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.

 

Loss (Again)

I went to lots of funeral and visitations when I was a little girl; that’s what you do  to pay your last respects.  People got really down in the dumps at funerals.  Sometimes people said stupid things like “doesn’t she look so peaceful’, or “he just looks like he fell asleep.:  Sometimes people just say stuff like that to fill up the quietness that comes with sadness.  I never thought those dead people even looked a bit like there real selves, let alone peaceful and asleep.  They looked like store manikin, all dressed up in the dead person’s clothes.  Once I asked Mom why people got so sad when they knew the dead person was in heaven.  She said they were just sad for themselves, ’cause they were gonna miss that person so much.  All the people I knew who died were old and had a pretty good life.  They probably looked down from the pearly gates and wished they could wave or something, so the people they loved would stop all the crying.

Mom told me that sometimes babies died from crib death.  That’s when a baby forgot she was out here in the world, and Continue reading

Tell-Tale Signs: Fools and Weeds

Grandma Z and me

I hate weeds.  I have since I was a little girl.  Still, I love flowers and vegetables and being out in the yard plucking and pruning.  I have since I was too little to remember.  Perhaps it allows me to share in creation.  Perhaps it gives me some feeling of control over something.  Yet, sometimes I let a plant grow, just to see what it becomes.  I fail to recognize, categorize, or otherwise understand whether it is friend or foe. Like camping, gardening was passed on from one generation to another.

Mom loved to garden, but she had no luck at all.  The only flower she grew was gladiolas.  I hate those things, ’cause everybody sent those to funerals.  Smelling them made me think somebody died.  The glads, as Grandma called them, were back behind the sandbox, beside the asparagus.  Mom was good at growing asparagus, but not so good at cutting it, on account of asparagus grows super fast and gets woody, then it’s no good to eat.  I liked the way it looked when Mom forgot to cut it and it went to seed.  It got all feathery soft, like something that grew on a far off planet I saw on The Outer Limits.  That show gave me the heebie-jeebies, not so much when I watched it, but after I went to bed.  That’s part-way why I never slept with my toes or had sticking out of the covers.

Mom tried and tried to grow a smoke bush, but somebody kept running over it with the lawnmower.  No matter how much staking and flagging she did, that smoke bush was dust.  She probably should have planted Continue reading

Loss

I went to lots of funeral and visitations when I was a little girl; that’s what you do  to pay your last respects.  People got really down in the dumps at funerals.  Sometimes people said stupid things like “doesn’t she look so peaceful’, or ‘he just looks like he fell asleep.’  Sometimes people just say stuff like that to fill up the quietness that comes with sadness.  I never thought those dead people even looked a bit like there real selves, let alone peaceful and asleep.  They looked like store manikin, a ll dressed up in the dead person’s clothes.  Once I asked Mom why people got so sad when they knew the dead person was in heaven.  She said they were just sad for themselves, ’cause they were gonna miss that person so much.  All the people I knew who died were old and had a pretty good life.  They probably looked down from the pearly gates and wished they could wave or something, so the people they loved would stop all the crying.

Mom told me that sometimes babies died from crib death.  That’s when a baby forgot she was out here in the world, and Continue reading

Baby You’re a Firework

Mom told me she loved the fireworks when she was a little girl: she and her brothers and Grandma and Grandpa, of course they weren’t grandparents then, sat on a blanket and watched with ooo’s and aaahh’s for each new explosion. Fireworks were low on my list of priorities when I was a little girl. One year I found out why, and I longed to repeat that experience.

My great-aunt Anna was somehow related to Dad. She was nothing like anyone else in Dad’s family; Aunt Anna was tallish, and skinny, and she had dark hair. Those were all things that were different from the soft shapes and colors of Grandma and Dad’s brothers and his one sister, but that wasn’t the main difference. Aunt Anna was pinched looking, like my mouth felt after sucking lemons. I loved that feel, first all sour, then like my whole mouth felt cleaned out and waiting for something new. Aunt Anna had that look, like she got all puckered up with something sour, and she would do anything to keep something new from getting in. Her lips were all puckered in like Mom’s got when she was holding in a mad feeling. Aunt Anna’s clothes were always dark and straight and she wore those kinda shoes that I only saw on teachers. Come to think of it, she kinda looked like a teacher.

When I was a little girl, I loved grown-ups, ’cause I could almost always make them laugh or at least smile. I liked to climb right up on a grown-up’s lap and sing this one special song that ended with ‘pull down your pants and slide down the ice.’ I forget the rest, but that last part always made grown-ups’ face look a tinsy bit like a balloon blowing up, with their necks getting taller, their eyes getting big with eyebrows shooting straight up, and their mouths going in a big ‘O’ until a big giant laugh came out like a happy shout. For sure, I would get a big hug and some nice comment like “You’re such a firecracker.” I was the most wonderful kid in Continue reading

Lost and Found (re-post)

When I was a little girl, I got lost a lot.  I remember getting lost at the beach and lost in the museum.  I was never afraid when I was lost, because I never knew I was lost.

I got lost at the beach when I was really little.  I just kept walking along the beach, playing with different kids.  Once my foot got stuck down in the sand and a wave came along and pushed me under.  I blew the water out in big bubbles and looked around at the seaweed.  I guess I can swim now, I thought.  Nobody I played with could swim yet; I was first to learn.  A lady picked me up and asked me if I was lost.

“No.” I said.  She smelled just like shredded coconut and baby oil.

“Where’s your Mommy and Daddy?”  said the lady who picked me up.  She had on a black bathing suit with lots of skin up front on view and her bowls were great-big, giant bowls,  just coming right out of the front of her bathing suit.  I never saw anything like that on any of the ladies I knew, not my friends’ mothers, nobody at church, not Mom, for sure, not Mom.  This was before I went to school, otherwise, maybe Mrs. Brown, my kindergarten teacher had bowls that big, but hers were hanging way down, not like this lady, who’s bowls were pushed together and just bursting out like a big, pink, bare butt sitting up there in front. Continue reading