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

Extinction of the Shivaree

A tradition came to an end, after I was grown and had a few Little Kids of my own.  I lived  in the Upper Peninsula, or maybe I was over in The Thumb; I only heard this story, it belongs to the Little Kids.  They were, well, still little girls (and boys).  The tradition is the Shivaree.  To those readers who are unfamiliar with Shivaree it is a surprise party, in the middle of the night, at a newlywed couple’s home.  Neighbors, friends, and relatives get together outside the unsuspecting bride’s and groom’s home, bang pans, blow trumpet and raise a hullabaloo, until the sleepy couple let the revelers into their home.  Great fun, until Aunt Annie and her new husband, Dave put an end to the fun.

When Deanna was a new bride, she and her husband, Mike, lived in an apartment near the city.  That didn’t stop us.  I gave Bonita a leg up unto the balcony and she pulled me up, while I stood on Julie’s thigh; together we pulled Julie, then Johnny up.  The rest of the family and friends hung around below the balcony or took the inside stairs to Deanna’s apartment to bang on the door and walls.  Bonita blew her trumpet, and I banged on the sliding glass door, shouting “Shivaree!  Shivaree!”

Apartment lights popped on all around Deanna’s place until at last, Continue reading

Sucker Fishing

I told you before about my mean Uncle Gene.  He wasn’t always mean.  Sometimes he could almost be my favorite; especially when he goofed around with Uncle Kenny.  If I could only figure out how to read him, and know when he was serious and when he was joking around.  He always played it straight, all serious, never cracking a grin; and his eyes stayed steel cold, so there was no way for sure to tell.  Still, one of my favorite memories is when he took me and my sister Deanna sucker fishing.  I think Bonita was just learning to walk.  We were all out on Grandpa Z’s boat.

Grandpa made his own boat out of wood and paint and lots and lots of resin and beeswax to keep the water out.  Mom said Grandpa built boats even back in the olden days when she was a little girl.  He was really a fireman, but he had lots of extra time on his hands for building and inventing stuff.  That’s ’cause fireman worked and lived at the fire station about half of their time and the other half, firemen stayed home looking for keen stuff to do, ’cause back then men and boys weren’t allowed to do certain things, like clean house, do laundry, cook, or wear shorts or sleeveless shirts in the summertime.  Grandpa did all his making and inventing on days he stayed home from the fire station.

Grandpa built a safety plug in the bottom of the boat that let the water out if any leaked in. Just in case.   All he had to do was Continue reading

Books, Books, and More Books

Grandpa built a great walnut bookcase that spread across one whole wall of the dining room.  I loved looking at all those books in the bookcase. Novels, condensed books, how-to books, information books, and Little Kids’ books.  In the center, Grandpa built a fold down writing desk with all sorts of cubby-holes for bills and letters and stamps.  That was so Mom could pull up a chair and write.

Mom and Dad had a slew of Readers’ Digest condensed books all bound up in one book that smelling like the new halter I got for Ladybird right before the 4-H show.  I could read Preachers’s Kids and Green Mansions and The Steel Cocoon without getting a new book.   I loved books, and that seemed like a super treat, holding four or five books all at the same time.  Deanna said they weren’t real books , ’cause Reader’s Digest left stuff out.  If stuff was left out, it was unimportant stuff, ’cause those books were real exciting.  I had a hard time setting them down to do my chores.

I kept all my “We Were There” adventure books from Weekly Reader Book Club and the books about people from the olden days there, too.  I never re-read books, ’cause I could remember everything in them, sometimes I could even turn right to the page that some super interesting stuff was on, ’cause book pages got stuck in my head like the memory of any real good thing does, so I could get back to it just the same way Dad could drive back to the best ice cream cone store in the county; no problem at all.  Still, I liked seeing all those books lined up like old friends.

The Little Kids’ books got put down on the bottom shelf, so anybody could grab one.   Blueberries for Sal, was my favorite, and I read that to Frankie and Julie even though I knew it by heart.  I tried to read out loud just like Continue reading

Laugh and Learn

When I was a little girl my Mom could not only knit mitten and sew clothes,  she learned how to build things just from a book, and she knew how to fix anything that broke without any help at all.  She was the smartest person I knew.  A regular genius.   I learned how to do a lot of things from Mom.

I told you about my little filly, Abou’s Pride and how I had to train her.  Mr. Robinson taught me to ride, but Bonita, Mom and I taught Abou’s Pride how to let me ride her.  Mom brought home a book from the library that showed her how to build a training ring and we built it out of old telephone poles and cross-arms that Dad brought home from Ma Bell.  When Ma Bell had Dad and his buddies put up new poles and Dad brought home the junked ones; Dad was a genius at bringing home junk and convincing everybody it was treasure:  once he brought home brick from a torn down building and told Mom that was her new fireplace.  Then us kids had the job of cleaning the old mortar off the bricks.  I only had to get a dozen bricks each day cleaned, but those darned bricks kept breaking on me; I had to start all over again.

Anyways, Mom studied that book about training rings, paced off the space, and told everybody where to drag those poles. Sometimes she took that book right out to the field and plopped herself down one of Ma Bell’s old poles; there she sat, almost covered by tall Queen Anne’s Lace and wild coffee, in the spot that would pretty soon be the center of the training ring.  She looked at that book, then at the poles, then at the book again, studying and studying, with those lips of hers in a tight straight line, like she was about to get mad, but nobody was doing anything wrong.  Still, when I saw that look, I decided to tread gently, ’cause sometimes something to get mad about just popped up out of nowhere.

Next thing I knew, Mom was digging post holes with the tractor, and we were sinking poles and building that training ring.  It turned out perfect.  Mr. Robinson came over and gave her a big grin, like he did when Bonita did a great job on her horse, Peaches.  Peaches was just a green-broke horse, so Bonita had a lot of horse to handle for a little girl younger than me.

Mom fixed cars, too.  For a long time, we only had one car.  If Mom wanted to use the car, she drove Dad all the way to work in the city, then had to go get him at night.  Then one day, Dad brought Mom home a car.  An old-old car that some old lady only drove to church and back at 35 mile per hour.  Mom got so happy about that rescued-from-the-junk car, you would have thought it was brand new, by the big happy grin sitting on Dad’s face.  That car refused to go over 35, until Mom lifted up the hood and convinced it with a wrench and a hammer.  Mom was pretty good at convincing kids they could do things they thought they couldn’t,  and she was good with cars, too.  Some days that car refused to start; then she showed me how to hold the butterfly open, while she turned the key.  I liked the way it smelled all greasy and dusty at the same time, and the heat coming off the engine reminded me that Grandma said she used to put a pot of stew under the hood and cook supper there when she and Grandpa went out for a Sunday drive, back in the old days when just driving around was how people had fun.

More than once, Mom just opened up the car hood, took a part out, put it in the trunk, and away we went.

“A car’s just like you and me,” she said.  “There’s a lot of parts we can spare and still run smooth as silk.”

“Like tonsils?” I said, ’cause I got those out twice, on account of the roots being left in, so they grew back like a bad weed.

Mom showed me how to check the oil with the dip stick and then she put some in, ’cause the level on the stick showed almost dry.  She shook her head on that one.

“I just put some in yesterday.  Hmmm,”  she said, and the bottom lid of her eyes squinched up ’til her eyes were almost slits.  She started up the jalopy and took a look around at the tailpipe.  ‘Looks okay,”  she said, and put some more oil in.  She kept doing that everyday, and the dipstick kept getting drier and drier each time she checked the oil.  This one stumped her, so we got in the car and went down to the Standard Station to ask the mechanic.

“Yep, you’re low on oil,” the mechanic had his name, Bill, in red embroidery right on his shirt, so everyone would know who he was.

“Well, I’ve filled it up everyday for the past week,” Mom looked at Bill like she looked at me when she thought I was telling a fib.

“How much do you put in?”

“As much as she’ll take, but that’s not much, just a tablespoon or so,” Mom said.

Bill pulled on his chin a little, and his eyes started to dance just the way Dad’s did when he was trying not to give away a joke.  “Show me where you put the oil.”

“Well, right there where the dipstick come out.”  Mom said with one hand on her hip, the way she did when she told Julie and Frankie to pick up their toys.  Bill took off a big screw cap and showed Mom the oil reservoir.

“It’s pretty hard to get the oil in that little hole,” he said looking all apologetic.  ‘I use this bigger hole over here.  Glad you came in, this reservoir is almost empty.”   Mom threw her arms around her waist and bent over like she had a belly ache, when she straightened up, she was laughing so hard, no sound was coming out; the same way I laughed when Bonita or Deanna tickled my neck and kept it up until I thought I would pee my pants.  Then Bill slapped his leg and let out a big hoot.  Right then I knew what that word guffaw meant that I read in Huckleberry Finn by that man Mark Twain, only that was his pretend name.

Mom laughed like that every time she told that story, sometimes she laughed so hard tears came down her face.   She told that story a lot, ’cause she thought it was so funny.  Then she wiped her tears away and said, “I bet Bill thought I was the most lame-brained person he every met.”

Mom taught me how to knit and how to sew.  How to go back and start over.  She taught me how to read a manual and follow direction, and she taught me how to just roll up my sleeves and try.  Mom showed me I could learn to do almost anything.  All that said, the most important thing she taught me was be the first one to laugh, because mistakes will happen, and a lot of the time, when I think it over, I can see I could have known better.  How about you?

Misers, Mustards, and Meanies

When I was a little girl, nobody had air conditioning.  Summertime was hot.  We depended on cool breezes through open windows, shade-trees, cold drinks, and meals that required little, if any cooking.  Brick Bar-B-Qs and wooden picnic tables were all the rage in everybody’s back yard.  We were just like everybody else.  Well, maybe not quite.

Besides having a great imagination, Dad was a genius at saving money.  Instead of buying bricks to build a BBQ, he got the keen idea to build one out of clay tiles; the kind of tiles that farmers use to drain a field.  That way us kids could just stick our hotdog fork right on through the tile, and get it right in the fire without burning our arms.    My Uncle Jim said if a man had to be able to build a good fire, or he would have a bad mother-in-law.  When we had a weenie roast, Dad built a fire that sent sparks up to the sky.  I tell you, my Dad was the smartest Dad in the whole world.  That tile BBQ was almost as smart as Grandpa’s invention of a rototiller, with the two middle forks missing, so you could get right up close to the vegetable plants.  The only reason Grandpa’s invention was smarter, was ’cause I  hated hoeing in the garden, and only Mom got to use the rototiller, so in the end, Grandpa’s invention made my life way easier; Dad’s invention just kept my face and arm from getting hot.  Besides that,  there was a problem with Dad’s invention, but there was no way for him to figure that one out, so it’s still right up there as nifty as all get-out.  And it free, ’cause he found all those clay tiles, just waiting to be tossed in the dump.

Mom got the Koegels from Ballard’s Gas and Grocery. Ballard’s was exactly two-and-a-half miles from our house.  One time when Mom and Dad still rented part of the house out, one of the renters asked me if I wanted to walk down to Ballard’s and get him some Lucky Strikes and me a Hershey Bar.  That sounded like a pretty good deal, Continue reading

Baling Hay with City Slickers

When I was a little girl, there was always plenty of work to do.  Believe it or not, most of the time the work seemed like fun.  Especially, bringing in the hay, because at that time of the year, Dad hired lots of older boys to help out, mostly from town.  They knew next to nothing about farming.  Some of them knew very little about farm work.

Dad borrowed big farm equipment, like combines, rakes, and balers from other farmers.  He had his own mower, which looked like a giant arm of a praying-mantis.  When he was pulling it along, not mowing, it stuck straight up in the air, but if he was mowing, he let it down, turned on the hydrolic, and schick-schick-schick the hay got mowed down all stubbly and scratchy, just about the same as when he shaved his beard, except no lather and no little bits of blood.   I stayed clear of that mower, whether it was up or down, ’cause I always had the feeling that Continue reading