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Playing With Sticks by Pete Sheild

All our arbor ancestors arrived long before her house was built. Long before any of these houses were built. We went about our seasons taking in the sunlight, bathing in the moisture from above, becoming homes for the birds and pesky mammals. On cue, Mother Nature exhaled; a snap released us. With an abrupt landing, we met Mother Earth. And there we sat. Krissy changed all that. She brought us all together–the Birches, the Maples, even those unscrupulous Box Elders. The Oaks, of which I’m a proud member, took center stage in the shadows on the back stoop of the three bedroom ranch. Unencumbered by the noise from overhead passenger planes, the occasional annoying mosquito, or mid-summer heat, we joined Krissy on her mind trolley to make believe.

Primarily, we acted out family drama. On occasion, however, we did your basic grocery shopping trip or classroom Q and A. Our performances were often witnessed by the area’s squirrels, butterflies, and songbirds. None of them ever stayed for the whole show. Showtime could get pretty intense when the neighbor kid, Dougie, came over. Usually, we liked Dougie. He helped with the performances. The laughter and friendly glances those two exchanged were special. Other times, Dougie would take us to a side stage and make us hit each other and say bad words. Once, when he tried to get Krissy to play doctor, her mother shooed him off. Or did he want to marry Krissy? Doesn’t matter because that fall, he and his mom moved away.

One time, it was right after the 4th of July, Krissy’s older brother came out while we were performing on the stoop and stomped on us with his flip-flops. That hurt some of us worse than others. Krissy burst into tears and rushed inside to tell her mom. That was the last time he barged in on one of our performances. When the bad weather hit, we got tightly packed into a shoe box then performed under the bright lights of the bedroom on the storage bench. Just Krissy and us. Those were some good times. We were all best friends and hadn’t a care in the world. Alas.

Seasons changed, and, on Krissy’s first day of high school, she took us from the security of our shoebox under her bed to scatter us across the back yard. That fall we became troubled. Krissy never visited us, which wasn’t like her. Winter proved, once again, to be dark and cold, but spring brought a new crop of sticks with high aspirations of being chosen. It also brought cold temperatures with skies much cloudier than normal. The prevailing winds shifted carrying ammonia from the fertilizer plant a mile away. We welcomed Krissy to the back stoop. She looked different, dressed different, talked different. We were left to watch Krissy from afar as she sat on the stoop, day after day, hunched over a silver gadget, thumbs tapping with blinding speed. It was as if we had never met.


Pete is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University School of Dentistry. He has published one book entitled, Sermons From Thy Father, which chronicles his father’s journey into the ministry and contains sermons from Reverend John Sheild’s first church in Redfield, South Dakota. Pete’s first novel, Bad Medicine, is due out November 30, 2021. He is a member of the Wisconsin Writers Association and Red Oak Writing. Since his retirement, his free time is spent fishing, enjoying family, and writing. Pete and his wife, Christa, live in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

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