A Drink to 4-H Cooking

Connie and Me when we were seven.

The summer I turned 10, I signed up for 4-H Cooking with my best friend and blood sister, Connie.  Mrs. T, my friend Annette’s mom was our leader.  She could make all kinds of delicious stuff from the Old Country, same as my Grandma Z.  She never taught us that stuff, ’cause she just knew it in her head with nothing written down.  I watched her make pierogies:  squares of dough with potatoes or sauerkraut or sweet plums,  some kind of cheese that looked like cottage cheese, but was something else way better tasting.  Mrs. T’s round face got beet-red as she plinked the pierogies gently into the steaming kettle.  She looked the happiest like that:  dark hair plastered around her round flushed face, scooping the cooked pierogies out with a slotted spoon and sprinkling the sweet ones with powdered sugar.  4-Hers had to make stuff from a recipe.

The first things Mrs. T taught us was Boston Coolers and Black Cows.  Me and Connie already knew how to make lots of stuff on account of us both being part of the Big Kids in our families, so it seemed like 4-H Cooking was gonna be a breeze.  For somebody who never did anything in the kitchen, Black Cows and Boston coolers helped her learn how to measure and mix, ’cause that’s all you do with those two things:  take some ice cream and some pop and mix them up and pour them in a glass.  Mrs. T taught us Continue reading

Scrubbed Clean and Born Again (re-post)

When I was a little girl, there was no school the week before Easter: Easter Vacation. Nobody worried about calling it Spring Break or Semester Break, or anything different from what it was, because like I said before, everybody was either Catholic or non-Catholic, so everybody celebrated Easter. At my house, Spring Housecleaning Break was a more accurate name.

It was time for the house to get spic-and-span. I helped with the vacuuming and the dusting, but now it was harder because everything got moved out and taken apart. It seemed like it got a lot messier before anything got clean. Stuff I crossed-my-heart-and-hoped-to-die, I never saw before came out from closets and out from behind the boot box. Dust came up out of the cushions and just floated in the sunlight, and the whole place started to smell like an old abandoned bird’s nest.

The davenport cushions came off and Mom put the vacuum sweeper hose way down deep into the couch, sucking out all kinds of stuff that made a rattling sound coming out like bobby pins and jacks. Lots of times a lost Kleenex would come schlooping up out of there and clog up the hose. I liked the schlooping sound, so sometimes I let those Kleenex go up there on purpose; if I sucked one up by the corner, all went well, but in the middle, that caused a lot of trouble. Mom could tell from way in the kitchen Continue reading

Wise Men, Circumcision, and Good Advice

Christmas lasted at least two weeks when I was a little girl.  First came the parties and presents, then Baby Jesus and the shepherds, then the Feast of the Circumcision and the Wise Men, then a dream that takes the Holy Family into Egypt, so he didn’t get killed by a scaredy-cat king. What an exciting story.  Maybe Jesus got born in the middle of winter just to liven things up a bit, because after Christmas things got pretty darned dull.

Do you know that song that says, “Mother Mary, meek and mi-i-ild..”?   She was far from mild.  She stepped right into the temple and named her baby, even though that was the dad’s job and she was supposed to stay out, on account of just having a baby.  Plus her baby was a boy, which meant he got to be circumcised, which was a special thing only for boys on the day they’re named.  That happened eight days after birth, ’cause for one thing it took a long time for most people to pick out just the right name, and for another thing, those special circumcising guys were hard to come by.

Mom always said, “A smart woman let her husband think he’s in charge.”  Not Mary.  Continue reading

Marvelous Chicken Parts

Fall is the time for harvest, and that means chickens,  too.  Some people are appalled that children are part of a chicken massacre, but that’s life on the farm.  We raised chickens from tiny chicks, gathered eggs for breakfast, and helped clean and dress chickens for the freezer.  My sister Marcia, got so attached to the animals she eventually became a vegetarian.  My sister Julie waved goodbye to the steers and said, “See you at dinner.” Dissecting the chickens was my favorite part of “dressing the chickens” was interesting as all get-out.  Bonita hated me for it.

First off, when I learned  a chicken egg was the reproductive cell, I just couldn’t wait to share the news.  I looked at breakfast in a whole new way.  “Look at that,”  I said, pointing Continue reading

Aunt Millie, the teensiest Aunt.

We lost Aunt Millie earlier this month.  I stopped by to see Uncle Gerald.  We hugged for a long time.  After that, we talked about aunt Millie.  He loved her since high school. That’s the kind of love everyone wants.

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When I was a little girl, I had all kinds of people around me.  I never had time to get lonely.  I never even had a chance to be alone.  Even in the bathroom, someone else was always there; taking a bath, brushing their teeth, or just sitting on the side of the tub, gabbing away.  There was always something to talk about.  That’s one thing everybody at my house did the best:  talk.  That’s why Grandpa called us The Magpies, because we were always talking.

Debbie was my best-friend-cousin.  She lived Uncle Gerald and Aunt Millie and her brother Jimmy, and Sandy in a tinsy, tiny house with a great big yard.  That yard was the most fun; just wide open space; enough to play baseball with a outfield big enough to have no automatic home run area.  No worrying about knocking a neighbor’s window out either.

Uncle Gerald and all the Aunts.  Grandma’s the one in the apron.

Uncle Gerald was the youngest of all the brothers and the tallest.  Dad said Uncle Gerald never lost his baby teeth, that’s how everybody knew he was the baby, ’cause no one could tell just by looking at him.  Uncle Gerald had straight hair that always slid into his eyes in corn silk shocks, so he was all the time brushing it out of his true-blue eyes.  Those eyes were just like Dad’s, still laughing when the rest of his face was relaxing.

Aunt Millie was the smallest of all my Aunts; she was itsy-bitsy and she Continue reading

Clouds Get in My Eyes

When I was a little girl, my TV only got in three channels all kind of fuzzy and most of the programs were for grown-ups.  I never even heard of video games, and computers were as big as my whole downstairs.  I knew that ’cause I read about it in my Weekly Reader.  I spent most of my free time reading or outside.  That’s how I learned to like clouds so much.

Mom could see stuff in clouds.  She said when she was a little girl, she and her brothers flew kites and made up stories about the dogs, and cats, and dragons and snakes they saw in the clouds.  She said to me, “See the walrus up there?”

“Where?” I looked up at the sky, with enough blue to make a pair of britches. That’s what I cared about, ’cause that meant it was going to be nice all day.

“Right there.  See the grey body and the white head, and up near the top; see the giant tusks coming out of his face,”  she stooped down, her dress, parachuting out all around her, making her legs disappear.  She took my hand in hers and pointed it up at a big gray and white cloud.  Mom sure looked pretty with her head tipped back looking up at the sky.  I could almost imagine what she looked like out there flying kites with Uncle Ken and Uncle Gene.  She had a sister, too, but Aunt Annie was born way later than anyone else, so Mom was like an only daughter, so she had to do all the work that me and my five sister did.  Mom thought boys would be working all their grown-up life, so there Continue reading

Tarzan of the Hayloft

In spite of all the work I had to do when I was a little girl, I still had plenty of time to play.  The best fun of all was building forts with Bonita and Tommy. Together we were a great team of invention, independence, and perseverance.

The best forts were in the hayloft.  It was against the rules to play around in the barn, and against the rules for boys to be up in the loft without Dad around, but me and Bonita sneaked anyways, and we let Tommy come up there and help us.  The bales of hay and straw were just like giant bricks for building.  I saw how Grandpa built things with bricks:  one solid layer on the bottom, then stack the next layer, overlapping the cracks in the first layer.  That was kinda like the way we stacked the bale at baling time, only at baling time, everything was flat, and with forts, we built walls up high, with tunnels connecting everything.  Hay bales made the best walls ’cause they were heavy; we used straw for the roof.  The roof was hard to make:  the walls had to be just the right distance apart, too far apart and the top bales fell through, too close, and we got just a hallway, no room at all.  Tom got inside the room and balanced the bales, while me and Bonita adjusted the walls.  When I got into building like that, I forgot all about how hot is was up there and how heavy those bales of hay were and how much everything up there made me sneeze and itch.  Well, to be honest,  I sneezed and itched almost all the time, anyways; that’s why Mom sewed pockets in every single thing she made me, ’cause I didn’t go anywhere without Kleenex. That hay and straw smelled so good and green and musty all at the same time.  Sometimes, if I was lucky, I saw streams of sunshine coming through the cracks in the barn walls, just like beams from heaven when the Holy Spirit came down and said “This is My Beloved Son,” only no voice and only barn pigeons, and lots of bits of dust riding on the sunbeams.

We worked for days together like that, ’cause we could only do so much before somebody was hollering for us, to come for supper, or trying to find out what was taking so long, or just because.  Sometimes, I got a hay-hook out, and pretended I was a mountain climber, grabbing the side of the hay-mountain with the hook and pulling myself up.  Once I missed and the hook went straight into my knee.  Holy mackerel, that hurt like the dickens and the next day even more.  I had a heck of a time walking for a couple of days, which made me miss a special 4-H field trip where I could have seen how artificial insemination worked.  That’s what Dr. Friese did with the teacup of hot water and vial when he came over and I had to stay in the house.  Dad didn’t know I knew, but I figured it all out by reading the calendar he had out in the barn:  first the cows rub their heads together, then they play piggy-back, and then next thing you know, there’s Dr. Friese asking for a teacup of hot water.

Bonita and I found a box full of pulleys and ropes lying around in the tool shed, just idle, so we strung them up all around the hayloft and flew around like Tarzan through the jungle, only we had a seat made of rope to sit on.  Wheee!  That was super fun just gliding all over the place, fast as lightning.  We got one rope rigged to go straight to the ladder down the hatch to the manger, and one time Bonita slipped off and went right down the chute.  I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants.  She was just fine on account of all the soft hay and straw down there, but it sure looked hilarious.  That set of ropes and pulleys was so keen, I just had to tell Dad what good inventors me and Bonita were.  I knew he was going to be so darned proud of me.

He wasn’t.  He clamped his teeth together so tight little ripples went up his jaws and disappeared behind his ears.

“You could slip down in this loop, and strangle.”  Dad widened out the rope loop stuck his neck in; his eyes bulged way out and his tongue hung loose against his cheek, like they would on a strangled man.  I was thinking my armpits would probably get in the way and the rope would tangle all around my arms first.  “But Dad,”  I said.

“But nothing.”  he said back, which means something like ‘Don’t talk back’ or ‘Shut up’ in Dad talk.  Anyways Dad was always thinking about how kids can get hurt and telling me not to do fun stuff.  “Take all these ropes down.  Right now,” he said.

I must have looked as sad as I felt, ’cause right then, he came up with another idea. He showed me how to slip a small piece of baling twine through the pulley and hang there by my hands.  That way if I slipped, I fell free of the pulley and just fell down on some hay, kinda the same way Bonita fell through the hatch into the manger.  That was even more like Tarzan of the Jungle.

Years later, long after I was grown, Mom told me that Dad had a horrible experience with rope in the hayloft.  One of his German shepherd dogs was in heat, so he tied her up in the loft, so no male dogs could get near her.  That dog was so anxious to get a mate, she broke right through the wall of the barn, and hanged herself.  Dad saw her just hanging there when he went out to do chores in the morning.  I bet when he saw his little girls whirring around on rope having a grand old-time, he could see a tragedy in the making.  It’s a tough thing for parents to have enough experience to expect danger, and to have enough courage to let their children stretch their imaginations, muscles, and minds. A really tough thing.  Wheeee!!