Nurses of nobody else


Today I’m having a butter-burger and cheese curds at Culver’s restaurant with my mom, when three men from my past approach the table. Mr. Parks, my sixth grade teacher from Pathfinder School. Mr. Scheffler, a neighbor, friend and former director at Interlochen. As well as one of their mutual friends of 40 years.

The three drifted to us, calling out our names, remembering shared events.

Mr. Parks took me and thirteen other sixth graders camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for five days. He had us plan, pack, and cook our own meals. We hiked Pictured Rocks seashore, navigating caves, climbed fire towers at Seney Wildlife Refuge. The first pictures I ever took are grainy snapshots of waterfalls, while standing next to Mr. Parks.

Mr. Scheffler lived across the street. His wife, Pat, and my mom ran Interlochen’s academic library. That was the center rotunda on campus. I remember the shining waxed floors and the new books being ordered, received, stamped, processed into card catalogs, and delivered to shelves.

In 1976, the year my family moved to Interlochen, Mr. Scheffler and Mr. Parks canoed from Traverse Bay to the Mackinaw Bridge in 4 days by themselves. That was what two great friends picked to do for fun. I totally get that.

I didn’t want to let go of the handshakes. I feel so lucky that they saw us, remembered us, and asked about our adventures, our families, friends, what we were reading. Just like they have been doing probably for seventy years.

“Quicker than birds, they dipped
Up and sifted the dirt;
They sprinkled and shook;
They stood astride pipes,
Their skirts billowing out wide into tents,
Their hands twinkling with wet;
Like witches they flew along rows
Keeping creation at ease;
With a tendril for needle
They sewed up the air with a stem;
They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep,
All the coils, loops, and whorls.
They trellised the sun; they plotted for more than themselves.”

In one of my favorite Roethke poems, he describes three German ladies (FRAU BAUMAN, FRAU SCHMIDT, AND FRAU SCHWARTZE) who were part of his earliest life, as he grew up in his father’s greenhouse:

“Who creaked on the greenhouse ladders,
Reaching up white strings
To wind, to wind
The sweet-pea tendrils, the smilax,
nasturtiums, the climbing
Roses, to straighten
Carnations, red
Chrysanthemums; the stiff
Stems jointed like corn,
They tied and tucked,
These nurses of nobody else.”