For as long as I can remember, my mother would eat the turkey neck every Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law did, too. Both claimed it was their favorite piece of the bird. I always found it to be a little stringy, but never wasted that turkey neck, choosing instead to simmer it with the giblets, then chop it very finely and add it to the gravy. This year, for the first time, I raised turkeys on our little farm. Getting advice from real farmers, I purchased six babies last spring. Six because everyone told me I would probably lose a few to predators, weather, or just plain stupidity on my part…or theirs. Despite these dire warnings, I ended up with all six, but they didn’t stay babies for long. I learned that turkeys grow rapidly and eat a lot, and by a lot, I mean A LOT. I tried to free-range them as much as I could, hoping they would fill up on grass, worms, and bugs. Around here, in the land of coyotes and foxes and bears (oh, my), animals must be protected. In addition to the free ranging, they lived a happy life in the coop and the run with the chickens. (I can’t vouch for the happiness of the chickens, however.) I didn’t name the turkeys, knowing that they would eventually be dinner. Although I didn’t harden my heart against them, I didn’t treat them as pets, either. They were really fun to watch, and contrary to what I had heard, were certainly not lacking in intelligence. As the days started getting shorter, I knew “the deed” had to be done sooner than later. I had already arranged with my son-in-law to take care of that duty, and my best friend since the first grade, who is always up for anything, agreed to help. We managed to get them cleaned, although I must admit, it was a lot of work with a little bit of sadness thrown in. I’m really not sure I’d want do it again. After sending each of my assistants home with a turkey-and-a-half, one is in the freezer and the others were sent to the local butcher to be made into breast fillets and turkey sausage. I saved the bones and simmered them yesterday with bay leaves, lots of garlic, and a touch of apple cider vinegar to make several quarts of broth which will be good for what ails us in the coming winter months. As I picked the meat off those turkey necks to make soup, I thought about the fast food throw-away world we live in now. Raising your own meat and vegetables is about as slow as food can get. The thought of wasting any part of those turkeys after taking care of them personally would be almost sinful. It took me a while, but I finally understand why our ancestors saved everything and wasted nothing. My life is filled with blessings. I have helpful friends, a warm home, healthy food, and a loving family to share it with. For all these things, and especially for turkeys, I give my heartfelt thanks.
Somewhere around here I have a box of letters. There are a few that my great-grandmother wrote to the folks back home, filled with news about the relatives and her health. There are eloquently written letters from my father to my mother. There is even a packet of love letters, all written on yellow stationary that I got from HIM during our engagement. They are short but very sweet, and I saved every single one of them. I used to be a good letter writer. Since I moved about a thousand miles from home after we married, I kept in touch with friends and family through letters, and I was happy to get them in return. We didn’t have a lot of money, long-distance telephone rates were expensive, and postage stamps were cheap. Gradually, it became more affordable to call, and I started sending a hand written letter only at Christmas. Most of my friends did the same. Then came email, which was a wonderful way to keep in touch with friends and family at the touch of a keyboard. Long letters were no longer necessary, as brief notes and funny jokes became a weekly or even daily occurrence. I looked forward to checking my email daily, even several times a day. Gradually, despite internet filters, “spam” email would find its way into my inbox. That, along with the same tired old jokes that circulated over and over, made email not such a thrill any more. Along came Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now we can chat and send pictures instantly to everyone we know. We can have running conversations with each other by text messages on our phones. Husbands and wives are communicating with each other again, everywhere except at our house. The man who once wrote those sweet letters refuses to text and the only love notes he writes are left on the counter asking me to pick up peanut butter at the grocery store. Most people, including me, don’t bother to send Christmas cards any more, preferring instead to send greetings via social networking. These days, I still check my email every day, but have to weed through the spam and scammers to get to the important stuff. Cruise lines and mortgage companies want my business. Citizens from Libya are telling me I can share in their inheritance if I just give them my bank account number. Strangely enough, I even get information about adult diapers and choosing my own nursing home. Today, long-distance rates are cheap and postage stamps are expensive. I miss getting those good long newsy letters. I miss the anticipation of checking the mailbox every day and of sorting through the mail, saving the letters for last and reading them a second or even a third time. I love technology, but sometimes miss the way things used to be. We don’t save texts and emails. The next generation won’t find an old shoebox filled with love letters and faded photographs that were put away long ago by someone who wondered how the years went by so quickly. Maybe it is time for me to write a letter. It will be long, handwritten, and filled with news. Hopefully, I will even get one in return.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an archeologist. On any given summer day, I could be found sifting through the sand surrounding our burn barrel in the back yard, finding assorted treasures such as chipped marbles, buttons, and singed animal bones. As an adult, I once borrowed a metal detector and was happily digging up nickels in a Florida state park when the rangers stopped me and threatened to confiscate them. Apparently, searching for buried treasure on state land in a historic county is against the law. Oops. I am always watching roadshows and picker shows on television and hear the stories of those who move to old farms and find things in their attics and barn rafters worth thousands of dollars. Well, we moved to an old farm, and we haven’t found anything except broken glass and rusty metal. I spend my summers picking up this junk, only to find more every year once the snow is gone. This fall, I have spent a few days moving my garden storage area from one shed to another. Ordinarily, at this time of the year, I am sitting in front of the fire with a good book, but the unusual balmy fall weather has extended my outdoor activity. When you are a homeowner, another word for outdoor activity is WORK. First, I hauled three wheelbarrow loads of wood scraps and old leftover pieces of lumber to the burn pile. It’s funny, but I thought it might make a good woodshed just before I realized it used to be a woodshed. Next, I moved the pile of old pieces of metal that I have picked up over the years from the corner of the shed to the trailer. Hopefully, HE will get the hint and make a trip to the recycle center before the snow flies. I raked the dirt floor from corner to corner, loosening up more wood chips and (no surprise here) lots of broken glass. I carefully dumped and sorted through a bucket of rusty nails, hoping to find a treasure beneath them, but there was nothing there but rusty nails. I found a few small toy trucks buried among the dirt and the glass. I found some old and some not so old rusty tools. I found a mouse nest made with lots of chicken feathers and straw. I found plenty of spider webs. Luckily, I didn’t find any spiders, but I know they were watching me. Emptied from top to bottom and from end to end, the little shed will be ready for its new/old role as a woodshed. It is not quite empty, though. Hidden in one of the corners is a collection of small toy trucks, an animal bone of some sort, and an old rusty chisel of unknown vintage. In a few years, my grandson will be old enough to do some exploring on his own, and if he’s anything like his grandma, he’ll be looking for a treasure. I hope he finds one.
There’s no doubt about it, Mother Nature has been good to us. We’ve had a glorious fall. The beautiful leaves, sunshiny warm days, and crisp cool nights have put nearly everyone in northern Minnesota in a good mood. Especially me. Although my summer garden was pretty much a failure, my fall garden is yielding my first ever harvest of Brussels sprouts. Usually, they are about as big as peas and I leave them there for the winter foraging animals. This year, I’m looking forward to including them in a few meals, and there will be plenty for me, since HE won’t touch them. A few squash also managed to survive despite being nearly choked to death by weeds. The generosity of neighbors has supplemented the meager harvest immensely, and I have a refrigerator full of carrots and have had enough tomatoes to make both spaghetti sauce and chili. There is a lot to do in Minnesota to prepare for winter. There is more to do if you live on a farm, even if that farm consists of a nearly barren garden and 20 chickens who until a few weeks ago, were just about as barren as the garden. We are ready for winter. Well, not READY ready. Just ready. Last year, winter came when it was still fall. It was a long, cold, snowy winter, too, and we ran out of wood long before it was over. Luckily, we don’t heat completely with wood, but it sure helps with the heating bill. This year, HE has cut, split, and stacked plenty. Two weeks ago, with the fall house cleaning done and the freezers cleaned and stocked, we were ready. Still, Mother Nature cooperated with another week of nice weather. Since it was so nice, we cleaned out some of our outbuildings, hung storage cupboards, and spread gravel. The chicken coop was cleaned, bales of straw were hauled in, and old straw removed. We were ready. This weekend brought more gorgeous weather, so the garden shed was cleaned and organized, and I scrubbed and put away the outdoor furniture. I’m furiously washing and hanging sheets and quilts, too. Once the snow flies I will have to resort to using the dryer, and since no dryer sheet in the world smells as sweet as the great outdoors, I savor this task for as long as I can. Despite the fact that my hollyhocks are blooming for the second time this year and it’s warm enough to be outside without a jacket, I swept the leaves off the deck and put the snow shovel out, right next to the Halloween decorations. In Minnesota, one never knows when the flurries will come. Bring it on, Mother Nature. We’re ready. Well, not READY ready. The only thing I’m READY ready for is the Jacuzzi tub. Although HE’s not complaining a bit about all this hard work, my muscles feel like I’ve been put through the wringer. When it comes to winter preparations, it seems there’s no rest for the weary Farm Woman.
Did you ever wonder why your ancestors never smiled in those cabinet card photograph cards from the 1800′s? It’s because the exposure time for the film was so long that they had to stand very, very still while dressed in their finest feather hats and high-button shoes. If we were to fast-forward a few years to my generation, getting pictures meant taking snapshots until the roll of film was finished, sealing the special envelope, and waiting for your photographs to arrive at the drugstore or in the mail. With self-developing Polaroid film, you could snap a picture, the camera would spit it out, and you would wave it around for a minute or two until the ink dried, then peel off the backing and voila! out came a badly focused picture of your teenage friends in silly poses. It was expensive, but fun. Later, one-hour photo shops popped up in malls and drugstores all across America. Today, in the digital era, everything is done in an instant. You can cut, crop, edit, and post your photo on Instagram or Facebook in no time at all and for everyone to see. I appreciate the ability of today’s camera phones to delete anything that I don’t approve, because truthfully, I could win an award for being the world’s least photogenic person. We have several family portraits that have been taken over the years with HIM, who looks ruggedly handsome despite the fact that he never smiles in photographs, our adorable little girl, and someone sitting beside them who looks like Whistler’s mother’s ugly stepsister. I even had a dinner guest once ask if the lady in the picture was HIS first wife. Somehow, in portraits and snapshots, my skin turns a whiter shade of pale, I look 20 pounds heavier, and I have some sort of expression on my face that makes me look like I have smelled a skunk. Our photo albums aren’t any better because HE always thought it was hilarious to snap a picture of me in my bathrobe with hair uncombed, making pancakes on a Saturday morning. There is one very strange habit that is happening everywhere: Selfies. For those of you who may not know, selfies are photographs that you take of yourself. I don’t really understand why. Some people take them with vacation hotspots in the background. Teenage boys take them with their caps on backward and teenage girls take them with their lips all pouty-looking. Celebrities take them with their lips all pouty-looking while naked, then store them in something up in cyberspace called a cloud and are surprised when they are stolen by a computer hacker and published for all the world to see. I have tried to take a few selfies (fully clothed, of course). You probably won’t see them on Instagram or Facebook, or anywhere else. Somehow, despite the crisp digital images, my skin turns a whiter shade of pale and I look 20 pounds heavier. Even with pouty lips, the expression on my face makes me look like I have smelled a skunk. It’s funny how some things are always changing, and some things never do.
Back in the days before cell phones, automatic voice dialing, and caller ID, there was a gadget called a rotary telephone. It hung on the wall or was placed on the desk and had a round dial with numbers and letters. You could dial “0″ and get an operator who would look up a number for you, give weather updates, and answer important questions like “Is your refrigerator running?” or “Do you have Prince Albert in the can?” When I was growing up, we had a party line, which meant that our line was shared by others in the neighborhood. Party lines were cheaper than private lines, and my parents, who grew up during the depression years, saved money any way they could. We shared our line with the Kozisek family. Mrs. Kozisek chatted on the phone every afternoon, and I was really good at quietly picking up the receiver and listening in on her conversations. Our phone had an extra long cord, and I would cover the mouthpiece with one hand while slooowly lifting the receiver so it wouldn’t click, then stretch the cord as long as it would go to the top of the attic stairs which led to my bedroom. I sat there quietly with the receiver to my ear, barely breathing so I wouldn’t give myself away. I don’t know why I was so snoopy, and I honestly don’t remember a single one of her conversations, but apparently it was great entertainment for me at the time. We were lucky to share our line with only one other neighbor. My friend, who lived out in the country, shared hers with three other families. One phone line being used by all the teenagers in the neighborhood had to be a difficult situation, and I remember that we didn’t often share any secrets over the telephone because you never knew who might be listening. Since one line was shared by all the families, anyone could interrupt a conversation at any time, and anyone calling the party line would get a busy signal no matter which family was using the phone. I remember many interruptions by the older teens ranging from “Get off the phone, I’m expecting an important call” to “Get off the *@#% phone. NOW!”. Mrs. Kozisek never resorted to using naughty words, at least none that I heard, but there were several times when she politely asked me to hang up. I am ashamed to admit that I took my sweet time doing it, too. Finally, she just couldn’t take it any more. It was a sad day for my parents when they had to pay for a private line, but secretly, I was thrilled. I could stretch out that extra long telephone cord, sit on the top step, and talk for as long as I wanted. Down the street at her house, Mrs. Kozisek was probably doing exactly the same thing.
Years ago, every town had a bakery or two, and every bakery had a baker or two. If you went to your favorite bakery for a dozen cookies or rolls or doughnuts, you got 13 instead of 12. Since my mom was a fantastic cook, we rarely got “store-bought” goodies in our family. I do remember stopping once with her while on vacation for a white paper bag of cookies and was fascinated by the fact that a dozen cookies was really not a dozen cookies. Or maybe I was just fascinated by the bag of cookies. Mom, as most moms tend to do, turned it into a math lesson. Elementary math is much easier when learned with cookies rather than calculators. Although I would much rather think of a kindly baker dusting the flour off his apron to hand out an extra sweet treat as the origin of the baker’s dozen, it was really started as a preventative measure to keep the baker from having his fingers or ears chopped off for cheating his customers in those wonderful days of yore. Since a dozen bread rolls should have equalled a pound of bread, the baker threw in an extra one to make sure his customer got what he was paying for and the baker could go home with all of his body parts intact. It got me thinking that in many ways, we are like those cheating bakers. In our busy world, we cheat ourselves and others of what’s really important trying to make time for the things that in the grand scheme of things, don’t make a bit of difference at all. What if we all chose to give that little bit of extra, our own baker’s dozen of sorts, in our everyday lives? What would happen if we gave an extra dollar to our church, local school, or favorite charity? What if we shut down our computers, put down our remotes, and volunteered for one extra hour each week? What if we took our first negative thought of the day and turned it into a positive one? What if we give our family an extra hug or an “I love you” before we go to bed tonight? There are roughly 316 million people in our country today. That’s 316 million dollars, hours, and positive thoughts just for today. Don’t think I’m forgetting about those bedtime hugs. 316 million sweet dreams tonight is bound to make the world a better place tomorrow. Those dreams would be sweeter than a dozen cookies any day, even if it is a baker’s dozen.