Friday, March 27, 2009

The Vagaries of Texas Weather

It’s 41 degrees outside today, and the wind is blowing around a chill factor lowering the temperature’s effect another five or ten degrees.  And the danged mesquite trees are beginning to leaf out, so this weather really shouldn’t be happening.  Granddaddy used to say that the almanac was nearly always right, and that potatoes shouldn’t go into the ground until after Easter.  Seems he is still right about the crops and weather.


We needed a rain so badly that we didn’t mind if this fog turned into snow this morning, but lighting that stove in the kitchen still irked me.  It’s supposed to be pretty this time of year.  But then, in a day or so we will probably have to run the air conditioners.


The little flower bed out by the front side of the house includes a bird feeder, a bird bath, a metal garden bench, and various pots of plants and some plants that remained in the ground—including the petunias that come back to life each spring after a hard winter.  This winter hasn’t been hard at all, so the petunias are playing it up to be spring like.  The old standby lavenders, pinks, and whites are all nodding their blossoms at the birds as the seeds fly over and around them.  Inevitably some of those seeds will sprout and have to be plucked out by hand.  That’s ok.  I like the green stuff and the dirt better than many things I have put in my hands.


The bluebonnets are showing off their stuff over on Highway 79 near Sutherlands.  The grass hasn’t had enough moisture to make it grow tall, so the bluebonnets show up well.  It’s amazing to me that people think that they have to have good soil to grow pretty flowers.  The buffalo bean and the bluebonnet grow in the poorest soil around.  In that, they are akin to the aspens.  It used to be that the old timers knew what kind of soil to expect just by looking at the growth on the rolls of the hills.  Aspens were a sure guarantee of poor soil.  Of course, the prairie wasn’t meant for corn, cotton, and the like.  It was meant to be pasture land.  But man has always tried to make the land to conform to his so-called needs.  If we hadn’t slaughtered the buffalos, this nation could still be eating the best meat available.


This morning the Internet news included a little blurb about an elephant bird egg being up for sale.  Now anyone in his right mind knows that that egg has been spoilt for a looooong time.  And if a body is THAT hungry, an ostrich egg should do the trick—or maybe two of them.  And the ostriches are not even extinct.  Stink, maybe, but not EX-stink.  Again, if man hadn’t done a bit too much over hunting, those elephant birds could probably put Tyson out of business.


A bright blue tarp covers my pot plants outside, and the stove is keeping us warm enough in the house.  I keep wondering when this danged dog is going to decide it is nicer outside.  Until he quits barking to come in during the day, I guess I will just keep cleaning paw prints off the floors.  But that is ok as well.  If he is leaving paw prints, that means we are getting some kind of moisture for the land.  Whoever thought I would be happy to see paw prints on my floors!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Going Down to the River

A bit over 40 years ago, Dad took my future husband down to the river with us for a little pot shotting.  Bob Brown let Dad go down there any time he wanted to go because he had known Dad all of his life and trusted him to shoot turtles and not cows.  Now Bob’s son lets Dad carry a key to the gate so Dad can go whenever he takes the notion; but Dad’s notions and his physical abilities aren’t quite up to par anymore.  In fact, I felt somewhat anxious as I noticed that Dad was not as steady on his feet as he should have been as he leaned over the edge of the embankment to look for turtles or turdles—the latter being floating excrement dumped into the river at some point.  Anyway, Dad may be blind in one eye and not see well out of the other, but he still spotted a snake and laid into it with his shotgun.  And he was polite enough to say that he was never much of a shot with a pistol when I missed a perfectly easy shot with Mom’s little .22.


The husband entertained two grandchildren, Landon and Rachel, with the .22 automatic rifle and a BB gun.  They threw in a few branches for targets and cut them up into soggy kindling.  Both kids were worn out, and their granddad needed a nap by the time we got back to Petrolia and unloaded the guns at Paw Paw Leland’s house.  Someday the boy may remember his trip to the river with Paw Paw, but Little Girl probably won’t remember it.  Paw Paw gave Landon a whistle and told him to drive his Ma nuts with it on the way home.  Landon took it, said thanks, and grinned at me.  He is a pretty danged good little guy.  He only whistled quietly.


But I guess the best part of the trip was sitting in the front of the truck with my dad as I drove down the road with one eye partially on the road and one eye and both ears on the husband and kids in the bed of the truck.  I know we used to let our kids ride back there with one of us, but these are grandbabies, for pity sake!  And yes, I am kin to Leland Pollard!  We have worrying down to a fine art.  But it was nice to visit with Dad.  While we sat on the river bank together, we talked—or he did.  I listened.  He reminded me that this had always been a good place for him to pray for all these years.  No church pew is nearly as effective as God’s front row seat on His creation.  I am glad—thankful—that my parents raised me the way that they did.  They shared their worries, their hopes, and their values in the best way that they could.  It doesn’t take a river trip to understand that they kept back nothing of themselves when they gave their love to us as kids—and still give to us and our little ones today.  I hope that we can give as graciously to our children and grandchildren as they have.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Carrot Cake

Talking to the youngest son last night, I discovered that his favorite cake is the carrot cake.  When I mentioned that both of our boys considered the carrot cake their favorite, my mother said, “Bleah!”  I KNOW she made banana nut bread when we were kids, but the favorite goodie around the parents’ house these days is oatmeal cookies.  The doctor told Dad that he needed to eat oatmeal—and he didn’t say how.  Mom says that they go through a batch of oatmeal cookies about every two or three days.  Dad should invest in oats!


This is the first year since diabetes entered our lives around here that we even had any real sugar in the house.  Our daughter bought us a sugar-free cook book, and once in a while I will try one of those recipes just to keep my hand in shape as a baker.  The only recipe I never change is the family favorite for all our holiday meals:  butter rolls.  Both girls know how to make those now, so the tradition will live on.


One of our friends up north has all these wonderful Swedish dishes that make one’s mouth water—but make me tired just thinking about all the steps involved in creating the perfect sauce for the vegetables and meats.  Grating up a few carrots for a carrot cake and throwing a bunch of ribs in the oven to bake pretty much exhausts my good intentions for cooking.  Coleslaw for the DIL, Brussels sprouts for the oldest son, and macaroni and cheese for the grandkids is actually a semi-elaborate meal around here.


Tomorrow will see pancakes and some coffee for breakfast.  After their parents leave, the kids will probably ask for McSomething for lunch and dinner.  But they both know that popsicles are for AFTER meals.  Kids are a great excuse to make fun foods—hot dogs and roasted marshmallows, peanut butter jelly sandwiches, and apple slices.  I might even splurge for some celery and make ants on a log for them.  Grinning wickedly….


Foods make family traditions in almost any country.  I suspect that our friend in Colombia, South America has his wife Gloria’s favorite foods as part of their traditions.  Down there it would not be difficult to find a young kid [goat] to roast for a family meal.  We couldn’t even find a sheep rancher in our county for a young lamb, however.  And United Market Street prices their lamb just a wee bit out of our range.  Ah, well, spring comes but once a year.  Maybe this year we will start a new family tradition with our foods:  carrot cake, liver and onions, Brussels sprouts, and pop sickles.  I can see our children making the appointment with the psychiatrist now!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grease for the Wheels

In The Ten Commandments movie years ago, the mother of Moses was portrayed as one of the workers who greased the path of the huge blocks used in constructing a pyramid.  When her gown caught under the block, her death was certain except for the help afforded her by her son. Without his intervention, her body would have simply been another greasy spot along the way.


Sometimes we tend to feel that our bodies have a good chance of becoming just another greasy spot in the rush and bustle of the times.  Traffic accidents, medical mishaps, societal ‘storage’ of older people, and a general apathy or disregard for neighbors occur often enough to leave some of us wondering if anyone would notice if we suddenly disappeared.


Americans have always favored the self-reliant individual, yet the pioneer spirit was one of cooperation and helping one’s neighbor.  Being self-reliant does not negate one’s responsibility to the community—at any age or stage of life.  The combination of American ingenuity, self-reliance, and pure hardheadedness has served our society well.  But one of the best results of American character has been the proliferation of volunteerism.


Young men leave work in the afternoon to go coach baseball teams of youngsters.  At one time the wives even made the uniforms for the youngest players.  The younger people learn from example, of course, and grow up to volunteer as coaches when their children are old enough to play.  The same is true for Boy and Girl Scouts, after school tutoring programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, Meals on Wheels, and various other groups who depend on volunteers to make things run smoothly.


A day usually comes into most lives when it seems that the body has betrayed the wishes of the individual’s life and spirit.  Throwing a baseball, threading a needle, picking up a child, or even getting down to weed the flower beds may become problematic.  But as long as the spirit retains its identity, the person can still be a giving individual.  Volunteering need not require physical stress.  Our next door neighbor showed me what she thought was a poisonous snake near her sidewalk.  She was volunteering to teach me something she knew.  It was not a formal class.  It was a neighborly deed.  In listening to volunteers tell stories last night, I have now learned that a snake with round eyes is not poisonous—as if I would get close enough to look!


The point is that we all know assorted facts and stories that can be shared with others.  Fang could tell anyone a few simple mechanical tricks to making car maintenance easier.  But somehow I cannot imagine anyone ever asking me for the best way to use gerunds.  Still, I refuse to be a greasy spot under the pyramids.  Cut me loose and let me tell my stories.  Surely someone needs to hear what I know!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Very Best Teacher

Schools provide most students with the best education available in any particular area—in most subjects that communities consider necessary.  And most students learn just what they need to know no matter how begrudgingly they accessed the study.  Not many children wake up early in the morning with joyful thoughts about going to school unless the school or the children are exceptional.  That’s possible.

Not all schools rate right up there with a juvenile detention facility.  And some classes can actually be a blast.  Years ago the smaller schools in Clay County had what was called FFA classes and FHA classes—Future Farmers of America and Future Homemakers of America.  The guys got to learn how to weld, how to keep feed, weight gain, and cost charts for their ‘ag’ project—usually something not terribly expensive like a lamb or chickens.  The girls learned a little about cooking and sewing.  But there were always special situations where the students could do something that made good sense and helped the communities.  Sometimes the girls would plan a bean supper to raise money for whatever the community needed.  The girls learned to plan and serve a dinner in that way just as if they were feeding a harvest crew.  It was a very useful lesson.  The boys sometimes got to weld up cattle guards for the area ranchers—thus getting practice in doing things right while not having to put out the expense for the materials.


One year it was dry from late fall until early September of the next year.  My dad would say that it was so dry that the trees had learned to whistle for the dogs.  But sure enough, the stock tanks were dangerously low.  In fact, the crawdads had built towers so tall in digging down deep into the mud that a kid could have made a baseball bat out of one of those towers.  It was danged dry.


No one was burning trash if there was the slightest hint of wind, but the pump jacks still backfired now and then and caused a problem.  It just so happened that somehow a fire started on the range between Buster Zachary’s ranch and the Pollard farm.  I don’t know who called the volunteer fire department, but no one little pump truck was going to stop that wild fire.  So the fire department asked for volunteers from the high school boys.  The entire ‘Ag’ class and many other boys as well jumped in trucks and bumped their way out to our grandparents’ farm.


The little stock tank across the fence from the house still had just a little bit of water in it.  Grandmother gathered up all the burlap ‘gunny’ sacks from the feed barn and took them to the stock tank.  When the boys got to the farm, the fire was sweeping over the top of the hill about a half mile from the house.  They all got wet, muddy gunny sacks from Grandmother and headed for the fire.  The boys saved the farm that day and had my grandparents’ undying appreciation.  

In order to thank the boys in a meaningful way, my grandparents let it be known that any boy wanting a lamb for a FFA project had one waiting on the Pollard farm.  Oh, the FFA boys gave the grandparents a nice certificate of appreciation, but the boys were the ones who needed to be thanked.  Most of them just thought it was a neat way to get out of class that day.  But for our family, their help was the difference between having a home or a disaster.  And yes, for several years the FFA of Petrolia had more black-faced Suffolk lamb entries than any other school in the agriculture fairs.  But not many fire departments today could pay their firemen with a lamb.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Chicken Ranch

Now some people have the idea that chicken comes in little Styrofoam packages or plastic bags with only certain parts of the chicken ready to be cooked.  And the children believe that eggs come out of grey paper cartons by 6, 12, or 18 counts.  Some people may even be so far gone that they might believe that chicken and eggs are called McNuggets and McEggs.  But it just isn’t so.  Of course, I read lately on the Web that some of those grilled ‘chicken’ pieces served on salads never really saw a chicken.  But I don’t want to think about their source.  [Not quite as many stray dogs and cats running around these days…]


Years ago on the farm, my grandparents had some sweet old hens.  I call them sweet because each one had a name and Grandmother seemed to coax eggs out of those hens much longer than they normally would have remained in the egg laying mode.  The funny thing about it was that Grandmother wouldn’t kill and cook any of those old girls.  They died a natural death of old age while she kept putting out feed for them.  Sitting here shaking my head.  Of course, they would have been too tough to eat if she had tried to cook one, so it’s just as well she didn’t try.


Shortly after Fang and I married, I decided to raise my own chickens in the backyard.  When the roosters got big enough to make a meal, my sister-in-law and her daughter Karen came up and helped me dress fryers.  Karen watched me kill the chickens with an axe and sidled up to her mom and said, “Mom, Aunt Nancy is mean!”  Yes, I really did feel mean about killing those critters, but I don’t know how to wring their necks or otherwise help them meet their demise before they are added to the deep freeze.  Anyway, the fryers were good and the hens began to lay eggs in self defense.  Fang got a little perturbed with chicken stuff all over the place, so I had to kill the rest of the chickens eventually.  But that was not ALL of the chickens.  Our daughter had a science teacher who was teaching a unit on eggs.  The children got to watch the eggs being incubated and turned until almost all of them hatched out.  Then the teacher sent home baby chicks.  Oh boy!  One child, one chick might work; but three children and one chick just won’t work.  So off to the feed store we went and came home with two more chicks.  We ended up with two roosters and a lady.  Thankfully, father-in-law still had a farm and his own chickens, so when the roosters started crowing and chasing the kids around the yard, we bundled them up and took them to the farm.  The biggest rooster was a Rhode Island red and he didn’t last long.  I just didn’t ask because he was the one who chased the kids around and had the others following him.


Our children have seen chickens growing out on the farm, but they have never seen the chicken ranch like my Kennedy grandfather had.  His houses each held ten thousand chicks.  [Mother corrected my numbers, but I still think it was more than a thousand.]  Let me tell you; that is entirely too many chickens!  The summer I stayed on the farm and worked in the chicken houses with my Grandmother Kennedy, I learned all I ever didn’t want to know about chickens.  But I have to laugh now at some of the things that they did.  Granddad Kennedy complained about the little idiots removing the shiny nuts off the water troughs.  Each chick would go by and peck at the shiny nut and go on.  Repeat that a few hundred times and the nut was soon gone—swallowed by a feathered idiot.  And those chickens would eat anything—ANYTHING!  Granddad was squatting down trying to cut a piece of string with his teeth when he accidentally pulled one of the false teeth off his upper plate.  It hit the ground and was gone in a flash of a yellow beak.  He sat there cussing and ranting until Grandmother came over and asked, “Billy, what in the world is wrong?”  Granddad, being a typical Kennedy, put the string on the OTHER side of his mouth and showed her what he had done—and DID IT AGAIN!


When I think back on the chickens eating Granddad’s teeth, I don’t feel quite as bad about Harley B eating our carpenter pencils.


Granddad Kennedy felt that the big chicken companies had no intention of helping the growers make a living.  And that was nearly 50 years ago.  My brother and his family are back in Arkansas raising chickens now.  And things are worse now than they were when our granddad finally threw in the manure spreader.  Even if raising chickens were not terribly labor intensive, the cost of maintaining the houses and equipment—along with all the regulations for disposal of wastes—has become outrageous.  The government can print all the money it can find paper to print it on, but the chicken farmer couldn’t use it to paper the floor under his chickens.  Unless something changes soon, each family may have to start penning up some chickens in the back yard again.  At least the kids could see the real thing for a change.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Campfire Stories

Man has been recounting his exploits since time first began.  The drawings on the cave walls in France tell us of men hunting beasts much larger than a man—and the drawings prove that man lived to tell of the encounter and to bring home the bacon, so to speak.  Whether stories were first told in some form of language or simply mimed as if in charades matters little now.  Apparently mimed stories are still pretty effective because Tom and Jerry still appeals to a wide TV audience.

When men began to gather into groups larger than family units, they needed a way to name some of their common fears and hopes.  So they created a mythology that could explain the seasons, the floods and storms, and even death itself.  Their mythological gods were made in man’s image and after his character.  Thus little Cupid was fickle in his selection of who would fall in love with whom.  Mars, the god of war, would lend his help to those who showed him the most respect.  Diana helped one hunter and not another.  And the goddess of fertility brought a child to one woman and not another, or a crop to one village and not another.  So men were able to explain some of the events in their lives.  Mythology or story telling is a universal bond among men.  Only the names and characters change by accident of birthplace.  One hero rides a winged horse, and another rides a winged snake or dragon.

Mythology became religion to one degree or another, so that the charms of mythology became saintly relics in the hands of religion.  More than when men feared thunder, men learned to fear the power of religion because it bound up the lives of men from birth to death—and supposedly beyond.  No less ignorant than the cave man, medieval man knew little more than what was told to him by the storytellers of the church.

And then came Chaucer—the ultimate storyteller and jokester.  Chaucer put stories back into the hands of the common man who sat in front of his hearth and laughed at the silliness of hypocrites.  Chaucer’s ridicule of the church took away some of the fear that had bound men to their beliefs.

Today we have increasingly become separated from the natural world around us.  Oh, the Nature Channel still intrigues us and keeps our interest—especially a family story—even a family of meerkats.  But lately electronic storytelling gives us mechanically mythological cartoons or scintillating scientific intervention in life-threatening scenarios.  Storytelling around the campfires has drastically changed.  Maybe Madagascar is about as good as it gets.