Virtue and Mischief


By Timothy Swensen

The advent of summer at the “Casa Amigo” (also known as the Swensen household) brings with it a certain heightened level of concentration and conviction by “mama amigo” (also known as Krista).

By May she can be seen pacing through our house, studying out the windows the sundry signs of approaching warmth in west-central Ohio: birds chirping and consuming foodstuffs, whirligigs descending and clogging gutters, flowers sprouting, yellow orb in the sky (also known as the sun) reappearing. Nothing gets her motor running like sustained sunshine and heat. Well, sunshine, heat and a glazed doughnut, maybe.

This year, as in past years, she emerged in May from her semi-hibernation in our two-story brick cave and happily began her beloved outdoor activities. Alacrity, thy name is Krista tending to and planting flowers, cutting back shrubs, and generally puttering around in our yard! To see her with her gardening gloves and summer attire on, her sunglasses perched just so on her head, is to see a woman in truly in her element (I was going to borrow the cliché, “a pig in slop,” but thought that might be misinterpreted by subject and readers alike). She dead-headed plants, pruned trees, redistributed mulch, weeded, pulled, planted, watered, nurtured, ever the happy outdoor warrior. She wielded her trowel and shears much as a confident and skilled surgeon might use a scalpel and forceps. “Code red! Code red! Dandelions metastasizing in sector 5; paging Dr. Swensen—report to the front yard, STAT!” You get the picture.

Asked at any point what she was up to, she’d reply laconically-but-happily, “Just doin’ my chores.” Her capacity to derive great joy and sense of purpose in this labor intensive, uncomplicated pursuit is a virtue she inherited from her father, I think. The late Junior Schultz displayed a similar kind of pleasure and focus in the discipline of running his used car/repair business. And, like her father, Krista has a tendency to become a bit—how to put this?—obsessive compulsive in her drive to perfect what she perceives to be imperfect, to solve a problem she feels is impeding a desired goal. Thus, I was more than a little concerned when she announced the pesky signs of an underground rodent (or two…or three) in our yard.

“Tim, come look at this!” she told me one afternoon, clear disdain in her voice.

“Hmmm, yeah,” I replied in an even tone. I uttered a silent Obi-Wan-Kenobi command to her (I even imagined Alec Guinness’s voice delivering the message), desperately hoping it would be absorbed by her gray matter and responded to accordingly: “You will not freak out over this…you will not employ poisons or explosive devices….”

“I mean, just look at this!” she exclaimed. “Do you think it’s a mole? Or a vole? Or what? This is ridiculous! Just LOOK at all this dirt. For crying out loud. Where does all that dirt come from? Why do they do that? What purpose does it serve??”

“I dunno,” I replied, artfully deploying my calming, noncommittal go-to retort. Would she send me off to Cope’s to purchase a subterranean rodent-killing firearm? Were we going to hatch a D-Day-like master plan at the kitchen table, complete with maps and codes delineating our strategy for landing on the enemy’s stronghold and cold-bloodedly assassinating him? I get jittery at the prospect of lighting a firecracker…would hand grenades be involved?!

She shook her head and sighed, then marched off to the side yard to clean one of the bird baths. “Ridiculous,” she repeated with disgust.

The days marched by and her loathing of the creature and his activities persisted. Each day brought renewed signs of his industriousness. He burrowed and disseminated mounds of rich, deep brown soil in the same locations; she issued mild imprecations and put the dirt back. For weeks the dance proceeded, the mole (or whatever) and Krista (now also known as “the Greenville Sisyphus”) volleying dirt while I prayed fervently for Providence to allow me to maintain my status as the human version of Switzerland—neutral, nonviolent, and—above all—unarmed.

Happily for all, my Jedi mind trick worked. God answered my prayers in the affirmative. Just a couple of days ago Krista marched in the house after completing a couple of hours of yard work and announced, “You know, I’m going to quit worrying about that stupid mole or vole or whatever. I mean, he’s just doing what comes naturally to him—right? It’s just some stupid dirt, after all. Who cares? He’s not destroying our plants or anything. I think the yard looks pretty good, all in all. What do you think?”

“Oh, absolutely. You’ve done a fantastic job, as usual. And no sense getting worked up over a little dirt—I agree.” Whew. War and wanton destruction averted, for at least one more summer. Some might refer to this development as “Krista mellowing.” Others might call it “appeasement”

I prefer to think of it as peace in our time.