Being a Farm Woman is not all the glitz and glamour that you might think. I had been very excited to hear the peeping of a new baby chick in the coop. Just one, though. Mama Hen (one of my five Buff Orpingtons who all look alike and all have been given the name of Mama) was still sitting on the other three eggs. Baby hatched a day early, and I waited a couple of days for the others. Yesterday, I no longer heard peeping, but was hoping that she was asleep under Mama’s protective wings. Today, still no peeps. Uh oh. The sound of silence is never good news in a chicken coop. Expecting the worst, I donned some rubber gloves and quickly lifted Mama off the nest. She cried and shrieked like a banshee. There was no baby chick in the nest. There was no baby chick anywhere. Uh oh. I searched for the body, but it was nowhere to be found. My next Farm Woman duty was to check the eggs for viability. You can “candle” the eggs by holding them up individually to a light bulb, but I have found from either experience or stupidity that it is hard to see through the shells of dark-colored eggs, and mine are all blue, green, and brown. The next thing to do is put the egg up to your ear and listen for activity. That is quite difficult to do when one is in a chicken coop being screeched at by a banshee. Since the wind was blowing, and a cold north wind at that, I carried them to the truck, closed the door, and put each egg up to my ear. These eggs were underneath Mama for 23 long days and were not too clean, but I did it anyway and took my time. Nothing. It was Mother’s Day, poor Mama had no babies, and she was still crying for them. It was really hard to hear, and since I have a soft heart, I had to do something. While Mama was carrying on, some of the other hens were arguing over who got to lay an egg in the coveted spot. Now, there are plenty of nesting areas, but all of them wanted that certain spot. There were three, and all of them sitting on top of each other like a chicken totem pole. The screeching didn’t seem to bother them, and in fact, seemed to egg them on. I grabbed an armful clean straw and put it in a safe spot, making a nest in the middle. Quickly, to avoid getting pecked, I gathered up a few eggs from the coveted laying spot and placed them in the nest. Next, I picked up the banshee and put her next to them, and suddenly, the screeching stopped. It wasn’t completely quiet though. Fluffing her feathers and settling in, Mama began purring, sounding just like a contented cat. Some days, it is best to practice kindness over practicality. The sounds of that grieving mama hen would have haunted my dreams for many nights to come. Now, it is time for this mama’s Jacuzzi bath. Not so much for the glitz and glamour of it all, but to wash the chicken poop off my ears. After all, I did hold those eggs up pretty close.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my mother introduced me to Nancy Drew, but from the moment I read Carolyn Keene’s first book, I was hooked. She was one of Mom’s favorites, too. Nancy was smart. Nancy was rich. Nancy was independent, at least as much as a teenager could be. Nancy drove a blue roadster, whatever that was. I loved reading about her adventures with friends George and Bess and her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Our small town, like many others, had a library back in those days. It was cool and dark inside and smelled like books. There was no need for a library card because the librarian knew us all by name and besides, we signed them out ourselves on a card that was located in a pocket inside the front cover of each and every book. I suppose if they were overdue the librarian could call my mother, but I was always so excited to read the next adventure that mine never were. I filled a book bag or my bicycle basket every time I went, and could spend hours perusing the shelves, deciding what to read next. I loved the adventures of the Bobbsey Twins and The Boxcar Children, but soon switched to the mystery genre such as The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden, and Cherry Ames. Nancy Drew was my favorite of all of these old friends, and I read the books over and over. For books that were written a generation before mine, they never seemed to get old. Nancy kept me entertained through numerous bouts of tonsillitis. She accompanied me to our cabin, where I spent many hours lying in a hammock on the beach reading and slapping mosquitoes. After dark, I would duck under the covers, book in hand. Mysteries become more mysterious when read by the light of a flashlight unbeknownst to your parents. I found out many years later that my parents knew exactly what I was doing and that Carolyn Keene wasn’t a person at all but a pseudonym for several authors who wrote the series. That was somewhat of a disappointment to me, as I had pictured a real live Carolyn Keene hunched over an old typewriter in an attic room somewhere, tapping away at the keys. Nancy Drew has been around for 85 years. It is kind of amazing how this fictional character entertained and even influenced several generations of women, including me. One of my hobbies is collecting the original hardcover books from the 1930’s and 1940’s. It is no mystery why they are so hard to find. Thanks, Mom. You were right, as usual. The second Mother’s Day without you is no easier than the first.
For my birthday, I asked for and received just what I wanted: A handy-dandy garden cart which is kind of like a green metal wagon with sides. It came in a box in about a gazillion pieces and one page of directions. Those of you that know me know that I can do a lot of things as long as those things are not mechanical. I can read music. I can read a map. I can even follow a recipe, but mechanical directions generally do not call for two cups of sifted flour and a teaspoon of vanilla. You might be wondering why I just didn’t ask HIM to do it for me. As a former electrician, HE is much more mechanically inclined than I am, but sometimes in putting things together, he lets a few naughty words slip out, and since it was Sunday, I would rather not hear them. Besides, he wasn’t home. So, on this bright and beautiful spring day, I sat on the front porch and tried to figure out how to “attach rear axle support assembly to rear of bed using M8 x 20 carriage bolts, M8 washers, and nylon nuts.” Yes, there were fuzzy black and white pictures of all the washers, nuts, and bolts that looked exactly the same, and I have no idea what nylon nuts are, since everything was made out of metal. None of the nuts screwed on to the bolts as tightly as I thought they should, and for some reason the “wrench provided in the hardware package” wasn’t provided, so I used my fingers. These kits are always missing something, and by the way, does anyone know what the heck a hex bolt is? After several false starts, I finally gave up altogether on understanding and/or using the directions and just started putting those gazillion parts together, and guess what? It worked! At least it seemed to be working. I stopped before I was finished, because with all that stooping over and the stress of trying not to say naughty words on a Sunday, my back started hurting and I broke a nail, so I came inside for a cup of coffee. The rest of my nails look pretty grubby from attaching the wheels to the axle, which is connected to the strut, connection bar, and support assembly. I am pleased to report that I didn’t get any of them on backwards or upside down, either. I was getting a little concerned, though. Grubby fingernails, not reading directions, and a few (but only a few, I promise) naughty words….I thought I just might be turning into a man. Do you remember the missing wrench? Apparently, it was needed, because my wagon had a few wobbles. My knight in shining armor…er… a blue pickup truck arrived. HE actually knew what a carriage bolt was plus had a ratchet wrench. Since I’m not such a quick learner with a ratchet wrench and it would have taken me an hour, HE tightened everything up, added the handle, and checked all the wheels. I sat back to admire my handiwork. Yes, it sure gave me a warm feeling inside to know that I put that nice little wagon together all by myself.
Laundry is my favorite household chore. In fact, it is the only household chore that I enjoy doing. Still, I don’t complain when HE does the laundry and would gladly give up any and all forms of housework to anyone that will take them. When I do the laundry, clothes are sorted into three piles: 1) Dark tee shirts, jeans, and my 20 pair of black ankle socks, 2) Medium to light-colored things which are mostly my clothes such as pastel tee shirts and lighter pants or shorts. 3) Whites. This load always contains our white sheets, white towels and HIS 120 pair of white athletic socks. Bleach can be added if necessary. When HE does the laundry, it is two loads only, no matter how large or small, and those loads are either white or dark. White is self-explanatory. Dark is everything that is not pure white stuffed into one load, mixing my pastel colored shirts with the black socks and dirty jeans. We hang our clothes outside most of the time, and I could probably get my own hour on Dr. Phil for the hanging rituals that I have which are admittedly close to OCD. Pants are hung by the waistbands using two clothespins, three if it is windy. Tee shirts are hung by the hems and in order according to owner. Towels are hung on a separate line, end to end and sharing clothespins, sized large to small with wash cloths on the end. The white sheets are on the outside line to be bleached naturally by the sun and never turn yellow, even with my country water that leaves rusty stains in all the sinks. Socks are hung in pairs by the cuffs, and unmentionables are hung on the inside lines and out of sight, just as my mother taught me to do. Him? HE hangs everything upside down and in no particular order. Socks and jeans are hung by the cuffs, his tee shirts are mixed up with mine, and I hate to mention it, but the unmentionables are actually hung on the outside line for the entire world to see! Yesterday, after he did the laundry, I had to run some clothes through the rinse cycle a second time, since they had some soapy-looking spots on them that I was certain came from HIM stuffing the washer too full. I’ll admit that I inwardly rolled my eyes and had thoughts of him leaning on the pile to squeeze in a few more things, then adding enough soap to swab down the deck of the USS Teddy Roosevelt before pushing the start button. I folded the clothes HE had done and hung the load I did the proper way. My way. I noticed that there were still a few soapy-looking spots and decided that they weren’t HIS fault after all but caused by the new high-efficiency-low-water-usage washer that doesn’t have an agitator and spins the clothes practically dry but tightly wrinkled. Not good for the few of us left in the world who still hang their clothes outside. Still, it was a good day. The chickens were pecking in the yard, the laundry was blowing in the breeze, and all was right with the world. Bring it on, Dr. Phil.
In northern Minnesota during my growing-up years, a sure sign of spring was when all the neighborhood kids played marbles. We played in the typical Minnesota spring climate, shooting marbles into gigantic mud puddles and snowbanks. There wasn’t a specific game, we just aimed our marble at another kid’s, and if we hit it, won their marble. That was only if we played “for keeps” or “for keepers”, though. Otherwise it was just for fun. We had cat’s eyes, shooters, steelies, puries, commies, and others in a whole myriad of colors and sizes, carried in fringed leather bags bought from Ott’s Drug Store or sewn by our mothers. The first house that my parents bought in the early 1960’s had a basement full of stuff, including a gallon pickle jug full of old marbles. I could fill my bag whenever I needed to, and I would often grab a handful. It was like reaching into a jar of colorful candy in all colors and flavors. My favorites were the marbles that had animal figurines inside the spheres of glass. There were only a few of those, and I wish I knew what happened to them, but I never took the chance of losing them in a game. When summer arrived, my best friend and I were too busy catching frogs and fish to play marbles, but we often carried a homemade slingshot in our back pockets and instead of using pebbles, we often used marbles. We were only allowed to use those slingshots when we went to the woods, because there were just way too many windows in town. Through the eyes and thoughts of a child, that big jar of marbles should have lasted just about forever and a day, but by the time I was in high school, they were gone. I didn’t feel any sense of loss until years later, when we cleaned out our parents’ house and I found a few, tucked into the back of the junk drawer. Over the years, I have picked up a handful here and there at estate sales, and now I have three small jars of them on my dresser. Looking at them always brings back the memories of Minnesota springtimes and childhood. I have often wondered how much that big jar full of old marbles would be valued at today. It would probably be worth quite a bit of money, but even if it was, I know for certain that it is worth far more than that in memories.
There I was, plugging along in my own happy little world, when I found out that someone changed the rules. The grammar rules, I mean. I know that most of you probably don’t give two hoots about the rules of commas, spaces, and parentheses, but believe me, if you have an internet blog that is read by people from all parts of the country and beyond and you leave out a comma, someone, somewhere will be sure to let you know about it. I recently learned that it is now all right to remove your Oxford commas when writing a list of things, such as this: Drives, me and crazy. An Oxford comma would be adding the comma after the word me. No, I didn’t much care or even know about Oxford until someone sent me a chastising letter about commas, and I decided to stick with good old Oxford and not to fret about someone who has nothing better to do than write comments to people about punctuation. In my never ending quest to publish a book, I ran across an article that said that it is “old-fashioned” to type two spaces after a period in a sentence. It said that editors actually check that out and toss out or delete manuscripts with the extra space because they wanted new and fresh writers. Fresh? What`s wrong with vintage? Both wine and Farm Women get better as they age. Besides, after a hundred years of my fingers hitting the space bar twice at the end of each sentence, I do it without thinking, and as they say, it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Alas, dear friends, my steamy love story about love and chicken coops, and my sinister mystery novel set in Talmoon, Minnesota will have to be published at a later time, once I learn the rules all over again.
Babies are as cute as cute can be. The more they smile and coo and laugh, the more smitten we become. This, my friends, is all in God’s plan. The Big Guy Upstairs makes babies so cuddly and lovable and such an integral part of our lives because sooner than we parents could ever imagine, they become teenagers. Teenagers are about as cuddly and lovable as a nest full of pygmy rattlesnakes. All right, I will admit that I may be exaggerating just a little bit here. The worst thing about my own sweet baby girl was her room. I begged, pleaded, cajoled, yelled, and grounded to no avail. It was more than messy, it was downright dirty. I finally gave up and just kept the door closed. One warm summer Florida day, I arrived home from work, unlocked the front door, and smelled something. It wasn’t a good something. The odor was sour and musty and definitely needed investigation. I sniffed my way around the living room, bathroom, and laundry room. I checked for water leaks. I got down on my hands and knees to sniff the carpet. I wondered if there was perhaps a dead mouse in the attic. As I moved down the hallway, sniffing all the way, the odor intensified. When I opened her bedroom door, I knew I had found ground zero, and it didn’t take me long to find the pile of damp stinky towels piled on the damp stinky carpet. Any of us who have been parents of young teens know that they either shower for hours or not at all. The not at all showerers are usually males. Parents can tell when their sons become interested in girls because they will start showering for hours, too. Girls usually use two towels per shower. These towels must be clean and smell April fresh and each towel is used only once. (This logic is teenage logic and not my own, by the way.) One towel is used for the clean wet hair and one for the clean wet body. Those towels are now considered “dirty” and are unceremoniously thrown on the floor next to the growing pile of clothes that were pulled off hangers, tried on, then tossed on the floor with the loud lament of “Mom! I’ve got nothing at all to wear!” Boys will pluck the same pair of jeans from the pile and wear them for a week. Even parents with sinus allergies will figure this one out fairly quickly. If you are wondering how the pile got so high and stinky, don’t judge. In the Florida heat and humidity, mold and mildew grow rapidly. We also had a pool and since there were always two or three teenage girls hanging around, emptying the refrigerator and following the aforementioned towel logic, the pile grew quickly. For those of you who are rocking your sweet and cuddly babies right now, don’t despair. As I mentioned earlier, it is all part of the plan. Your children will grow up and become responsible adults, eat organic vegetables, and clean their rooms. They will only occasionally ask you for money. Soon, they will have teenagers of their own, and you will remember the prayer you sent heavenward during those difficult years: “I hope and pray that someday, you will have a child who turns out to be just like you!” You can smile, close the door on the chaos, and go home to your own quiet and neat house. I will bet you a week’s worth of dirty laundry that you will wish that you could have those crazy days back once again, even if it is just for a moment.