom above helping dad to make a stir fry, a great salad, a banana creme pie. Chances to watch some of a Cubs game with endless uses of the wood channel switcher whenever something went wrong for the home team, trips to the middle of the church (real old catholics don’t go too far up front), the mandatory introduction to the deacon (he was proud of us) and a tour of the tomato plants. Memories, so sweet, so painful, so beautiful that they paint a picture of real life. Thanks Dad and Mom for making it our home, our refuge.

From Aunt Judy:Two addresses. 10447 S. Calumet and 292 Juniper. How could 2 houses provide me with so many wonderful memories of my childhood? My best memories come from the 1st house. Growing up in a 2 bedroom house plus back porch (thank God I never had to sleep back there) my bunkbed (lower level) I slept in with all my stuffed animals around me until the day I married, playing baseball in the empty lot next door to our neighbors, the Valleys. Working at the soda fountain and having so much fun with all the guys and gals I met plus my future husband. Sliding down the stairs on our mattresses on those scorching hot days and sleeping in the front room with the doors and windows open. Everyone saying goodnight just like in the Waltons. On and on the memories flow. 292 gave us picture window views of the birds in the bird feed provided by Michael. Treasures on the walls from vacations all over the country. Dad’s fish that he was so proud of. The place were we all gathered for so many parties and family functions. It was crowded but no one noticed. The place that held us all together. Trying to call on the phone and be the first to talk to Mom and Dad when they returned from their 3 month vacations twice a year. Walking along the flower garden to see Mom’s treasures. Two years in a row I took my grandkids out to Mom and Dad’s to plant flowers. We worked so hard to make the area look good. I took the kids with me to buy the flowers and even sent Jack back to the store for 100 more pounds of top soil. It had to look perfect. I hope my grandkids will remember that special time they shared with their great grandparents. No matter what problems we are facing in our lives, we have been blessed abundantly. I am so grateful to have shared my life with such a great family. Thank you God.

Anton Zuiker

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