Once upon a time…

Nugget 2

I happened upon a vendor, at the flea market, this weekend. She was selling old beaten, yet still useful, metal trucks. My heart was happy at the memories stirred by these relics. Days spent riding them over the grass hills of my backyard with my brother. Tumbling and laughing …oblivious of their sharp edges and lead paint…we used them in the unintended ways kids do with toys.
Out of nowhere, I remembered Halloween and the fun we had roaming our neighborhood until 10:00 pm! I reminisced for a moment with the vendor. We shared a happy talk of pillowcases filled with candy and the knowing we were safe because we knew our neighbors.
“Now, Halloween is limited to an hour and a half .” I sighed. “Oh well, the kids won’t miss what they never had, I guess.”  I walked away with a heavy heart.

The next vendor had a metal Popgun for sale. He wanted $20.00 for memory’s sake and I held the toy, not daring to buy, but allowing myself the memories of me, as Annie Oakley once again. Jamming the barrel with dirt that would go off, with a pop and a puff, was not the intended use, of course. Such happy times…

I’d just had a birthday so reminiscing was near, anyway. The rest of the morning held flashbacks to the happiest times riding in the back of pick-up trucks and on top of hay wagons, with the breeze and treetops at my cheek.
Building campfires on an old dirt road and learning to swim without life vests in the ponds and creeks, came back. Using a wood-burning set without incident and at an “inappropriate” age and the “Thing Maker” with molten goop producing plastic bugs. Riding an, at least 1000 lb horse, bareback at the age of 6 and wandering about the cows, who weighed the same, without fear nor injury because I had been taught about caution. Oh yes, and building bows with arrows of sharpened sticks with the Barlow pocketknife grandpa bought for me. Building jumps for my spider bike and riding with no hands…feet upon the handles…producing some scrapes and bruises, but what a ride! Climbing to the tops of trees and silos and getting scared but holding tight and cheering “like a gold medalist” when I, once again, found the ground.
These things are dangerous and won’t happen any more…why? Because no modern child would attempt them. They haven’t any way to test themselves…to learn caution as they grow by “uping” the ante of self-reliance. All they know is “You mustn’t try. You mustn’t risk. Your judgement is flawed.Don’t get hurt.”
Kids are taught to fear, now.  A fine beginning to taming them…self-reliance is dangerous, you know.
Wild colts can turn into sheep.

Kids won’t miss, what they never had…

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My Grandma

An alarm clock goes off somewhere downstairs. It’s 3:30 am and I wander into the kitchen where grandma is dressed and preparing breakfast for the men. Places are set at the table when she feeds the dog and pats me on the head asking me if I might want to go back to bed. I say “No, I want to go to the barn today.”
She hollers up the stairs every 5 minutes for half an hour. “Get up!” Each time the pitch rises in her voice until she hears fumbling footsteps. The men enter the kitchen, with yawns and grumbles, just before we walk to the barn in the dark of early morning. I’m too little to help so I set off to find kittens in the corners of the barn. Switches are pulled and motors come to life to the clanging of milking machines being assembled. She opens the barn door where the cows are anxiously awaiting entry. They know their places and file in, much more orderly than kids would, extending their heads through stantions that will be closed keeping them there.

I hear the scuffing of rubber boots and the men take up their duties of closing stanchions and graining each cow according to her own needs. When I get a little older, I’ll be helping. But, for now, my job is to stay out-of-the-way of the cows. I walk along by their heads, petting the friendly ones. Tigress and Ginger are my friends. Each cow has a name. The number tags are many years beyond. My grandma will laugh, harder than I’ve ever seen, when I announce that Raindrop really looks like my Dad and a cow will be renamed “My Friend”, this summer, just because of my insistence that she was.

Later on, Grandma will rush to put on lunch and then take a power nap of about 20 minutes. She may be running the rake in the hay-field, shortly after that, then back to the barn for evening milking. After evening milking, there’s supper. Grandma was the best cook. She never measured with cups. Only now, I realize it was more efficient in time saved, not by choice. Seven days a week, every single day of the year, Grandma worked. She mowed her own lawn, washed the laundry and did the grocery shopping too.

Grandma rarely wore make-up or fancy clothes. She loved to read. Anne of Green Gables was her favorite. She would doctor any injured person or animal and put out milk for the feral cats without fail. She loved extra oregano and green peppers in her spaghetti sauce and thought daisies and phlox were the sweet touches placed on earth to remind her of delicate things she wouldn’t, otherwise, be able to enjoy.

Grandma used the phrases “between a rock and a hard place” and “at sixes and sevens” when she was frustrated. No swearing, ever. On the rare occasion that I was irritating her to distraction, she’d say, “Don’t make me get ugly with you.” I didn’t know what that meant, exactly. I do remember looking at her face and wondering how my beautiful grandma could EVER be ugly?

Our minds often tell us what we already know in dreams and flashes. When she passed away in 1999, I had a persistent flashback of a movie scene that plagued me for months. It was Dorothy embracing the Scarecrow, in the Wizard of Oz, and whispering in his ear, “I think I’m going to miss you most of all.”

Gotta to love it when your mind gets things so right!

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Pals in a Place and Time

Shadow Rough Collie

Shadow Rough Collie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buffy rolled back his upper lip and grinned. It was the collie in him. He smiled when he was excited and when our car pulled into the dooryard, he was very happy.

I loved him in spite of his lack of kindness to the feral cats. He’d sadly ended the misery for a few who had gotten in his face. I luckily had never witnessed that. This was an oversight in his upbringing that I could not reverse but, as a playmate, he was the very best. He would have given his life to protect me. This I was sure of.

When my parents ended their visit with grandma and grandpa, I would be staying. Buffy and I would have many hours to ourselves.

The chores on my grandparents’ farm, waited for no one. After a very early breakfast, I was left alone to play, while the adults did the morning milking.  Sometimes, I would spend  the first hour among the cows at the new milking “parlor”, but more often, opted to play with my pal and my imagination.

It is only now, that I realize how much my company meant to Buff. Unless the cows got out and he was asked to herd them back, he was overlooked. An occasional pat on the head was the most he could hope for when I wasn’t around.

The sound of house sparrows brings me back to, the two of us , sunning ourselves on the steps. The birds would flutter in the dusty driveway to ward off mites in their feathers. Buffy would lean into me so very hard as I wrapped my arms around his neck. The smell of dust, hay chaff and grease ( from lazing around beneath farm equipment) greeted my nostrils when I buried my face in his fur. A combination that would have been repugnant had it not been the smell of my pal. I’m sure that I will be moved to tears should I find the same odor again. What a bitter sweet surprise that would be.

Then off we’d go. I’d be a master dog trainer and he was my willing pupil. I made up hand signals for him to follow.  I’d wave and he’d jump a bale of hay and follow a maze that I had created. It took many hours and a lot of sweat to manage the hay bales alone. But, I had all day and very friendly company by my side.

Sometimes we’d just sit in the grass on the hill overlooking the barn. Buffy would whine with pleasure as I rubbed his belly. We enjoyed the breeze that that spot always had. The squawk of red-winged blackbirds and the fragrance of  phlox, each bring me right back to those moments. My grandmother’s house was surrounded with phlox of every color and the “crik” below had a marsh where the red-winged blackbirds nested.

Once in awhile, I wish Buffy  could have known what it was like to be a family dog. But, It just would not have fit him somehow. He was a dog of his time.  Instead of wondering “what if ?” , I’ ll  cherish how we belonged to each other, back then, and shared a place and time, where we needed a pal.

Discovery and Sorrow

When I was young, I spent lots of my time on my grandparents’ farm. I played alone for the greater part of my stays. While amusing myself, as the adults did chores, I learned so much about the world. One of my favorite activities was rock collecting. I was too young to know the names of them but took a great interest in what, I discovered, were so many types. There’s so much to be learned when a child does her own discovering.

I used to search for “nests” of feral kittens. The farm cats often chose to birth their babes between the hay bales in the loft. I spent hours watching the mothers and learned to mimic the sound they made when they brought home a “catch of the day”. After a while, I realized my skill could locate those kittens. My yowl proved to be an excellent tool. Once perfected, I was able to call out and have the hidden babies respond. Once located, I’d handle and cuddle them. I’d name them and teach them not to be afraid of people. Ultimately, the lives of feral cats are worth little. Once in a while, my mother found a home for one but most were often taken by disease and disaster.

I cried a lot on the farm. My heart wanted better for each an every baby. It was on the farm that I learned one person can not save the world. But one person could offer comfort and love to another creature, even if it were for only one moment in time. It would have been so sad if those kitties had never known the warmth of a lap and a kiss between their ears. Don’t you think?

There are No Limits

I touched the sky once…

I’d been trying to since I was three. Felt as though I almost did it the time I jumped from the top step and scraped my knees. It didn’t hurt…I almost touched the sky, after all.

The pine tree with its elbow in just the right place, offered a perch. As I grew older, I reached closer to the top. Ahhh, but the sky knew I was there and backed away a bit. Clever is the sky. It is not supposed to be touched and you must catch it off guard.

I used to practice my reach by walking ’round my house with a mirror turned up beneath my nose. Walking through the house with your “up” being your “down” can be a bit treacherous if you haven’t cleared the way but touching the sky is a worthy challenge. Training is a part of every hard earned skill.

Once I learned that jumping would be no part of it, my knees healed and my mind worked on a plan to trick the sky. She often comes close and tickles us on foggy mornings but she, the sky, is doing the touching.

It would be unsafe to stand up while riding in the back of a pick-up truck. The sky knows you are closer there but dances out of reach again to keep a child from trying.

One glorious day, I rode among the hay bales in the hay wagon. The sky was not aware that I sat in between the bales. I could tell because she was playing with the wind in the tree tops along the road. The fingers of the trees connected in an arbor above and were giggling unaware that I was watching. As I climbed the hay steps to the top, I entered a place I had searched for. The sun winked at me through the leaves as I lifted my head above the rails. Suddenly, the tree limbs erupted in applause and the sky hugged me. She knew I’d touch her one day! She tousled my hair in a “job well done” fashion and I raised my arms offering “high fives” to the elms and clouds.

That moment lives in my heart. Once you touch the sky, there is no limit to what a person can do. The sky is NOT the limit you know, it’s the beginning of living on top of your world.

You HAD to be there.

It was late afternoon, I could hear her breathing heavily.

No outward complaining as she labored.

It seemed to take forever but, finally, she arched her back and I could see four prongs of two white hooves.

There they are again…now with ankles.

Mother gave a low,almost inaudible, moan …then there were knees.

The small perfectly pink nose sniffed its first breath before the whole head appeared.

Then…in one fluid motion, the calf slid to the barn floor.

Mother started licking her infant immediately.

Head and face to stimulate breathing…then back and legs for blood flow.

Baby bawled a “hello” to this world as if the washing was painful.

It wasn’t.

She just needed to announce herself.

Her ears, still wet and curly ,  stood out like side-view mirrors.

Within the hour she was standing on wobbly stilts.

Each step seemed as though she’d cave-in and all four legs might spread outward.

I held my breath…mother just kept cleaning her.

Wonder if I shouted, maybe mother would give her a moment to balance? I thought better of it and stayed silent. It was their miracle…I was not meant to be part of it.

One tentative step followed one more. The calf resembled a bobble-head doll more than a mammal.

Her tongue licked the air then curled inward.

Baby’s nose tracked along her mother’s side until she found that treasure of warm, sweet milk.

Even in these early moments she tests her mother’s patience and butts her belly asking for more. (I’m sure this is the way she helps her mother’s milk to drop for feeding.) It seems as fresh as any baby though.

Once you watch a calf being born…well,you HAD to be there.

Grandma's Phlox

Old-fashioned friends.

Phlox bring me back to a place I used to sit at Grandma’s.They grew along her house on a grassy knoll overlooking the barn.

As the milking motors murmured at dusk, I would sit among them.

If you pluck the blossoms and suck on them, you’d taste a sweet nectar.

They enjoyed waving to me in the breeze. I just knew that.

Who’s to say that flowers and trees do not enjoy attention?

They’d tap me on the shoulder,now and then, to see if I was still there.

Often I wasn’t.

That sweet fragrance and delicate rustling of their green fingertips was hypnotic.

As the sun finally dropped behind the hills,I would be far away.

Reviewing the day.

Each and every day is special if you treat it that way.

Each and every plant was a little different shade of color.

Pink-coral-purple-lavender-white

My mind etched perfect,keepsake images of those flowers, and their fragrance and taste etched keepsake memories of my happy childhood.

Yes, Phlox are my favorite flower.

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My mother,her mother…

Good mothers beget good mothers.

I’m so tickled that my granddaughter has imaginary friends! I envy her. The closest thing I had to that was talking to,and being understood by animals. I wish that I could identify the moment of connection and describe what I see.

I enjoy hearing my mom talk about her “kids”. Lily and Dickens are a couple of  Papillions who have it made. They have such personality and a devoted “mother” too. I know she’s a great mom because she is also mine. The comfort of knowing that she would protect me and care for me gave me all the courage that I needed to succeed in life.

Good mothers come from good mothers. It’s that simple.

I used to watch the feral cats on the farm. Animal behavior is another passion of mine. It can teach us so much about ourselves. The offspring of cats who were inattentive were also inattentive to their kittens. (I was unfortunately able to study many generations because of the high mortality rate of feral cats.) Then, we introduced a mother cat who was brought up by a loving mother. This mother had been someone’s pet. The kitten’s name became “Missy” and she was a Mama for sure. Missy did her best to raise her kittens. Our family even adopted one of her daughters who then was able to escape the trials of farm existence. Patches was the family cat while I was growing up. I always wished that Missy could know that a daughter of hers had made it to the good life.

When I meet great “Mommies” through my day care experience, I automatically give their mothers credit. (some of this credit also belongs to grandmas.) I hope they know that their “kittens” made it too. So much of what it takes to be a good mother is learned from good mothering.

My mother just posted this on facebook. It certainly is an appropriate video for this post! Please join this young woman’s cause on facebook!

Cats, and more kittens…

Cats are so often in my dreams. My nightmares are only about cats. I’ll be frantically trying to scoop up too many kittens to hold. I struggle to hang on as a few claw me not knowing that I’m try to save them. I don’t let go. This is when I awaken in a sweat.

On the farm, cats were dropped off almost as often as the mail. My grandmother always put out milk for them. It was ,at least, some nourishment although not the good kind. I watched many die of disease. A feral cat’s life span was long at two years.

I’d lie down with the tame ones in the hay. They’d purr and rub. Even as a kid, I did this while thinking that it may be the last kindness of their life. It was ALL I could do. It was like the line in Platoon when the guys are partying and they are feelin’ no “pain”. “Sometimes feeling good is good enough.” I could not effect their life but I could affect moments in their life.

Since the harsh true life experience of the farm, those cats have haunted me. For awhile, I was a “cat lady”. Finding homes for every litter that I heard about. There came a time when I had 4 cats of my own and no more favors to call in for the homeless.

I finally realized that I could not save the world. I wasn’t rich and I was emotionally drained. I give to shelters when I am able and still make a phone call, now and then, but each of us can only effect moments and I accepted that.

Please offer the advice of spaying and neutering to anyone with a kitten. We can only do something small but with each others’ help we still can make a big difference.

Cody Cat adopted from a shelter to our home.

I believe I can fly…

Kids need time alone!

OK , how many of you thought that you could fly when you were kids? I used to walk around my house with a mirror held up under my nose to feel like walking on the ceiling. My granddaughter has imaginary friends and I am very envious.

I have always talked to animals though! Yes, I believe I DO know where they are coming from! At my grandparents’ farm as a child, I learned to mimic the sound of a mother cat calling her kittens. Many times I was able to find and rescue feral litters. Even now, I can whistle to a hawk and seem to be answered,at least they linger. I am able to collect night crawlers efficiently from watching robins tug on them. My dog counts on my knowledge of his body language and I have petted dogs who were considered vicious.  I can leap tall buildings in a single bound…

I am so happy that I spent those years, on the farm. One thing I can say with the utmost confidence , I can be alone and never have I felt lonely!

Once in awhile, leaving kids alone is the best thing you can offer!