The More Things Change (part 2)

imageAs I hold my tiny granddaughter, I remember melting into Grandma’s pillowy softness, smelling her Cashmere Bouquet Talcum Powder, unaware she’d ever played any role but “Grandma.” Though I’d always heard Mother address her as “Mama” I stung with jealousy when I found out Grandma actually was her mother. Sure, I was her favorite grandchild, I later learned the other kids thought the same things, the mark of a good grandmother.

We only visited Grandma In summers, since she lived a few hours away.  I loved following her to tend the chickens where She made that praise Della, her Dominecker Hen for laying a double-yoked egg yesterday, remarking to the others they might consider doing the same. She told Sally not to start acting “Broody.” She didn’t have enough her eggs to “set” her yet. She counted her chickens and found Susie missing. Grandma got a long stick and poked under bushes till she flushed Susie out from her “stolen” nest. I felt so important crawling way under the bush bringing two warm eggs. Chiding Juanita, an ornery red hen, she threatened to invite her to Sunday Dinner, saying “You’ll make some mighty fine dumplings if you don’t lay a couple of eggs this week!” I wasn’t that invested in Juanita and don’t recall whether we had dumplings or not.  Once I had the thrill of seeing Grandma fearlessly make short work of a black chicken snake lounging in a nest with an egg in his mouth.  Unbelievably, she grabbed him barehanded and slung him to the ground, where she dispatched him to snake heaven with the shovel she always carried outdoors.

Daily, we walked her yard, shovel in hand,checking out the flowers, moving one or two that needed a better home, filling a hole here, rooting out a weed there.  She gathered tomatoes, okra, and squash from the garden, later serving them at lunch, tomatoes still warm from the sun.  Before one, we made the ritual walk to the mailbox with a letter or two.  Grandma often got two or three letters a day since she wrote to numerous friends and relatives.  She’d read these to us as a group, “Oh!  Winnie’s girl Opal’s little girl is a princess in the school play.  She’s your third cousin.  All of Winnie’s kids did good.  They were all smart as whips!” going on to tell us stories of her girlhood with the distant Wiinie.

I envied my unknown cousin, though I’d never wanted to be a princess before or since.  Sometimes, the letters included pictures, which we poured over.

As my granddaughter and I relaxed in a dear friend’s garden, I collected cleome seed to share with her sometime down the road, a reminder of this day.  I do hope my little one recalls sweet stories of our our times together.

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More Travels With Mother

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We visited the Philadelphia Magic Gardens in Philadelphia. It is a non-profit organization, folk art environment, and gallery space on South Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the largest work created by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. The Magic Gardens spans three city lots, and includes indoor galleries and a large outdoor labyrinth. The mosaics are made up of everything from kitchen tiles to bike wheels, Latin-American art to china plates. It is well-worth a visit!

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We stay with dear friends in their gracious home when visiting New Jersey. This gate leads into their charming garden. As you would expect, the garden does not disappoint.

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Here, Mother enjoys time in the sun. As I have mentioned before, Mother is extremely frugal. I had a new experience on the way home.  Just so you know, it is possible to stow eight fresh eggs, three-quarters loaf of bread and eight nectarines in a carry on without crushing them, even if that carry on has two pairs of jeans, two shirts, underwear, a nightgown, and toiletries as well as a heavy-weight three-quarter winter down jacket Mother talked my daughter out of while we were in New Jersey. All items got home in perfect condition due to skillful packing and astute delegation.  I know you won’t have any trouble guessing who got bags through airport without egg casualties!

Mother is open if anyone is looking for a travel companion.

How to Get Along With Obnoxious Poultry

 

Daddy was a nut about poultry.  He made regular patrols locally, and if he detected poultry, not in his collection, he couldn’t rest until he had one-upped whoever had put him in a “fowl mood. His enthusiasm didn’t last long enough to build a proper poultry yard, so the coyotes inevitably got whichever of the unfortunate creatures not roosting in the hen-house or trees.  He enthusiastically scouted out additions to his flock who served no function but grain-eating, making a lot of racket, and a free-range pooping.  Periodically, he would bring in a flock of guineas, boasting that they were excellent at letting him know if intruders were on the place.   Guinea fowl are typically smaller than chickens, eat just as much and lay small, thick-shelled speckled strong-tasting eggs. Their meat has a strong, somewhat unpleasant taste.  In addition to all this, at the first notice of a slight disturbance, they panic and go shrieking “pot-rack, pot-rack”, flying madly in all directions.  A slight disturbance is likely nothing more than a feather falling off a guinea hen standing nearby.  Having bragged about what excellent “watch dogs” they were, he’d tolerate the incessant racket and disturbance of the guineas better than the rest of us did.  I never felt bad when the coyotes snatched the last of the guineas.

Geese made an occasional appearance, remarkable for their noisy honking, arrogance, biting, and lifelong diarrhea.  Since we never ate nor plucked a goose, ours served absolutely no other purpose, other than giving up plenty of practice in guarding our backsides against their bites and teaching us the value of wiping our shoes.  Cool kids don’t show up at school with goose sh__ on their shoes. The coyotes liked geese, too.

Chickens were a given. They roosted in the chicken house at night to keep them safe from varmints, but they had the run of the place during the day.  They were pleasant to look at as they bobbed around the place, but weren’t interested in toilet training.  Most importantly, hens lay an egg a day a few months of the year.  They had a nice nesting box built high off the ground.  The prim and proper among them hopped up the little ladder, strolled along till they found their favorite nest, and deposited an egg. Afterward, they cackled out news of their accomplishment and hopped back down the ladder one hop at a time.  The renegades and slow learners stole away to hide a nest in the bushes.  Gathering eggs was a job for women and small children. Mother listened for these naughty girls and sent us scurrying to find their eggs.  It was very important not to take the “nest egg” or the hen would abandon the nest and steal away to hide her nest.  Hens weren’t too fussy about the nest egg being genuine and were perfectly satisfied with glass nest eggs, or an old white door knob, just so the handle pointed down.

We gathered eggs just before dark.  Should eggs be left in the nest after dark, chicken snakes were likely to steal them.  More than once I have reached in gather eggs and grabbed a scaly black snake instead of a warm fresh egg.  Once I was gratified to find a snake skeleton complete with a crushed glass egg resting inside.

In the spring, Mother would “set” her hens when she noticed hens acting “broody” or fussing around and feathering a nest.  Instead of gathering the broody hen’s eggs, she’d add a few eggs to the pile.  The hens never seemed bothered to see the increase.  They’d sit on the nest for about three weeks till the biddies hatched out.  She’d parade around proudly with her babies, fiercely protective.  Many a child, dog, or cat has lived to regret interfering with a mother hen’s babies.  They’d fly on an aggressor in a fury, flogging, spurring, and beating.  I learned early and well to respect Mother Hen.

My grandma loved her chickens and had personal relationships with them, naming each.  Her hens jumped on her shoulders when she went in the chicken yard.  She was not above pointing out to Mabel that Helen had laid a double-yoked egg, nor mentioning to them that if egg production didn’t pick up, a lazy chicken might get invited to Sunday dinner.  Grandma’s feelings for her hens got more personal as she got older, and she started retiring her hens instead of inviting them to Sunday dinner.  Grandpa raised peas to feed the chickens.  When he went into the chicken yard to toss them their peas, they fogged up to sit on his shoulders and on the top of his head.

Dogs loved eggs, too.  Should a dog be foolish enough to take up “egg-sucking” or “chicken-killing” his days on the farm were numbered.  When my grandpa’s dog got in and killed one of her precious layers, she tied the dead hen around his neck and made him wear it for several days, ridding him of his interest in chickens forever.

Once we had a Tom turkey, one of the most detestable creatures living.  He’d been given to Daddy by a deranged backwoodser who found him too evil for his tastes.  Naturally, Daddy grabbed him up and brought him straight home to us, leaving him to the care of his darling bride and tender children along with the rest of the rest of the barnyard creatures. Daddy enjoyed procuring creatures, not caring for them.  That’s what his family was for.  In theory, we only had to tolerate the turkey until Thanksgiving day, when Tom would be the centerpiece of our holiday table.  All we had to do was somehow survive until then.  At his previous home, he’d had a harem of turkey hens, till he got so mean he had to go. For a few days after his arrival, that devil had the run of our barnyard, terrorizing the other fowl.  Deprived of their gentling company, his testosterone exploded. They escaped into the tree branches, under the barn, into stalls, as soon as they’d hear him strutting and making his aggressive, scratchy mating sound, “Aruh! Aruh! Aruh!”  Turkeys don’t always say “Gobble, gobble, Gobble!  Denied the company of poultry, he was not picky about partners, jumping on anything that didn’t get out of his way.  He was no respecter of species and attempted to molest pigs. goats, and even horses.  I was so glad when Daddy put a stop to his antics.  That was one year we gave heartfelt thanks a few weeks early.

Checking Bonnie and Clyde Out of the Chicken Library

imageI guess Spring is really here.  Aunt Betty called.  She just checked out eight hens and one rooster from the chicken library where she lives up in Kansas.  The rooster hangs out with his favorite hen, so Aunt Betty named them Bonnie and Clyde.  I guess it’s not really a chicken library, but that’s how it works for Aunt Betty.  She has a deal worked out with one of her neighbors to get chickens in the nice weather, returning them for the winter.  She has the pleasure of chickens and eggs without the misery of over-wintering them.  What a great neighbor!

She Ain’t Got on No Panties!

First Grade School Picture

First Grade School Picture

 

I just loved Katie, Mother’s first cousin, though she only visited once, even naming my only daughter for her. Maybe that will make up for this horrible story I’m about to tell. Katie and Glenn came by for a few days after visiting my grandparents in Texas. Like all three-year-olds, I assumed they were my exclusive guests. Glenn was overshadowed by the lovely, Continue reading