“Yes, operator, I’ll accept the charges,” said the voice on the line. “Hello, son Gregory. It’s nice to hear from you.”

   “Hi, Mom. I’m sorry to reverse the charges, but all I have is the government phone – no personal calls allowed.”

   “And yet we pay for that phone with our taxes.”

  “That is kind of ironical, isn’t it? Nevertheless, it is the way of the world – or, at least, of my world, at the moment.”

   “Well, this is how we did it through all your college years.”

   “I know, but now I’m a college graduate, out on my own in the big, wide world. Why do I still have to call Mommy for permission to talk to her?”

   “Maybe it’s one way Mommy keeps you on a slim tie to her apron strings. So, anyway, I assume you are calling for some reason besides running up our phone bill.”

   “I am. I’ve been planning to come to see you sometime this winter.”

   “That would be nice. It’s been almost a year.”

   “I know. I also plan to bring someone with me.”

   A short pause on the line. “The one you mention in your letters? A man’s name? Your dad and I were concerned at first…”

   “It’s Vic, mom; Victoria – a completely female type person.”

   “I know, Greg. I’m just teasing you. You have made several references to Victoria in your letters, so any possible misunderstanding is long in the past. So, you are bringing her with you when you come because…”

   “Because we’re engaged. We announced it to her parents over Thanksgiving, so the next step  was to tell you. We want to come and see you as soon as we can, so you don’t meet a ready-made daughter-in-law for the first time at our wedding.”

   A slight pause. “So, this is not like your long-term college girlfriend – what was her name, Mary Beth?”

   “No, not a bit like Mary Beth. We liked each other, and had a lot of fun together, but neither of us thought of the other as marriage material.”

   “And Victoria is ‘marriage material?’”

   “Most definitely. I’ve known her as long as I’ve been here. Her father, Chuck Anderson, is my boss.”

   Another little pause. “Oh, I think I’m beginning to understand. Marrying the boss’s daughter has always been one way to advance in one’s profession. I hope she’s also pretty.”

   “Okay, mom, I know you’re baiting me, but I’ll play along. First, Vic’s parents are almost as poor as I am, and not likely to get richer. Second, Chuck’s influence on my career goes no farther than giving me a good or bad recommendation for the next job I apply for. I can probably be as helpful to him in his career advancement, as he is to mine. Third, she is pretty – very pretty! – but there are lots of pretty girls in the world – some of whom might even like me. No, I can assure you that this wedding plan is based entirely on love.”

   “Well, that’s nice, dear. So tell me, are you sleeping together?”


   “Do you share a bed when you are together at night?”

   Now, it was Greg’s turn to pause. “Yes, we do, whenever we can. That’s not often, because she is usually away at college. Is that a problem?”

   “What? No, of course not. A mother is interested in such things, of course, but I was just counting noses, and comparing them with bed space. If you come when your siblings are here – which, I certainly hope you can – I just need to figure out who sleeps where. When were you planning to come?”

   Greg breathed a little sigh of relief. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Because Vic is in school, there are only a few times when we can get a long enough free period to make the trip. We can’t do it before Christmas, so our next chance would be the week between Christmas and New Year’s.”

   More pauses. “Well, that could work for your father and me. We’d need to rearrange a few things, but it’s doable. The problem is that neither Cliff nor Janna are available, then, and I’d really love to have you all – Vic, included – together.”

   “Me, too, Mom. Well, let me strategize with Vic – she’s back at school, now – and figure out our next option. I’ll call or write when I know more. Nice to talk to you, Mom.”

   “I’m so glad you called, and I’m so happy for you. I know your dad will be, too. Send us a photo of her. I love you.”

   “Love you, too, Mom.”



Sunday Nov. 28

   Hi Vic, I know you’re probably not even inside your dorm yet, but I miss you, already. I wish Christmas vacation was a little sooner than it is, but…

   About Christmas, “the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ mengang aft a-gley,” as Robert Burns put it. In other words, the week between Christmas and New Year’s won’t work for our trip to California. The key players there will not be available. So, it’s back to the drawing board for that one.

   I learned this in an “interesting” phone call with my Mom. She seemed quite happy with my engagement announcement, and all was going well between mother and son. Suddenly, she asked if we were sleeping together! I had not expected that!

   Remembering your conversation with your mother, I didn’t see any alternative but to be open, and suffer the consequences. I said that we did, whenever we could, and asked her if that was a problem. I think I remember her answer almost word-for-word – it will probably be imbedded on my mind for some time. She said, “No. A mother is always interested in such things, but I was just counting noses and comparing them with bedroom arrangements, if you and your siblings can all be here at the same time.”  I am having to reassess parent-child relationships!

   Well, I’ll tell your dad about this when I see him tomorrow. No, not about sleeping together! Just about the change of travel plans.

   I do have one other thing I need to talk to you about before I mail this in the morning. I really, really want to see you alone before Christmas. Do you think I could pick you up at school on Friday, whenever you’re through with classes, and bring you here to the refuge for a couple of nights? I could still get you home by the 22nd or 23rd, so you’d still have all the lead-up to Christmas with them. I assume we’ll have some time after Christmas – now that we’re not going to California – but I don’t want to wait until then - or count on that! – if we don’t have to.

   I love you, Vic, and I have such a good time whenever we’re together – under any circumstances.


   Monday morning, Chuck was driving up to the office when Greg came across from his house. They went in the office together.

   “Did Vic and Nancy get off okay?” asked Greg.

   “Right on time. They should have had an easy trip. Maybe a few snow flurries in the higher areas, but the roads should have been clear and dry.”

   “That’s good. I guess it can a little ‘iffy’ these next couple of months.”

   “Yeah, that’s something we should talk about this week.”

   “Okay. I wanted to mention a couple of things, too. First, Vic and I won’t be going to California between Christmas and New Year’s. My family has conflicts with that time.”

   “Too bad. So, what’s your next option?”

   “Vic’s next school break is at midterm, the first week in February. The problem is that it’s a pretty short time period. We might have to look into flying in order to make it there and back in time. After that, there really isn’t a break until school’s out.”

   “Well, you haven’t set an actual wedding date, have you? Could you do your trip right as school gets out, then have the wedding a little later in the summer?”

   “We don’t have a date, but we want to be sure we’re giving you plenty of time for whatever move you might be making. We also want to give ourselves a nice long period together before we get into the next decisions on school and work. Shortly after Vic’s school ends seems like a pretty good time.”

   “Yeah. Well, keep us in the loop, as your plans develop. What was the other thing you wanted to discuss?”

   “Oh, I just wanted to mention that I drove out to the hunting area yesterday afternoon. Everybody was gone already, so I don’t know how the hunt has been going. Obviously, we have a lot more mallards in than we did a week ago, which should be appreciated by the hunters. I notice the ponds are starting to ice over at night, although it’s still warm enough in the daytime that they melt again, except along the edges. I planned to go out this morning to check the area, again.”

   “Sounds good. Now, I wanted to talk to you some about our winter out here. I’m going to be using up some leave over the holidays, so you’ll be here by yourself quite a bit of the time. Since you haven’t experienced a winter here, I thought we ought to discuss a few things.

   “First, the weather in general. It’ll be cold through February. We don’t often get below zero, but we don’t often get out of the 20s, either – and, of course, the wind makes it feel a lot colder, at times. As far as precipitation, we’re usually too dry to get a lot of snow. Two or three inches in one period is a pretty big storm for us and, like our summer thunderstorms, there’s a lot of variety around the area. You’ll hear on the news that the schools on the Northside are closed by snow, and you won’t have any. You’ll have several inches of snow here, and they won’t have any in town. It can be like that all winter.

   “Unfortunately, our winter woes can be exaggerated by the few inches of snow that fall from the skies. The winds often create snow drifts several feet deep that can effectively shut down a road. Also, because we seldom get above freezing, what falls on the ground pretty much stays there all winter. The bad thing is that it gets beat down to ice, so the roads can be treacherous long after an individual storm is over. The roads eventually get plowed, but we Idahoans don’t believe in paying the taxes that fund things like snow plowing. Consequently, routes like the god-awful road are not as high a priority as are the streets in town, so it sometimes takes a while to get to us. When the plow finally comes, it usually just does a quick once-over to get rid of the drifts. Taking off the surface snow means the roads are left ice-covered, which means tricky driving pretty much all winter.

   “Luckily, they do keep the roads good enough for the mail and the school bus to do their business, which ultimately helps us and the others who live in the area. Our hill, however, is something they don’t worry about, and because it’s always in shadow this time of year, the snow and ice can build up and stay longer than on the flats. After the first freezes, the school bus won’t come down the hill. That’s obviously not a problem now, with nobody here riding the bus, but in the past we had to get Vic and Mandy up to the top of the hill, ourselves, in time to catch the bus in the morning, and then had to pick them up in the afternoon.

   “Mike will bring the mail down the hill any time she judges it is pretty safe, but if she has any questions about it, she’ll leave our mail in the big box at the far end of the bus turn-around. She could be delayed in bad weather, but if you don’t see her by the end of the work day, it means she left our mail up top.

   “Now, about the hill. Anything that gets done between now and late February or March is our responsibility. If it gets to the point that you think it needs work, you can call Tim and he’ll bring out their bigger tractor when he has some free time. He’s always ‘employed’ by us, just furloughed, so all you have to do is put him on the payroll for the days he works. We also pay for the use of his personal tractor. I forget what the rate is, but it’s in the file.”

   “This might be a good time to ask a question I’ve been wondering about,” said Greg. “Why don’t we have any 4-wheel drive vehicles?”

   Chuck laughed. “Because we don’t need them?”

   “We don’t?”

   “Sorry. I was just paraphrasing… No, that isn’t the right word. I was just saying what I think our procurement people must say whenever one of us refuge managers asks for something like a 4-wheel drive truck.

   “I guess it’s because we’re a small, poor government agency. We seldom seem to be able to get what we really need. There are only a few refuges I know of that rate 4-wheel drive. If we ask, they tell us to get tires with deeper treads. None of us have air conditioning – not a problem for us, but think about refuges like Salton Sea in southern California where temperatures can be over 90 degrees every month of the year. Air conditioning should be a real safety feature. The only concession for refuges like Salton Sea is that they’re allowed to paint the tops of their vehicles white, so they don’t absorb as much heat!

   “And radios. I don’t mean listen to your favorite country band-type radio – although even that would be nice for local weather alerts or problems on the highway. I mean two-way radios, so you could talk to somebody somewhere else. Again, it’s not terrible that we don’t have them on this refuge. If your truck breaks down - or if you get stuck because you don’t have 4-wheel drive! – you just have a long walk back to headquarters. But what if you had a real accident – if you were hurt? We might not know there was anything wrong until you hadn’t shown up by quitting time. If that could happen here, think about some of the really big refuges, and what a liability that could be.

   “The thing is, every other agency has two-way radios. Even our law enforcement people have them. I think every vehicle Fish and Game owns is connected to their system, even cars that seldom leave their headquarters. It isn’t right!”

   Chuck abruptly. stopped talking. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to get side-tracked. We all make do with what we can get, but it’s frustrating.

   “Anyway, about 4-wheel drive. We really don’t need it here. It’s great for mud – which we don’t have much of; for deep snow – which we seldom have; and for steep terrain – pretty much unknown, here. Actually, 4-wheel drive can be more of a liability than an asset in our usual icy winter conditions, because it’s easy to oversteer with it. The secret to most of our refuge driving is good tires, with good, deep cut treads, for everyday use, and tire chains for the ice.

   “Chains are a pain in the … Well, they take time to put on, and it’s usually a cold, messy business. Then, we usually only need them in the worst icy places. If you’re going to town, for instance, they’re a real godsend for a mile or two. They’ll stop a truck in half the distance that snow tires will. But after you’re past the really treacherous places, you’re stuck with rattling, bumpy chains for another 15 miles of mostly okay pavement. But sometimes, you just have to do it.

   “We have chains for all our vehicles. Do you have them for your personal car?”

   “I do, but I have to confess I’ve never driven with chains, and I’ve never even tried to put them on a car.”

   “Well, let’s make sure you have a good lesson this week. Actually, this could be the last winter that we have to depend on tire chains. Are you familiar with the new studded tire legislation?”

   “I’ve seen mention in the newspapers. I’m not sure I understand what it’s about.”

   “Studded tires are special snow tires that can be fitted with little metal pieces – studs – that pound or screw into the tire. They only stick out a fraction of an inch from the tire surface, but apparently it’s enough to help grip on icy surfaces. They’re new to the United States, and they aren’t legal in all states, so far. Idaho adopted them this year, also Montana, Washington, and Nevada. Utah and Oregon are still hold-outs.”

   “Why hasn’t everyone approved them?”

   “I think the main concern is pavement damage. They are metal, so if they come in contact with the pavement, over time they can wear grooves. I think all states that have approved them limit their use to the winter months, so people aren’t driving them around on bare pavement for half the year.”

   “Well, shouldn’t that restriction be enough for the other states?”

   “It probably will help, and I suspect everybody – at least the states with real winter weather – will eventually adopt them. But there is another criticism, that they’re still not as good as tire chains for stopping a vehicle on slick roads. Apparently, that’s true. Tests that have been done show that they’ll stop a car 50 feet quicker than snow tires, but tire chains can stop a vehicle almost 100 feet quicker than just snow tires.”

   “That is quite a difference.”

   “It is, but the chains have to be on the tires before they can slow you down. Chains can be such a pain to put on and take off – particularly in situations like ours, where you probably only badly need them for a mile or two – that a lot of drivers will just take the chance to go without them. If you have studded tires on your vehicle all winter, you have them when you need them, and you don’t have to decide if you’re going to use them, or not. I think that the safety factor – taking the decision out of the driver’s hands – may sell the rest of the states, eventually.

   “We probably won’t be able to get our studded tires this winter. I suspect the Government will wait until they’re legal everywhere. It‘s going to be a little odd for a while, I would think. For instance, what happens if I get studded tires here in Idaho – where they’re legal – but then have to drive to Utah – where they aren’t? Do they turn me back at the border, or write me a ticket for violating Utah regulations? I suspect the Utah troopers will just ignore the problem, but Uncle Sam probably won’t, so we probably won’t get our studded tires this winter.

   “So, anyway, let’s give you a lesson on the care and feeding of tire chains – maybe tomorrow? Oh, and I thought about another thing we should do. You can operate the little Fordson tractor now, can’t you? A miraculous occurrence, as I recall. However, you haven’t ever operated it with a blade attached. We can do that, and you’ll have a mini snow plow to use. The Fordson isn’t big enough to do any real plowing – like working on our hill – but if you want to clear a path from your house to the office, for example, it’ll do that just fine. It’ll only take us a few minutes to attach the blade, and there’s only the one lever to control it, so you’ll learn fast.”

   “Both sound like good ideas.”

   “Okay, let’s plan for tomorrow. I think I’ll use up some of my annual leave Wednesday through Friday – maybe help Allie with Mandy’s birthday preparations.”

   “You’re going to do her party on Saturday, right? I plan to come in. Are you doing anything special on her actual birthday?”

   “Well, it’s a school day. I think Allie is making her a cake, but nothing special planned beyond that.”

   “I was thinking of coming in to give her a present, if that would be okay. I also wanted to get a little advice from her on Christmas shopping.”

   “Yeah, I don’t see any problem with that. Come in for dinner. I’ll let Allie know. She seems to like you enough to feed you.”

   “Well, that’s good, all things considered. Say, it’s still early enough that the Fish and Game guys should still be at the check station. If you don’t have anything you want me to do, I’ll take a drive out there, and see how the hunt has been going.”

   “Sure, no problem.”


   Greg stopped the truck just outside the hunting area, and listened. It was about 10:30, so some groups could still be hunting. He waited about five minutes, but didn’t hear any shots, so drove on to the check station. Todd came over to meet him.

   “We’ve still got two parties out there. Haven’t heard any shots for a while, but there were some, earlier.”

   “How was the weekend?”

   “Pretty good. This new batch of mallards helped. We had a full house both Saturday and Sunday, and the average was about two birds. The early hunters this morning did about the same. Better than the last several weeks.”

   “So you’ll probably stay open a while longer?”

   “I’d think another two weeks. We’re getting more ice every night. If the days stay cold, it could ice over pretty fast. For now, I think everybody’s happy. You think all the mallards are in, now?”

   “I don’t know for sure. There’s been an obvious influx, but we still haven’t had any real bad weather north of us to move everything out. We may still have a wave coming.”


   Laying on hard gravel at about 25 degrees, wrestling tire chains on his car, wasn’t Greg’s idea of fun, but that’s where he found himself Tuesday morning.

   “Just think,” observed Chuck, “If we had been doing this yesterday morning, you would have been laying on the ground at 17 degrees, not 25. At least, the ground is fairly dry under you today. When you’re putting on chains for real, you’ll probably be laying on ice, or in slushy snow.”

   “Thanks for cheering me up, boss. When did you say we can get studded tires?”

   Chuck laughed. “You can probably get them for your personal car, now. I see they’re advertising in the papers, already.”

   “I could, if I wasn’t as poor as the proverbial church mouse. But it would be nice. This isn’t hard but, as you said, it is a pain in the …”

   “And other places, as well, “ Chuck finished.

   Despite the discomfort, Chuck had Greg put chains on, then take them off, several times, until he could do it quickly and proficiently. “Someday, you’ll thank me for this,” said Chuck.

   “It won’t be today,” replied Greg.

   They retired to the house for a warm-up, and a cup of coffee, before returning to the yard. Chuck had Greg back out the little Fordson tractor, then they both carried out the detachable scoop/snow plow blade, and sat it in front of the tractor.

   “As you can see,” said Chuck, “It’s nice to have two people to do this job, but it isn’t really that heavy or hard to attach. Let me do it by myself, just to show you what to do. Then, you can do it by yourself. “

   It took a little manhandling to get the attachment in place, but - as Chuck had said - it was doable with just one person. He took it off, and let Greg attach it.

   “Actually, there’s no reason to take it off, again. We’ll just leave it on for the winter. When we get a little snow on the ground, I’ll give you a quick lesson in how to use it. The only important thing to remember is if you remove the snow, you’re probably going to have ice in its place. You don’t want to clear the place, just make some walkable corridors.

   “And, speaking of that, we keep a few bags of salt in the garage – in those metal bins in the back. In the iciest weather, you’ll want to use some around the stairs and in your usual walking routes. And speaking of ice, let’s go in the shop a minute.”

   They did, and Chuck directed Greg’s attention a box of “somethings” that combined fabric or rubber straps with metal attachments. “I don’t know if you’ve ever had cause to use ice grippers on your shoes or boots. I’m sure you know about crampons from your climbing days. These are sort of mini-crampons, that slip on over your shoes to provide traction on icy surfaces. The best are probably these.” He handed Greg a pair built like a tire chain that buckled on to a shoe or boot, with actual spikes protruding. “Those will really hold you up on almost any icy surface. However, these with the rubber attachments and studs – like on the new studded tires – are almost as good. You’ll find that one or the other gives you a lot of confidence on some of our icy days.

   “So, okay, you’re ready for winter. Let’s go warm up, again.”

   “You go ahead,” said Greg. “I’ll never be warm again, so I think I’ll take a quick run out to the hunt area, and see what’s going on.”

   Greg drove slowly out into the refuge. Clear, still nights were allowing the temperatures to drop well below freezing, but the days were still warming up into the high 30s, and occasionally even the low 40s. Ice around the edges of the ponds was getting thicker, but the deeper areas were still unfrozen. Mallards were packed into all the ponds not open to hunting

   As he had done the previous morning, Greg stopped at the entrance to the hunt area, and listened for a while. He didn’t see any hunters, or hear any shooting, so he drove on to the check station. It was Todd’s day off, but Jeff, his assistant, came over to talk.

   “Not a bird killed today,” he responded to Greg’s question. “We still have one die-hard party out there, but they haven’t fired a shot. They’re freezing their asses off out there, while we’re here doing the same, and they don’t have a prayer of getting anything to fly close to them under  these high, clear, calm, skies.”

   “They must think they’re running out of time before freeze-up.”

   “Or else they’re praying that the god of the north wind will take pity on them, and bring a drastic change in the weather before freeze-up.”

   “Well, according to the weather forecast, that old god Boreas may actually have somewhat of a change in store. Apparently, the high pressure over us is beginning to break down, and it may be a little cloudier and a little windier later in the week. However, they’re still saying warmer than normal, and not a really significant change, so…”

    “Yeah, so…  So, we wait and see.”


   When Greg arrived back at the office, Chuck was finishing up a bunch of miscellaneous paperwork. Greg reported on the hunting situation.

   “With me gone on annual leave the next three days,” Chuck asked,  “Is there anything we should talk about before I abandon ship?”

   “No, I don’t think so. I’ll keep checking duck numbers and hunter activity. Other than that, I’ve started to put the information together for the next narrative report.”

   "The only thing we do that is as sure as death and taxes, right? Now, you’re still coming in to dinner on Thursday night?”

   “I’ll be there. I do want to get some help from Mandy on some Christmas ideas.”

   “She’ll be glad to see you. You seem to have won the hearts of all the Anderson women.”

   ‘Yours, too?”

   “You’re growing on me.”


   Greg spent most of the next two days in the office, taking care of the paperwork that seemed to occupy about half his refuge management time. He took off from work an hour early on Thursday, as he wanted to stop at the jewelers before going to the Andersons.

   Jeannie greeted him. “Greg, you’re becoming my most frequent customer. More jewelry for the Anderson women?”

   “Eventually, but I’m just looking for advice this afternoon. Vic and I announced our engagement at Thanksgiving.”

   “Congratulations! Have you set a date?”

   “Not specifically. We’re thinking in the spring, just as soon as her school year ends. You know her parents will probably be leaving the area next summer?”

   “No, I hadn’t heard.”

   “Well, there’s no specific time, but Chuck and Alice wanted both girls to be able to graduate from high school with their classmates. Chuck got permission to stay at this refuge until that happened. Mandy will graduate this spring, so theoretically Chuck and Alice will then get a new assignment.”

   “Do they want to leave?”

  “Oh, I think so. Chuck put his career on hold for a few extra years – which was very nice for the girls – but he’s ready for a new challenge. I think Alice wants a place where she can be more involved with the community so, yes, I think they’re both ready to go.

   “Anyway, the reason I brought this up is that we’d like to have the wedding while they’re still here. Also, we’d like a little time to ourselves to get adjusted before we have to confront school and work again, in the fall.

   “Finally, I’m getting to the asking for advice part. I want to get Vic an engagement ring. On TV and in the movies, the man always has the ring in hand when he gets down on his knee and proposes. That always seems odd to me – not the getting on my knee, but already having picked out the ring. I think most men must be as clunky as I would be, trying to pick just the right ring. It seems to me like the bride-to-be should pick a ring she really likes. Is there some kind of rule that says I have to make the choice?”

   Jeannie laughed. “I think Vic is getting a real prize with you, Greg. I hope my future fiancé – whoever he turns out to be – is as concerned about what I’d like as you are about Vic’s preference. And in answer to your question – no, there isn’t any rule. I think bringing Vic in to pick out her own engagement ring is a great idea.”

   “Okay, that’s a relief. The second part of my question has to do with cost. I know Vic will want to spare my budget, and I appreciate that. But she’s worth more than a thousand dollar ring to me, so I don’t plan to let her settle for something barely out of a Cracker Jack box. What would you say is a reasonable price for a poor suitor to pay for an engagement ring for an amazingly wonderful fiancé?”

   Jeannie laughed. “I’d say any girl would be proud of some of the rings we have costing between $50 and $100.”

   “Wow, really? Could I pay for it over a couple months’ time?”

   “You know the saying, ‘It’s okay to owe Kay.’ Well, obviously, we’re not Kay Jewelers, but we do offer similar time payment terms.”

   “’It’s okay to owe Kay.’ I haven’t heard that in a while. That slogan came out while I was in high school. Probably everybody remembers it, just because they played it so often, you couldn’t escape it.  I had another connection to it. I had a friend named Kay – no, not a girlfriend. I was a pretty late bloomer, as far as boy-girl relationships went. But my friends had never seen me regularly with one girl, so when Kay and I started walking home from school together, they tried to make it into a romance. There are several comments about her in my Senior yearbook, including one friend who wrote ‘It’s okay to owe Kay!’ It was well off the mark, but funny, anyway.”

   “It is funny.” Jeannie paused, remembering something. “Did you ever hear about the Kay Jewelers parakeet?”

   “Parakeet? No, I don’t think I ever heard anything about that.”

   “Well, I would have been too young to remember it, probably, but one of our visiting salesmen told me about it recently. Shortly after they started using the slogan – maybe around 1955? – Kay Jewelers offered a $500 prize to the talking bird that could say the slogan the best. The winner was a parakeet named Jo-Jo. Supposedly, it had a vocabulary of about 50 words. It apparently never got the slogan down perfectly, but close enough that they paid it – well, its owner - $15 a week  to travel around the country, saying its version of ‘It’s okay to owe Kay’.”

   Greg laughed. “No, I never heard that one. Jo-Jo the parakeet.”

   “There’s a little more to the story, too. They paid it enough money that the owner had to claim it on his Federal income tax. However, he didn’t pay any state taxes, and one of the states – Georgia, I think – took poor Jo-Jo into custody until the owner paid $10 in state taxes.”

   “That’s quite a tale. What happened to Jo-Jo?”

   “I have no idea. That’s as far as the salesman’s story went.”

   “Well, I hope it turned out okay for Jo-Jo. Thanks, Jeannie, for your help. I don’t know when I’ll bring Vic in, but that’s what we’ll do.

   “I’m on my way over to the Andersons, now. Today is Mandy’s birthday. She’s having her party on Saturday, but we’re going to have a little family celebration this evening.”

   “I know about the party. I have to work, but I’m going to try to get over for a few minutes.”

   “She’ll like that.”


   At the Andersons’ after dinner and birthday cake, Greg gave Mandy her present. “I plan to come in for your party on Saturday, but I wanted to give this to you now. It’s part birthday present, but also a ‘thank you’ for the dance lessons.”

   Her reaction to the charm bracelet would have been ample satisfaction for any gift giver. “Greg, I love it!” The accompanying hug was long and heartfelt. “The states I’ve lived in, a heart, a dancer, a bird – to stand for the refuges I’ve lived on? I like that!”

   She made sure her parents got a good look at it, after she had Greg attach it around her wrist. They agreed it was pretty special. After the excitement had subsided, Greg asked if he could talk to her about some Christmas business.

  “Sure. We can go in the living room.” She queried her parents. “Unless you guys want to go out there, and then we could sit here in the kitchen.”

   “No, you go on out there,” Alice replied.

   Once on the couch, Greg wasn’t sure how to start. “I want to get Vic something special. Well, I already have a couple of books, but I mean something just between the two of us. Something we maybe wouldn’t put under the Christmas tree and open with your parents.”

   Mandy gave him a long look. “Okay, I think I know where you’re heading.”

   “Well, that’s more than I know. Here’s all I have. We were talking one day – actually, just being kind of silly – about what girls – women - like to get as presents. She rattled off jewelry and books and maybe something else, and then she sort of tossed in ‘lingerie,’ then changed the subject pretty abruptly. It sort of stuck in my mind that maybe she meant it, some way, but… “

   “Lingerie, huh? Well, that usually refers to bras and panties… Greg, you’re turning a little red. Are you embarrassed?”

   “I guess I didn’t know I was going to be discussing unmentionables with my kid sister.”


   “The kinds of things that unmarried males used to wonder about, things that were hidden beneath hoop skirts and corsets – tantalizingly interesting, but little known and not to be talked about.” He stopped. “But I guess most everything is mentionable, nowadays.”

   “Yes, it is. But don’t worry. Vic doesn’t want you to buy panties for her. We like to pick those out, ourselves. I think what she was referring to was nightwear.”

   “Nightwear? Like pajamas?”

   “Well, sort of like pajamas, but serving a different purpose. Do you know what a ‘pan-war’ is?”

   “Pan-war? I don’t think so. Spell it.”

   “I’m not sure I can. It’s French, so it’s pronounced entirely differently – p-e-i-g-n-o-i-r, maybe? Anyway, it’s… Maybe the best way is to show you. Let me go get the Penny’s mail order catalog.”

   When she had the catalog, Mandy showed him several pages of women modelling filmy negligees and other night wear – definitely not pajamas. He was most taken with a combination shown in six different colors. It was described as “a billowy peignoir of flocked nylon shirred with fluffs of nylon tulle at sleeves and hem.” Underneath was “a sleeveless nylon tricot gown with an  all-around sheer nylon overlay.”

   “I don’t know what hardly any of those words mean, but I certainly like the looks of the product.”

   “You don’t need to know the words. I think their shorter description says it all, and says it accurately: ‘An elegant ensemble for the woman who desires the ultimate in femininity.’ As you can see, it’s a long, sexy, nightgown, with a soft, sexy, jacket – the peignoir – and look, I spelled it correctly! – over the top. Obviously, this isn’t meant to keep a woman warm – flannel pajamas would be better – at least, not to keep her warm by itself. It’s meant to heat up a husband or boyfriend to the point that he finds a nice warm blanket, and wraps both of them in it on a nice, comfy couch.”

   “Yes, I can picture all of that.”

   “So, what color do you like?”

   “I like several, but I’m leaning toward the light green one. I think it would really look smashing with her long, dark hair.”

   “Smashing, huh? Not a word I use, but I can see that it is very appropriate – my smashingly beautiful sister in her smashing green negligee. I think you will both enjoy it immensely.”

   “So, how do I get it?”

   Mandy showed him how to use the mail order form. “Vic and I are essentially the same size in outfits like this, so I’ll give you my details. Be sure to get the right color selected.  There should  be plenty of time for it to arrive by Christmas but, just to be sure, get the order in the mail tomorrow, if you can.”

   “Can I take the catalog with me? I’ll bring it back Saturday.”

   “Hey, Mom,” Mandy called toward the kitchen. “Can Greg keep the Penny’s catalog until Saturday?” Alice replied in the affirmative.

   Mandy and Greg sat silently for a few minutes more. Finally, Greg thanked her again for all her help. “You’re my second best friend, just slightly behind your sister in my esteem.”

   Mandy thought about that a moment. “Do you really think of me as your kid sister?”

   Greg chuckled. “Sister, yes. Definitely. ‘Kid?’ No. I’m discovering too many layers to you – too much wisdom and grace – to consider you a ‘kid.’ Maybe ‘little sister,’ but certainly not a kid.”

   She gave him a quick hug. “I like that.”


   Friday morning, Greg got his Penny’s mail order ready for Mike to pick up, then drove out onto the refuge. The morning temperature was in the mid-20s, but it was calm and only slightly overcast. It wasn’t likely to be a good duck hunting day. Mallard numbers were high, and looked like they might still be increasing, but the birds were sitting tight on the ponds in the closed area. He stopped at the edge of the hunt zone, and listened for a while, but didn’t hear any shooting. He decided he wouldn’t drive on to the check station that day.

   Slowly, he made his way back toward headquarters, taking some of the side trails, just to get a different look at the area. Mallards were everywhere, but not much else. He hadn’t seen any swans in a week or so, and suspected he had missed his chance this year to identify any trumpeters.

   As he was approaching the narrows, he recalled his conversation with Chuck about the source of their water supply. Chuck had said that there was a substantial creek emptying into the northwest corner of this westernmost pond. With no pressing responsibilities, and a relatively nice morning for walking, Greg decided to do a little exploring.

   There was no trail around that side of the pond, and the rimrock came down nearly to the water’s edge in places, but it wasn’t hard walking. After about fifteen minutes, he found his way blocked by the edge of the lava flow. He scrambled easily around the projection, and found himself at the mouth of a rocky canyon. A full-size stream flowed from it, emptying into the pond naturally, with no water control structure. Any diversion before reaching the refuge must be well upstream, beyond his view.

   He hadn’t seen any wildlife on his walk, except for ducks on the pond, but he was interested to see that the canyon supported its own little “forest” of small trees and shrubs. He made a mental note to check it for “dicky birds” next spring.

   The return walk to the truck was uneventful, and he returned to the office for an afternoon of narrative reports and other paperwork.


   On Saturday, Greg drove to town about noon, did some grocery shopping, then joined Mandy’s party at the Anderson house. She gave him a hug; told him he had just missed a call from Vic on Thursday evening; and introduced him to various of her friends. Tim was there, who told him he had decided against working the sugar campaign. (His folks really needed his help, whether they’d actually admit it or not.) Rusty was still in training, with no idea when he might be sent overseas. Greg mingled a while, chatted with Alice and Chuck, then headed back to the refuge.

   He thought about driving out to the check station, but decided everybody would be long gone by that time. The weather was still “warm” (in the 40s), and it was still mostly clear and calm, so he doubted anything had changed. Finally, he just settled down to an evening of eating and reading.

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