I don’t remember seeing many crows when I lived in the city. Oh, I’m pretty sure they were there, but I first noticed them when they would fly toward my car from the side of a country road and startle me just enough that I would put my foot on the brake. Every time. It took me that whole first summer to get used to them. Nobody pays that much attention to the lowly crow, unless they are pulling up the farmers’ corn sprouts and seeds from the fields or harassing some poor gal from the city trying to be a Farm Woman. Crows are extremely intelligent and if trained, can count and even speak a few words. Back in those days, they were probably saying, “Get ready guys, here she comes again!” The crows around our house are pretty smart, too. They must have heard the old adage that the early bird gets the worm, because they are caw-cawing at the crack of dawn. Last week, it was 4:45 and since the days are growing shorter, they let me sleep in until 4:55 this morning. These country crows must be eating a lot of worms, too, because they are almost as big as my chickens. The bigger they are, the louder they caw, too. They seem to be calling to each other, reporting the worm and/or bug status underneath my bedroom window. Once they start their cacophony, Barney the Chihuahua crawls out from under the covers and wants his back scratched before going outside. Me, too. In fact, we’re all up except HIM. He manages to sleep through it all, but if you ask, he’ll tell you he didn’t sleep a wink. Even though a flock of crows is oddly enough called a murder, I’m not tempted to get out the shotgun. Our winter birds are beautiful but pretty quiet, and in the very early days of spring, the cawing of the crows is a welcome break from the cold silence, letting us know that the long dark winter is nearly over and spring is on the way. I must admit that I found it a little strange that a group of intelligent creatures communicating with each other could be called a murder. Some things in the English language make no sense, and yet others hit it right on the nose: A group of baboons is called a troop or a congress. I pick the latter, because it makes much more sense, at least to me. But then again, I brake for crows.
Every town in every state has an icon: A place of memories, a little magic, and for sure, a touch of happiness. Some of you might guess the icon of my home town is perhaps the big fish at the intersection of Highways 2 and 6. There used to be a visitors information center there, back in the days when maps were free, people didn’t look everything up on their smart phones and took the time to get out and stretch their legs every once in a while. Moms and dads took summer vacations together and brought carloads of kids to the resorts and campgrounds of northern Minnesota. If your dad drove just a half a block north on Highway 6, he could park at the side of the road under the pine trees and stop at the real icon of our little town. The little orange-colored hut at the corner of Division Street and the unnamed alley that ran behind my house, was known to kids growing up in the 60′s and 70′s as Gram’s Kozy Korner. Gram, as everyone called her, sold sandwiches, ice cream, and all types of candy. She was sometimes sweet and sometimes a little crabby, depending on how long it took you to choose what you wanted. It was the type of place where you walked up to the window, placed your order, then slapped mosquitoes while you waited for it to get done. Older siblings lifted the younger ones up to the window, since you couldn’t step inside. I don’t remember much about waiting for hamburgers, because I was small enough to have just a penny, nickle or a dime clutched in my hand or deep in the pocket of my shorts, and that little bit of change could buy a Slo-Poke caramel sucker or an orange sherbet Push Up, which were a couple of favorites. We also bought candy necklaces, which were on elastic strings and you could pull the elastic up to your mouth and bite off the candy, eating them one by one. I ate mine so quickly that I never had the problem of a sticky ring around my neck like some of my friends did. Our moms didn’t like it much when we bought candy cigarettes, the candy of future juvenile delinquents. I don’t know why in the world they were even allowed to be sold, but we must have bought them for the naughtiness of it all rather than the taste, because they really weren’t that great. The best candy of all were the bars of soft smooth taffy in all flavors. I loved the yellow artificial banana flavor and would keep it in my pocket until it got even softer, then take a bite and stretch it out as long as I could. Funny, I don’t remember when Gram’s Kozy Korner closed. Perhaps it was when I got beyond the years when the neighborhood kids played together in the alley, teased our little brothers and sisters, and earned our pennies by picking woodticks off the dogs or sweeping the neighbor lady’s front porch. I don’t remember mourning it, but I’m certain that I must have. Years later, I found a place that sold old-fashioned candy and bought a few bars of that dentist’s delight taffy. It tasted good but a little too sweet and artificial for my adult palate, and nowhere near the sublime flavor of my memories. I finished it anyway and savored every bite.
I found a lovely little English biscuit jar the other day while at a garage sale. The lady selling this treasure was somewhat apologetic when I picked it up, showing me the repairs that had been done to the lid and the two tiny chips around the rim. I think that something that is probably from the early 1900′s is in good shape no matter what condition it is in. In Victorian times and shortly afterward, about the time this biscuit jar was made, things were much more refined than they are now. There was a utensil for nearly everything from fish to grapes and tea was served from a pot made of silver or fine china. Having tea was a time to relax, visit, and have a bite to eat. The English served little sandwiches, fancy cakes, and biscuits with their tea. When we visited England about 15 years ago and went to tea, which is kind of like going to lunch, I learned that a biscuit is another name for a cookie and that a scone is just a fancy biscuit. The dainty little scones were only slightly sweet and served with jam and clotted cream thick enough to spread with a knife. It would have been easy to eat a dozen, but things were not quite as casual as they are on this side of the ocean, where having a cookie usually means passing a bag of Oreos around the table and pouring a glass of milk. The biscuits were served on doilies on top of little plates but not out of biscuit jars. Those were probably already in grandmothers’ houses in china cabinets gathering dust. The one I bought the other day for the bargain price of one dollar has obviously been used but not abused. I gladly paid my dollar and would have probably paid more but decided not to mention it, keeping my mouth shut for once in my life. I almost exploded with the silence of it all. Although we don’t eat a lot of biscuits or cookies around our house, I found another use for this lovely piece from the past: It will be in the bathroom filled with my favorite lavender-scented bath salts. If it gets another chip, it will only add to the history, and perhaps a generation from now, someone else will run their fingers along the rim and wonder how it got there. Old things are meant to be used and enjoyed, otherwise, they are nothing more than dust gatherers in someone’s grandmother’s china cabinet, later to be sold at the estate sale for the same price as a cup of tea.
Most of the garden is underwater for the third time this summer. When not underwater, it is impossible to tend to the garden, because anyone walking anywhere except around the perimeter risks being sucked into a muddy abyss. This is not the time for complaining, whining, or ranting…at least not much, anyway. This old Farm Woman did enough of that over the long snowy winter. It is summer. Did you hear me, Mother Nature? SUMMER. You know what I’m talking about: Warmth, sunshine, and the back of one’s neck feeling a little dirty and gritty. There are some good things happening, however, during this monsoon season. 1) It is not winter. 2) If I can’t get into the garden, I don’t have to weed it. 3) I don’t have to haul three lengths of pieced-together hose to water the garden, and better yet, I don’t have to roll it back up again. When we first moved here, we rescued two old wringer-type washing machines from the trash pile. HE wanted to haul them to the dump, but I love to find other purposes for old junk, so we moved them to the south wall of the house, filled them with dirt, and they became herb gardens. Something that I’ve learned this rainy summer is that herbs love cool wet weather and they are thriving. Rather than snipping a few here and there for seasoning, I am carrying them in by the bucketful, with some of the basil leaves being almost as big as my hand. Since I can’t control the weather, I decided to have a “wait and see” attitude about the rest of the garden. In the meantime, I’ll make lots of pesto, drink iced tea with fresh mint, and for once in my life, cook with as much fresh parsley as I want. The strawberries, beneath their weedy disguise, went unnoticed by the woodland creatures who usually nibble on them, and for the first time ever, I have harvested more than a handful. I really don’t much care for that dirty and gritty feeling on the back of my neck anyway, but I sure do love the taste of fresh strawberries, eaten out of hand while standing in the garden. The added danger of teetering at the edge of a muddy abyss only makes them taste sweeter.
My sister and I, along with my best childhood friend since the first grade just finished giving an estate sale to sell the leftover items that nobody wanted from my mother’s apartment. It sounds kind of sad to say that nobody wanted those things, because we probably would have taken more if we lived in bigger houses. My sister, who lives in a house with less storage than mine, has the philosophy of “something in, something out.” I am more of a
hoarder sentimental fool who has a memory and a long-winded story attached to everything. Our friend, who tends to keep things also, is downsizing to a smaller house, so passing the stuff to her was out of the question. We each had the chance to take whatever we wanted when we closed the apartment last winter. We divided things without argument, as we both agree that things are just that…things. Some items went to the trash, others to our cabin, and the stuff we didn’t want went into storage for the estate sale. We then cleared out two pickup loads of junk vintage items from our cabin to make room for the new. Our husbands did a lot of the hauling, and we didn’t hear a word of complaint from them (at least not within earshot) but I did catch a little eye rolling here and there. As I packed away Mom’s small old electric percolator and coffee mugs, I had a moment of regret. Even though I have a modern coffee maker that I just have to drop in a pod in and brew, I love the taste of percolated coffee and enjoyed many a cup sitting in the sunny breakfast nook at my parents’ old house eating toast made with Mom’s homemade bread spread with Dad’s wild strawberry jam. Estate sales are more work than fun, but it was nice to visit with old friends who stopped by but didn’t buy nearly enough, former students of Dad’s, and neighbors. When it came time to pack it all up again for donation, I realized that nobody had purchased that old coffee percolator. I just couldn’t let it go, any more than I could let my favorite coffee mug be sold, which didn’t even make it into the sale. This morning, I washed everything and wiped down the stainless steel until it shone. I ground some coffee beans and ran fresh cold water. Mom always said that coffee tastes better of you let the water run for a minute or two. By the time I took the dog out, it was ready, and I sat at the dining room table in the morning sunshine drinking coffee with cream out of an English china mug with pictures of plum blossoms on it. I don’t make homemade bread, and I don’t have the patience or the time to pick enough wild strawberries to make jam, but my memories were sweet enough that for a moment, I almost tasted them both.
It is hard to believe, but it was seven years ago this month that we packed up and moved from sunny Florida to a little farm in northern Minnesota. Call it an adventure, a midlife crisis, or just plain old insanity, here we are. To those of you who encouraged our move with tales of global warming and the lack of the old-fashioned winters of our childhoods (Our northern friends), and to those of you that just asked, “Are you nuts?” (Our southern friends), I can only laugh. In the past seven years, we have had the longest winter, the coldest winter, the most snow, and the latest snowfall…at least in the last 30 years. It is a strange coincidence that it was about 30 years when we left Minnesota the last time. I don’t mind either the snow or the cold, as long as I can spend winters under an electric blanket with my computer and gardening magazines. Since we didn’t have much of a spring this year, I placed all my hopes and dreams on summer. Even without a degree in meteorology, I am somewhat suspicious that this summer will go down in the record books as the wettest summer ever. My garden has become a water garden. The low areas of the back yard have several inches of standing water, and I have to wear rubber boots to get to the chicken coop. The animals of the fields and woods have started lining up two by two except for the mosquitoes, who are gathering by the thousands and planning to take over the state…maybe even the world. I surrender every day to their annoying droning sound and biting, and I wake up at night scratching mosquito bites. I then lie awake for what seems like hours, listening to a lone mosquito, circling our bed, lower and lower, closer and closer until…..silence. I slap, waking the dog, waking HIM, and the mosquito starts all over again. Is it just one, or do the rest of the tribe wait behind the curtains to take turns torturing me one by one? This particular circle of life can be a vicious one for everyone involved, including the mosquito. All of the water standing in the back yard will only make the mosquito problem worse. This week, I’ll be spraying myself with bug spray from head to toe to go out and replant much of my organic garden, as soon as it dries out. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, let me just say that you just have to be here to understand. Oh, and to answer your “Are you nuts?” question, my answer is a resounding “Yes!”
My husband, affectionately known as “HIM”, comes from a large family with six children. He is a wonderful cook, and even though it has been many years since he lived at home with brothers and sisters, he still cooks enough to feed them and the rest of the neighborhood kids. I often come home to the aroma of his fried potatoes, which he somehow manages to get the perfect combination of brown and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I could eat a pound of them sprinkled with apple cider vinegar, and that’s not hard to do, since he fries up at least three pounds of potatoes for just the two of us. Whether he is grilling steaks the size of dinner plates or a simple package of hot dogs (“might as well cook the whole package”), we could feed an army around here. The same thing happened when we planned our gardens. Or should I say, when I planned my garden. HE doesn’t garden. He hates gardening, which probably stems from being made to work in his family’s garden as a boy when he would have rather been playing baseball and hanging out with his friends. Oh, he’ll till the garden until the soil is perfect, and he erected a wonderful fence to keep the deer out, too. When we moved to the country, he asked me how large of a garden I wanted. That was kind of like offering a shopaholic an unlimited budget. I had been planning this garden in my City Girl head for years. Gardening to me is like fried potatoes to him. The more the merrier. The bigger the better. I paced off a large plot, adding a few extra feet just in case I wanted to feed any neighboring countries. What I didn’t know is that he had been planning a garden of his own in the back field “to put in some strawberries and a few pumpkins”. (Translated to mean “for YOU to put in a whole bunch of strawberries and a lot of pumpkins”.) Despite the fact that the weeds take over and the birds eat the strawberries every year just as they reach their peak of ripeness, I don’t mind a bit, because I am in my happy place. Besides, gardening is good exercise. I need it to work off those delicious meals he makes. I hope he’s ready to cook, because I planted a lot of potatoes this year.