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.


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.


NaBloPoMo: Solving Problems the Nice Way

English: Flowchart for problem solving.

English: Flowchart for problem solving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a little girl, being nice was most important of all; right next to knowing how to think for myself, and solve my own problems.  Solving problems was way more fun than being nice any old day.  Most the time a kid can be nice and solve problems and think for herself all at the same time, but not always.

Solving puzzles and working out answers to problems was my very favorite thing to do.

cowjpgDad gave me lots of Continue reading

A Smile Without a Toothpick, is Still a Smile


For some reason, I’ve been thinking about toothpicks lately.  Mom and Dad always had toothpicks handy, so did Grandma and Grandpa and all my aunts and uncles. When I was a little girl, setting the table included salt, pepper, butter, and toothpicks. Toothpicks were like the period at the end of the meal. All adults grabbed one.

Kids never needed toothpicks for cleaning stuff out of their teeth. That’s because nothing ever got stuck there. Grown-ups had bad teeth, or they chewed too hard, ’cause stuff was always getting caught in their teeth. Maybe it was like Aunt Phyllis and the radishes,

“I like them, but they don’t like me,” she said, which made everyone laugh and nod their heads. Grownups like to talk in a kind of code language. Aunt Phyllis really meant, “I burp when I eat radishes, and I hate how it tastes, plus it’s down-right embarrassing.”

Anyways, kids’ teeth were sharp and white, not jagged and filled up with silver like adults. Maybe that’s why stuff got stuck in grownups teeth. Grownups were always picking at their teeth. Dad leaned back in his chair after supper and ran a toothpick between his teeth with one hand, and looked far off like he was bringing up some poem he remembered. That’s how I knew he was settling for a little talking and one last cup of coffee. Mom poured the coffee and combed through her teeth.

“Where’s the toothpicks?” Dad said, if the Table-setter forgot them. The Table-setter scrambled to get the little china pitcher, which must’ve been from way back when Mom had a toy china set of dishes, and the only thing that was left was that tiny pitcher, which was now precious, ’cause Mom’s brothers, my uncles broke all her other dishes. Brothers can be a bother, and hers were kind of mean to her, putting bugs and stuff in her bed and doing mean things to her dolls, and bringing friends over that made fun of how skinny she was, and teasing about how she had to go in the “fresh-air room” on account of her skinniness.

“Where’d these come from?” Dad said about some new toothpicks.

“I picked them up by mistake at Kroger’s,” Mom said. “We never had round toothpicks before.”

“Well, they don’t work. I need the flat ones.”

Hmmm…. I thought. Why does the shape of the toothpick matter?

Mom carried a toothpick or two in her pocketbook, and Dad had one in his shirt pocket, if they got somewhere and no toothpicks. Most restaurants had a pile of toothpicks waiting at the cash register, ’cause everybody and their brother needed a toothpick after eating. Not kids, though. I never saw a kid picking at their teeth. Nothing ever got stuck in a kids teeth.

I ate apples and carrots, which are natural teeth cleaners. I read that in a book. That’s why horses never get stuff stuck in their teeth and why dogs get bad breath a lot: one likes apples and carrots, the other one never eats that stuff.   20121011-070240.jpgMaybe adults forget how apples keep doctors away, ‘ cause that’s another thing about adults, they go to the doctor way more than kids.  Except for Dad. I never knew about him going to the doctor.  Ever.  He had no time for that sort of nonsense.

Now that I’m older, I find that stuff gets caught in my teeth a lot. I wish I was in the habit of ending a meal with a toothpick. 20121011-071207.jpgI might be spared some embarrassment when I discover a smile tarnished with spinach since lunchtime. If you see that, be a friend a hand me a toothpick. Please.

I Smell Spring

When I was a little girl I loved the smell of dirt.  I still do.  Mom said when I was a toddler, I liked to eat dirt, too; she couldn’t keep me out of it.  Sometimes in the early spring, when the farmers are plowing the fields, I still think the earth smells like it would taste good, maybe it’s the minerals in the soil.  I love the different textures and smells the earth has to offer.

In the springtime, it was time to open up the pastures and let the cows out to graze.  All winter they were kept in a small fenced lot, or cooped up in the barn.  I thought Belle and Lightfoot and the yearlings looked forward to getting out in the fields as much as I did.  But, like almost everything else, there was work to be done first.

Dad hitched a little trailer to the back of the Ford tractor and loaded up  with wire, insulators, wire-stretchers, and all kinds of other tool, including a boxed meter that slung around his neck that could tell Dad whether there was a “ground” in the fence.  Then we drove around all the sections of the pastures and fixed the fence, opening each section to the cows as we got it all fixed up.   As soon as I was big enough to put the clutch in by myself, without standing up, I got to drive.

I loved the way the pasture smelled like black dirt and clover, just starting out fresh, bright green and close to the ground.  Before long it would be tall and in bloom; purple blossoms would dot the pasture.  I liked to pick the flowers apart and suck the nectar out, just like a bee.  So sweet.

In the spring, Belle’s and Lightfoot’s milk would taste sweeter and richer, not bland like it did in the winter when the cows were nearly dried-up and they ate mostly hay.  One time the cows got out of the fence and into a field full of wild onion.  Ooo-whee, that milk tasted like it came  straight out of the cow all curdled and sour, nobody wanted to drink it.  It the spring, the new calves were born and there would be enough milk for them and for us kids, with lots of thick yellow cream floating on top.

I drove the tractor from post to post, put-her in neutral, put the brake on,  and hopped off the back to help Dad, never off the front, that’s too dangerous.  Lots of times Dad gave the cousins a ride on the tractor, just for fun; he let them stand right up next to him on the little ledge over the axle.  But my cousin Gary had less common sense than me:  Dad was always asking me how I could be so smart at school and have no common sense at all.  Gary almost got himself killed, ’cause for some lamed-brained reason, he decided to jump up over the fender of the moving wheel and ride on it.  He said he thought it would be fun, like a Ferris wheel.  Dad came running up from the field, dragging Gary by the hand behind him, both of them looking like they were ready to throw-up.  Everyone knew something was wrong, ’cause Dad hardly ever ran; Mom said she never saw him move fast, even though she said he was a track star in high school.  I tried to imagine Dad even in high-school; nope, I couldn’t do it.  I think town kids had a hard time understanding the country, just like that story of the city mouse and the country mouse.

Dad showed me how to test the fence to see if there was a ground, if so, we traced back over the fence to find out where.  Sometimes there was a connector touching the post or  a crack in an insulator.  Sometimes it was an easy fix, and sometimes we had to replace a whole section of wire.  That’s where the wire stretchers came in: a bundle of pulleys, hooks, and rope, Dad fastened one end to the pole and threaded the wire through the other end, then  pulled the wire tighter than anyone could do just on her own.

It took a few weeks to check every part of the pasture; as each section got checked, the cows got a little further to roam, still, they always knew just when to come to the barn for milking, and if they forgot, we just yelled “Ka-Boss, Ka-Boss,” and Belle headed home, with everyone else in a straight line behind.  I never knew how they figured out Belle was the Boss-cow, but she knew and so did the rest of the herd.

At the top of a sandy hill in the second pasture, we had an apple tree.  Mom could see it from the porch, and every spring she looked out at that tree and said, “Someday, I’m going to have a house up there, and it will be tight and warm, with no drafts.  Wouldn’t that be the berries?”  I could almost see that house up there, still, we planted potatoes on the hill and the only things that had a home there was a family of  kildeer, the mother skittering along pretending like she had a broken wing, so we would stay away from the nest.  Dad said it was a good idea to let the kildeer think it fooled us, and just stay away from her nest.   Dad said sand is good soil to plant potatoes, then they can grow big and round, otherwise, they get all crooked and looking like an old man’s face, then they’re hard to clean and peel.  I saw some like that in the grocery store.

In the springtime everything was just a promise, that I trusted would be kept. I still do.   My daffodils and crocuses pushing their heads up through the black earth, still give me that same hopeful feeling; with a little work, just about anything is possible.  The smell of the damp earth makes me just want to take a big bite and savor all the goodness life has to offer.