Hot as the Dickens

This week promises to be into the 90s, with growing humidity.  Just thinking about it makes me remember hot summer days when I was a little girl and a not so little girl.

I never even heard about air-conditioning when I was a little girl.  If anyone told me I would think that was make-believe, or something only rich people had.

We had fans.  Fans that we propped up in windows to cool us down at night.

I shared a bedroom with Deanna and Bonita.  Deanna wanted the fan to blow out because that would pull all the hot air out of the room.  I believed the fan could blow the sound of crickets and frogs over me, along with the smell if lilacs and peonies or fresh cut hay; whatever was out there.

Bonita never said a word because that would mean she had to take sides so she just stayed quiet like she never even thought about it.

Together we compromised.  Each day one of us got to choose.  Bonita had to keep track so she didn’t get on anyone’s bad side:  one time facing in; the next time she got to choose, facing out.

Sometimes avoiding something is way more work than just sticking your neck out and blurting out an opinion.  Anyways, I hardly ever stopped myself from blurting stuff out.  Mostly because I didn’t think about it until it was too late.

Seems like time slowed down on super-hot days in the summer.

I could just lounge around all day long and read one of my Weekly Reader Book of the Month books. Of course, I couldn’t really do that on account of chores to do, like weed the garden and hang clothes on the line and teach my cow, Ladybird, how to walk like a show cow, stopping her front feet right together and her back feet with one back and one forward, so her udder showed the best way possible. On super-hot days, me and Ladybird took a break from training.

Hanging clothes wasn’t so bad, cuz they started out cool and wet.  Sometimes it seemed like they got dry before I even got a load up, but I never took them down until the whole four lines got filled and dried and Mom said I had to, cuz that meant another job:  folding clothes.

Deanna liked to get some sort of board game going, like Monopoly.  Nancy, from across the road came over, and Tommy next door, and sometimes Diane and Mike from down the road.  Lots of kids playing Monopoly meant the game lasted forever and a day. That got super-boring.

Sometimes we played card games like Spoons, I Doubt It, and Oh Hell but we changed the name to “Oh Heck,” so we didn’t have to go to confession. That’s before I learned about wooden swearing and before I knew it was just as bad to say a word that meant the same thing as “Hell,” and maybe even worse cuz you were trying to pull one over on God.

I never told my blood-sister, Connie, about wooden swearing, so she kept on saying “fishy damn” instead of “dam it.” I figured I’d just let sleeping dogs lie on account of one rule I really liked about sinning: You have to know it’s a sin and do it anyway. I figured if Connie never knew about wooden swearing, she could “heck,””fishy dam,” “shoot,” and “fudge” up a storm and God could just tell the devil, “Sorry dude, she didn’t know.”

Mostly, we played outside cuz mothers didn’t like kids in the house. Sometimes we had pogo stick contests or hula hoop contests. Nancy was super good at hula hooping.

If the day was so hot we could hardly move, we waited until nighttime to play outside cuz by then things started to cool off and all those chores took up time during the day. Night’s when we played Piggy in My Pen. Another game that can last forever. Or at least until bedtime.

Piggy in My Pen is sorta like Hide and Go Seek, except instead of saying “1-2-3 on Bonita,” you say, “Bonita’s in my pen.” After that, Bonita had to stay in my pen, which was the boxelder tree, until she got a signal from another Piggy. The game didn’t end until all the pigs got caught. Which most nights was never.

That’s me with our dog, Bingo. Bonita’s got one of our cats. It looks like Deanna just got all our tennis shoes off the line.

The day is already on its way to being a scortcher. The air-conditioning is on. I have chores to do. The first thing I need to do is finish the edging around the flower beds and along the curb. After that, I’ll be inside reading and working on my next novel, working title May His Tribe Increase.

What will you be doing in this heat?

A Girl and her Cow

One day in the early spring, our cow, Belle, gave birth to a perfect little heifer.  She was mine.  It was my job to train her, feed her, and clean her.  In August, I would show the world just what a capable 10-year-old I was.  This was no ordinary calf, she was a registered Holstein.  She needed a name that would befit her lineage.

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This is my niece. She’s growing up on the same farm that I did.

I named my first calf Tiny.  That was a good name for a calf, but not so good for a grown cow, besides there was only one Tiny, and this new little wobbly-legged calf was not her.  This new calf looked a lot like Belle: mostly black with just the perfect amount of white marking across her back, up her feet and legs and under her belly.  Belle never even saw my calf’s father.  That’s because Dr. Friese came over with his little frozen vial, and that’s how Belle got pregnant.  It didn’t take any love or marriage for cows, ’cause cows didn’t have souls.  They were still God’s creatures, that’s for sure, but they never ate apples from that tree in the Garden of Eden, so no rules, and no sins. ‘Course there weren’t any cows in heaven either, so that was the down side of all that freedom.

Dad was really good at picking out names; he picked out all the girls names at my house, except for Mom’s of course.  Any Dodo bird would know that.  Dad even helped me name my doll, Jonesy-Belle, so for sure he would be a good help with this new calf of mine, the only one, besides Belle who was a genuine, registered Holstein.  Me and Dad put our heads together for days, trying to come up with names.  Dad helped Bonita name her calf Black Eyes; that was easy, she was mostly white with a few giant black blotches, and big black circles around her eyes.  Besides that, Dad called Bonita his black-eyed Susan, so Bonita loved calling her calf, Black Eyes.  Bonita was too little for 4-H and Black Eyes was just a regular old Holstein calf, not a registered Holstein, like mine.

One evening, while Dad was milking Belle, he said, “I got an idea, let’s name her after someone in the Vice-President’s family.”  He rested his head against Belle’s belly, and turned just enough to look at me. Continue reading

Load ’em Up, Head ’em Out

Dad took two weeks of vacation every summer. One week was for getting ready to go, and one week was for the actual vacation. He always took us camping. Dad learned how to camp in the army, but he learned how much fun it could be from Mom. Mom camped when she was a little girl, and that’s before there were even campgrounds.

First off, we had to bake cookies for the trip. Mom had a big lard-tin that had to get filled up with home-baked cookies.

Deanna baked Cherry Winks, yucky, I hated those: marachino cherries and corn flakes. I hated Corn flakes ’cause of the six thousand boxes we ate saving Post Toasties box tops for all those free cereal bowls and juice glasses, and marachino cherries were so sweet they made my teeth hurt.

Vickie made no bake chocolate cookies, that’s the first thing I learned how to make in 4-H Cooking; except for learning how to make a root beer float,  that’s just scooping and pouring. Any do-do bird can do that.

Bonita made peanut butter cookies. Yum, those were best still warm with a glass of good, cold milk. I liked to hold a bite of cookie in my mouth and let the milk soak in. That’s almost the same as dunking, but no crumbs in the milk glass. Mom hated dunking, it was against the rules.

I made chocolate chip cookies, my very favorite kind, and the kind I got my first blue ribbon for in my first year of 4-H. Each of us Big Kids made about 10 dozen cookies each. I had to eat some right out of the oven, ’cause that caramel-good smell with melting chocolate made my mouth get slippery inside and it seemed like those cookies just begged to be eaten. That left a big greasy stain on the newspaper, so I put new cookies on those stains, so Mom wouldn’t know I snitched cookies.

Making cookies took a long time, ’cause I could only bake one sheet at a time, and each sheet took exactly 12 minutes. Let’s see, that’s 12X10 or 120 minutes. Okay that was only 2 hours of baking, but then there was the mixing and washing the dishes, and finally packing into the tin, with a perfect circle of waxed paper between every layer of cookies. Holy smokes, that was a project. Twelve minutes was too long to just sit around staring at the oven, so I liked to read in between. The only trouble was, if I got lost in my book and forgot to set the timer, pretty soon somebody was yelling,

“The cookies are burning,” which was usually Mom, ’cause nobody else paid attention to smoke like Mom did. Grandpa was a fireman, so she knew all about fires and she was scared to death of our house burning. She was always saying, “Are you trying to burn the house down?” That was another one of those questions I wasn’t supposed to answer.

Once I wondered what she would say if
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You ain’t heavy….If I just keep lifting

When I was a little girl, I had a calf named Tiny.  She was a little Holstein heifer; she was not Belle’s calf, Dad bought her; she was such a runt, I have a sneaking suspicion that Tiny came cheap.  I loved Tiny.  I loved Tiny as much any kid loved their dog, as much as Bonita loved Nikki, our German Shepherd.

The grass was still frosty in the morning when Dad showed me how to teach Tiny how to drink from a bucket.  First I mixed up a powder milk formula for her; Belle had her own calf, plus we needed some of her milk for the house, so Tiny drank formula.  I used warm water so Tiny would think she was drinking from her mother, then I wet my fingers with the formula and put them in front of Tiny’s nose.  She gave a little sniff, licked my fingers, then slurped all my fingers into her mouth and started sucking them like there was no tomorrow.   It almost the same way as when I put the vacuum cleaner hose up to my cheek and I thought my whole face was a goner, only really wet.

I gotta admit, it was atinsy bit scary and at the same time it made my skin have those happy tingles like when somebody remembered  my birthday with no reminder at all.  Slowly I lowered my hand into the bucket as Tiny kept on sucking.  Then I pulled my fingers out.  Up came Tiny’s head all puzzled-looking thinking, where did my teats go? So we started all over again.  Eventually, Tiny didn’t need my fingers at all, but I still let her suck on them, ’cause by then it just felt like her way of saying she loved me, too.

Dad lifted Tiny up and moved her around, just like she was one of his own kids.  I lifted Tiny too, but it was hard for me to walk with her, ’cause her legs dangled down almost to the floor, probably because I was  a whole lot shorter than Dad.

“If you lift Tiny everyday, you’ll be able to lift a full-grown cow when she’s grown,”  Dad told me.  “But you gotta lift her every day.”  Dad’s eyes got damp looking and twinkling like they did when he was telling a story about a telephone extension he sold when he was fixing someone’s line  in the city.  Those stories always ended in laughter, but not so this day, he was all solemn looking in the face, like he was in church, except for his eyes didn’t look so dazzley in church.

I would be about the strongest girl in school, even stronger than Jeannie. She was super strong, ’cause she had four brothers and no sister.  She was tough as any boy.  I never saw Jeannie cry and she could hit a baseball harder than any boy in my school.  I had mostly sisters, I wasn’t all that tough, I cried easy, but I was stronger than most of the kids in my grade.  I knew because I could beat them at arm wrestling and pull-ups.  That’s because of the bales of hay and buckets of silage I lifted doing chores with Dad.

Twice a day and sometimes more, I went out to the barn to feed Tiny and lifted her up as far as I could, burying my nose in her soft hair that smelled like fresh straw and damp skin all at once.  If she was lying down, I snuggled right up beside her and told her all about my day, with a soft voice, so only she and I could hear.  There’s something about the way any baby smells, a kitten, a puppy,  piglet, Tiny or my baby sister, Julie, maybe it’s all the milk babies drink. The smell just opens up my heart and makes me want to breathe in deeper.

I liked being in the barn anyway, especially when Dad was there.  The cats gathered in back of Belle while Dad milked, and sometimes Dad squirted milk in the cats’ mouths.  If he missed his mark, the cat got all offended looking, as if Dad did something on purpose to disgrace her.  He always gave the cats a little shallow bowl full of milk.  As soon as he finished milking he gave a little “Haruph” and hoisted himself off the stool and limped his first step,  like he’d been sitting there for days and he was all stiff.  The cats all stood six inches back from the bowl, waiting all polite-like for the milk to be poured.

Once our old sow, Red Rose’s eight piglets got out of the pen and came a tripping over each other running like it’d been a month since they last ate, and didn’t already just nurse from Red Rose.  They slobbered and grunted in that cat dish, spilling milk and putting their front feet right in the dish.  The cats sat back on their hind quarters and put their noses in the air at each other.  I could just hear them thinking, Well! I never. All smug and prissy. If a cat could turn up their little finger, our cats would’ve.

I did pretty well, lifting Tiny, all though the summer.  Then we went on vacation camping.  We were gone a week, and Dad said he wanted to stay another week.

I started crying, “I gotta get back to Tiny.”  So we went home and didn’t stay an extra week.

Mom said it had nothing to do with me, and I just let her think that, ’cause she and Deanna and Bonita, and Vickie, and the Little Kids, if they were big enough to think at all, would be mad at me if they thought we could have stayed an extra week if it weren’t for my blubbering.IMG_5528

When I got home, first I hugged the carpet in the frunch-room and rolled around on it for a bit. I was so happy to get home.

I had to see  Tiny.  There she was happy to see me, looking like she hadn’t changed a bit.  I scratched her neck and she pointed her nose right up toward the sky in delight; she sucked at my fingers just like always.  But I was unable to lift her. I pulled and tugged, but no luck. Just like Dad said, I had to lift her everyday, if I wanted to be able to lift a full-grown cow.

I have grandchildren now, I gave up on lifting calves.  When my  first grandson was still a toddler, I told him that if I lifted him everyday, when he got to be a full-grown man, I could carry him down the aisle on his wedding day.   By eleven I could still lift him, but his feet were starting to brush the ground because he’s almost as tall as me. He’s sixteen now and has a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t see him as often as I used to. That’s probably the reason I can’t lift him up anymore.

 

Corny Mittens

Winter always makes me think of growing up on our farm, and doing barn chores.  I was in charge, because Dad worked a lot of overtime.  That’s how he kept bread on the table and shoes on our feet.

Dad was an expert at thinking up work for kids.  It kept us so busy, we had little time to think of mischief.  One winter, a field of corn went unharvested.  Instead, we did it by hand, picking ears of corn like we lived in a third world country.

I liked the barn, because the animals kept things toasty warm.  Plus I throwing bales of hay and straw around keeps a body revved up; all except my fingers and toes.  I sure knew what “stings the toes, and bites the nose” was all about.  Or was that “Stings the nose, and bites the toes”?  Either way, my toes and fingers hurt from the cold.  Especially the year we got the corn in by hand.

Dad didn’t tell me why no combine came that year to get the corn in.  Maybe he was working Continue reading