Everybody has their traditions, especially around Christmas. We had lots of baking, sewing, decorating, and making construction paper chains; and of course, getting the Christmas tree. I’m not sure where we got our Christmas tree when I was really little, but I sure have a lot of memories of cutting down our own; right out in the field on our farm.
Dad had a good friend from work named Don. I was never allowed to call him Don, ‘cuz that’s disrespectful, and I had to respect my elders. There’s no commandment about elders, just parents. Still, my parents said I had to, so if I didn’t, it was still a sin against honoring mothers and fathers. Anyways, I called Dad’s friend, Mr. B, cuz that’s respectful, the same thing for his wife, too, only she was Mrs. B, of course. Anyways, Mr. and Mrs. B bought some land from Dad and built a house, and became our neighbors. They had a son, Scott, and a daughter, Sandy.
Scott’s dad and mine got a grand idea to have a Christmas tree farm. They hoped to sell Christmas trees someday and make a whole lot of money, then they could say, ‘money grows on trees.’ But that never happened. For one thing, it takes a long time to grow trees, and they sorta lost interest. For another thing, it takes a lot of tending to get good-looking Christmas trees: pruning and training the branches to grow straight, and those two dads were way too busy working overtime for Ma Bell, to be out in the field babying Christmas trees. In the meantime, Scott got asthma from drinking drain cleaner he found under the kitchen sink, and the whole family moved to Arizona where the air was easier to breathe and Mrs. B’s hair stayed as straight as a pin and never got frizzy like it did in the summer when she was our neighbor. Those are stories for a different day. This story is about Christmas trees.
The seasons seemed so long when I was a little girl. I couldn’t wait for summer, by August it seemed like the sweltering heat would never leave and make way for fall. Once school started, I wondered when-o-when would the snow arrive.
I jumped out of bed when it was still dark, just to see if any snow fell. The ground was white and the willow branches sparkled stiff. Hurray, it snowed. My heart gave a leap in my chest and at the same time I looked at Bonita, she looked at me.
“It snowed,” we said right together, then “You owe me a Coke,” ’cause the first one to say that, wins. We don’t really get Coke, it’s just a game.
Mom never buys pop, except for Vernors if somebody is sick, or when she’s making that special fruit cocktail she makes by throwing a whole bunch of different of fruit together and then pouring brandy all over it, and letting it sit for a couple of days so all the flavors blend together. Yuuummy.
Mom scoops the fruit cocktail into a beautiful glass that looks like the kind movie stars drink from with a skinny stem that you hold with three fingers and curl your pinky out in the air. I saw Hoss on Bonanza do that once. He’s my favorite Cartwright brother.
Right before dinner, Mom poured some Vernors on top of the fruit, and sat one glass in the middle of each place setting. I had to sit still, which is kinda like torture, ’cause for one thing it looks so pretty, and for another thing, the Vernors bubbles up into my nose and makes me want to sneeze and breathe in deep at the same time ’cause of all that gingery smell mixed with the juicy, fruity smell.
I waited until the prayer was over before digging in, then I was super careful, ’cause it’s a glass-glass and a delicate glass-glass, so easy to break. I bet you guessed already, but Mom only made that stuff on special days like Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I was all dressed up. Another big reason to be careful and stay clean. I was terrible at that. Somehow I got dirty even when I tried not to.
Anyways on days when I thought the first snow fell, I got electricity going in my legs and arms, so quick as lightning I got out the door to feed the chickens and do morning barn chores. Darn it all, nothing but a heavy frost. The grass looked all blue-white in the dark, but it crunched underfoot like a million robin eggs got dropped from the trees. Nothing to scuff with my toe; nothing to roll into a ball; nothing to scoop up with my mitten and taste, all crunchy-clean in my mouth. Darn it, only a heavy frost. Man-o-man, when was it ever going to snow.
I looked up at the sky: not a cloud in sight. The Milky Way spread out above me as far as I could see and the constellations twinkled bright as Dad’s eyes did when he tried to keep a secret; only the sky was navy-blue velvet and Dad’s eyes were light-light blue.
I only knew how to find the Big Dipper. I looked for my name up there in the stars like St. Therese did. Nope. I looked back at the grass all blue-white, teasing me into thinking it snowed. Maybe God’s a practical joker; it was time for snow to come. He knew that; He knew everything, so He knew how much I wanted it to snow. That would be a mean joke, like Uncle Gene’s, not a funny one like Dad’s, where even if it’s not all that funny, I had to laugh ’cause of his eyes, and ’cause the corners of his mouth twitched up begging his whole face to smile and begging me to smile, too. That made me laugh out loud, even when I didn’t get the joke.
Well, maybe God was busy trying to feed the hungry people in China. That seemed more like the God the Sisters told me about in catechism. I took one more look up at the heavens before I headed back to the house for breakfast. Nope, no snow-clouds and no “A”; just the Milky Way and bright stars all over heaven just a-giggling down at me.
Grandma told me the older she got, the faster time passed, until the seasons just blurred together. That seemed so strange back then, but now I have that same experience. It seems like summer just left, and now I’m getting ready for Thanksgiving and before I know it, Christmas will be here.
Each season is alive with beauty: new growth in springtime, flowers in summer, crisp colors of fall. Frost has its own sparkling beauty, disappears before I have my fill.
When I was little, the seasons seemed so long, yet I missed the splendor; now that I’m older, all that beauty just seems to slip away before I’m ready to let go.
Perhaps God does, indeed, enjoy a good joke.
Happy Thanksgiving. For most of us, it’ll be different. Maybe the most memorable of all!
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 →
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.
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 →
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.