The mouse is in the breezeway, which is technically not in the house. The connecting door between the two stays closed, unless I am carrying groceries/laundry/etc. or I forget to close it. The old breezeway has shifted, leaving a gap between the back door and the threshold large enough for Mrs. Mouse and her large extended family to move in….and out….and in again every night. At least that’s how I picture it in my mind when there is the tiniest noise out there. I see the evidence of their family reunions every morning. It needs more than a simple repair, and I am somewhere around the third from the bottom on my carpenter’s have-to-do-before-winter-but-maybe-next-spring list. We set a mousetrap, for whatever good that does. Perhaps I should say I set the trap, since I got tired of reminding HIM to set it every night. There’s another problem. HE sleeps later than I do every morning, which means that I have to check the trap. This morning, I picked up Barney the Chihuahua to save his nose in case there was no mouse in the trap and checked where I had put it last. No trap. I checked behind the dryer, under the table, and inside a rolled-up rug. No trap, no mouse. That meant that there was probably a live mouse in a trap somewhere. Ick. Since I had to leave for church and HE was still asleep, I quickly scrawled a note and left it on the counter: “I set the trap but it wasn’t there when I checked. Eek!” By the time I got home, the problem was taken care of. My hero. I am being not the least sarcastic here, unlike my usual style of writing. I was planning on telling you about the 27 golf shirts in HIS closet, but will keep that story for another time. Happy anniversary to my mousetrap-finding hero who literally keeps the home fires burning because I can’t start a decent fire. Thank you for loading the boat, getting the bait, and filling the gas tank so all I have to do is step in and fish. Thank you for wiring the chicken coop so I wouldn’t have to go out there in the dark and get eaten by wolves or coyotes. Thank you for snow-blowing a path through the thigh-high drifts so I can get to my girls in the winter. Thank you for feeding them when I have a late meeting because you love me more than you hate chickens. Thank you for tilling my garden that I let go to weeds every year. Thank you for not saying “I told you so” about the turkey poop in the back yard. Although I would really like a few goats to add to our menagerie, I know you really don’t want them. So on this, our 37th anniversary, I just wanted to tell you that I love you more than I love goats, however cute and cuddly they may be.
The ten sweet fluffy chicks that I got this spring have turned into a bevy of clucking screeching teenage girls. As with human teens, this can be a difficult age. Earlier this summer, I had to crawl into the bushes where they had hidden themselves, getting a wood tick bite with a classic bullseye rash which bought me ten days of antibiotics. Later, when HE lit a fire to burn the tree trimmings, they were frightened by the flames and ran cackling into the woods. It took both of us to cajole them into the safety of their coop. Yesterday, I spent the morning cleaning the house. I don’t know why I bothered, since we were expecting a visit from Max, our 1 1/2 year-old grandson, who can spread pots, pans, and crumbs from one end of the house to the other in no time at all. Despite the fact that I desperately needed one, Max was determined NOT to take a nap, which reminded me so much of his mommy, whose first short sentence was “No nappy!” and as she grew, had a discussion with her kindergarten teacher in which she told her she would lie down during nap time if she had to, but she certainly wouldn’t sleep. I’m digressing, though, so I’ll get back to the chickens. After the cleaning, cooking, toddler chasing, and dinner, I was ready to put the girls to bed. In other words, I wanted to lead them back into the coop with my handy-dandy broken fishing pole chicken guider so I could relax and fall asleep in front of the TV like normal people do on a Saturday night. The older chickens obligingly went into the coop, but the teenagers saw me coming and ran off into the corn field, scattering in all directions. I managed to get through the maze and chase them back into the yard, but I was more than a little worse for wear, being covered with corn pollen, dust, and quite a few icky spider webs. I must have looked like some sort of scarecrow when I emerged, still carrying my broken fishing pole, because I managed to scare most of them into the coop except for two, who ran flapping and screeching into the swampy woods near the coop, otherwise known as the land of wood ticks and foxes and bears, oh my. Not my favorite place, by any means. By the time I chased them out of the woods, the others had all come out of the coop and were heading back for the corn field again. I threw down my fishing pole in disgust, needing an icy-cold bottle of hard cider to revive myself and not caring at that moment if the real or imagined wildlife ate every one of them for dinner. Chickens always come home to roost, though, and once the sun started going down, they all headed back to the coop, taking their sweet time, I might add. I did a head count, safely latched the coop door, and headed back to the house, which was all picked up and much too quiet. I’ll bet little Max fell asleep before they got out of the driveway. Grandma needs a bath to wash away the spider webs and wood ticks, along with a good night’s sleep. Hopefully tonight I’ll dream of rocking my grandbaby rather than chasing my chickens through a maze of maize.
When I think back on those long and seemingly endless summer days of my growing up years, I think about blueberries. Blueberries were Dad’s favorite fruit and we ate them throughout the year in one way or another. Family and friends would pile into the car several times a week to go picking in the woods, and it was fun, or so they told me. I would begrudgingly pick a cup or two, for which I would be paid anywhere from ten cents to a quarter, depending on the size of the cup, then head on over to the car to read about the latest adventures of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. My father, who for some reason did not believe in paying money for the good grades on my report card, thought that bribing me would make a berry picker out of me. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but that, along with digging money out of the car seats while everyone else was picking berries, gave me money to buy Pixie Stix or wax lips at Kozy Korner. Dad, who loved berry picking plus had the lucky but unfortunately non-genetic advantage of being immune to mosquito bites, would go to the woods every day. Because of that, we ate like kings: Blueberry pie, blueberry muffins, blueberry coffee cake plus pints of the little jewels that Mom canned into sauce, which she would thicken and pour over pancakes on cold winter mornings. From the first of July until sometime in August, there was always a large plastic bucket of blueberries in the refrigerator, right next to a wide-mouthed gallon glass jar of milk. In those days, we would get our milk fresh from the Juntunen farm. By morning, the cream would have risen to the top of the jar. We were supposed to stir the milk before we drank it, but on those wonderful summer mornings after sleeping as late as we wanted, my sister and I would fill a cereal bowl full of blueberries, ladle on a couple of scoops of thick yellow cream, then sprinkle on a large spoonful of sugar. There is absolutely, positively nothing else in the world that tastes better. Of course, that was in the days before some know-it-all invented cholesterol and someone else decided that cream and sugar were on the naughty list. Years later, while we were all gathered around the table during a summer visit home and a trip to the berry patch, my dad served us a small bowl of wild blueberries for dessert. With a twinkle in his eye, he set out a carton of skim milk and a carton of cream, along with the sugar bowl. “You choose, ” he said as he passed out the bowls. You can probably guess which I chose, naughty girl that I am. It wasn’t quite the same without the Juntunen’s cream, but I’ll have to admit it was pretty good. I hear that there is a bumper crop of wild blueberries this year, due to all the rain we`ve had in the north woods. I still don’t like to pick berries, but I sure do like to eat them, so perhaps I will go out at least once. Pass the cream and sugar, please.
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.