Fighting the Weasel Monster

I posted this back in 2010.  Yesterday, a small cat crossed in front of the car.  She had short little legs that made her almost slink.  If it weren’t for the slight calico markings on her dark coat, I might have thought she was a weasel.  Mom and  the weasel popped into my head and I started to laugh.  

When I was a little girl, I lived in a big house full of mysteries.  The windows had shutters operated by ropes inside the house, except paint made the ropes stick and there was one window which had shutters that never opened.  I could only see the shuttered window from the outside, so sometimes on rainy days, I searched the inside, looking for the secret window.  The basement floor was dirt, and sometimes animals like moles would make their way into the house.  Once a skunk got in there and got scared, and woke us all up in the middle of the night to a dreadful smell.   There always seemed to be places to explore and mysteries to contemplate in that house.

The bottom corner of each bedroom door had a half-circle of wood missing. Maybe  a hungry wood-eating monster took a bite out of each door.  Mom said squirrels lived in the house before we moved there because  the house was empty for a while.   I tried hard to imagine that house empty, no one there at all, and it seemed impossible, my house was a house that needed noise.   Continue reading

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
Continue reading

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.

 

The Aroma of Hope

Yesterday I  walked to the Village Hall to vote.  I’ve had the blues lately.  The walk filled my heart with joy. No, not because I was exercising my citizenship, although that does make me proud. Because my brain filled with the sights and sounds and especially the aromas of my childhood.

When I was a little girl, fall came with vivid sounds and colors and smells.  And lots of work.  Every season had work and the work always smelled different, but underneath it all, came the smell of the good earth. In fall work was dusty and musty and golden and frosty and filled with wind rustling everything it touched.  Fall filled up my nose with burning leaves and rotting pumpkins and earthy potatoes dug from the ground.  Even dried corn plucked from the stalks had that aroma of tortillas waiting to be fried.

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One year the corn stayed unharvested.  Dad worked too many hours at Ma Bell and he missed the combine trading time, or perhaps some other reason I never knew about prevented him from getting the corn in.  Corn stalks became dry and brittle and the ears hung open like so many rows of loose teeth.

“We can do it,”  Mom said.

“In my day, we didn’t have fancy combines,” Dad said, giving the dining room table a slap.  Every big decision came down with a slap at the dining room table.

I already knew about Dad’s days, ‘cuz he smiled like he just brought home an A+ history paper when he showed us kids the old-timer farm equipment at the county fair.  Of course Mr. and Mrs. T, who had a farm down Terry Lane, still used some of that old stuff. They were like people lost in time, wearing old-time trousers and farm dresses with aprons.  When Dad was a kid farms had machines with long belts attached to generators, and blades so big they had two handles, so a farmer could swing it with both hands. It’s a wonder our nation could get fed at all with a breadbasket harvested with those antiques.

But then again, we didn’t even have those old tools and if we did, Mom would never let us use them.  She was all the time worrying about one of us getting sucked up into the combine and made into pig feed before anyone noticed we went missing.  That kind of stuff happened to some kid she knew, and she never ever forgot about it.  She didn’t any kids with missing fingers or arms, and she sure didn’t want to pick one out of a combine.  Those long belts and huge blades were probably way too dangerous with all kinds of places to snag clothes, or pinch off fingers or even cut off a foot or two.

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We had buckets and mittened hands.  Yup.  We harvested that whole field by hand.

Dad gave the Little Kids flashlights to hold and Big Kids buckets.  He took a row, and I took a row, and everyone else got divided onto our teams.  Of course Bonita was on my team.  She was my best-friend-sister, so she had to be on my team even though sometimes she cried to be on Dad’s team cuz she wanted to be his favorite more than she wanted to be my best friend.

“Bucket Brigade!” Dad shouted, and off we went, picking corn as fast as we could and sending one bucket back to be dumped in the trailer.  As a full bucket went back, an empty came forward.  Sometimes the back kid ran forward with the empty, on account of passing was too slow.  The corn stalks pulled at our feet and rustled like torn apart Christmas wrapping.

“Hi-yup!” Dad said, each time a new bucket got filled.

“Go!” I’d say in the row right beside him. I never got more than a few feet behind.  Victory was close, I tasted it.

A race to the middle of the field and back again.  I started out with frost crunching and nipping and wishing be somewhere warm.  I stopped hot and thirsty and with my nose filled with corn cob dust.  We laughed all the way to the house.

Beyond the field, yellow light smiled out of lace-covered windows.  Home hit me square in the face when I opened the door; warm against cold skin and runny nose.  Just in time for a big bowl of popcorn and “My Three Sons,” or “The Donna Reed Show.”

Everyone knows about leaves turning gold and red and orange in the fall.  Cornstalks turn from green to amber, the gentle rustle turns more insistent.  Snow is coming.  Hurry.  Batten down the hatches, bring in the stores, get ready for the cold. Fields lay barren and brown, except for winter wheats green leaves reaching for the sun, forever hopeful of the spring that promises to come.

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Pearls and Movie Star Kisses

That's me in the back seat of the car.

The summer before I went into seventh grade, I fell in real love.  Of course I was in love before.  I loved Dale, the boy I never did get to kiss in kindergarten.  I loved Warren in first grade; that is, until he got a buzz cut, and that was it for him and me.  I always loved Georgie, he was my best boy-friend ever.  But John.  John was a whole new kind of love.

John lived about a mile away from me, but I never met him because he went to Catholic School.  I don’t even remember how we did meet, but I do remember he was the shining memory of that summer.  That summer when I knew I was going to the high school.  I knew it.  That was the best.  Then I met John, and the best became better.

John had a two brothers; one the same age as Deanna and one the same age as Bonita, and a little sister the same age as Vickie.  That’s the way Catholic families are: bunches of kids.  But for some reason, God stopped there for John’s family, where God just kept on giving my mom and dad kids.  Maybe it was account of John’s Mom, Mrs. G. was busy teaching girls how to be secretaries and have good manners, and never wear slacks to school.  She was super strict and grumpy as all get out.  My mom just stayed home and sewed and canned and handed out chores to all her kids and was mostly in a good mood, unless somebodies shoes got lost or she was late getting somewhere, or the house was a rip-snorting pigpen.  If those things happened, she might have a screaming banshee fit, or she might just bite down hard and swallow a lot.

Anyways, somehow me and John met and fell in love.  I should remember how we met, but I don’t.  Almost everyday, he walked across the field one way, and I walked the other way, and we met somewhere in the middle.  We didn’t have any streets to cross, or sidewalks, or backyards.  Just fields.  We talked a lot.  I think we must have, cuz what else would we do?  We were outside with no TV or radio or board games or even a bike. And no one else was around, so we must’ve talked and walked.

When we walked, we kept bumping into each other, like we never learned how to walk in a straight line.  One minute, my feet were straight, and the next minute my shoulder bumped up against John’s.  Once our hands brushed and it felt like I my heart hit up against the electric fence that kept the cows from running all over tarnation.  I’m pretty sure John felt a jolt, too, cuz he and I jumped away a little.  Still, I sorta liked that shocky feeling, so before long, we brushed together again, and after enough brushing of hands, John grabbed mine and didn’t let go.  Tingles went all over me.  That’s when I knew I was in love for real.  Not the kind of Dale or Warren or Georgie kind of love. The love I had for John was the movie kind of love.  I knew it on account of I had that same mushy feeling like when I saw those movie lovebirds kissing in the shower, or when that couple was smootching under the apple tree. Continue reading

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