Saturday, October 22, 2016

Trick or treat

Trick or treat! I remember yelling it; how about you? Candy and costumes. The parade around the classrooms. Stopping by homes of friends and family where they tried to guess who was behind the mask. Excitement that came around each October. When did all of this begin? Why do we do the things we do on Halloween? I decided to do a little research.

Halloween dates back about 2,000 years to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. It was celebrated on their new year which fell on November 1st. It came at the time when winter crept through the door. Ah, they had doors, right?  Of course, back then evil spirits were common. If the sky was cloudy, the spirits evidently were creeping across the land. If an animal died, the spirits required another animal to die. Not the safest time to be around for man/woman or beast. Anyway, in order to make a long story short, this celebration over the next few hundreds of years was tweaked by the Roman Empire and then several popes until it ended up as All Hallows Eve.....Halloween.

Halloween was brought to American by Scottish and Irish immigrants. It wasn't until the 1900's that it became commercialized. By the 30's you could go to the store and purchase a costume. In the 50's trick or treat as we now know it now came onto the scene.

Perhaps there are a few things you do not know about Halloween. Carving pumpkins had its roots in Ireland where people were placing candles in carved-out turnips during Samhain to keep away those nasty spirits and visiting ghosts. Masks and costumes were worn so spirits would not recognize humans. Obviously, the spirits were not very smart. Bobbing for apples is thought to have come from the Roman's celebrating the goddess of fruit trees, Pamona. Hard to visualize people in togas bobbing for apples. Hm.

Please listen up. This is important. Werewolves are known to have a unibrow, hairy palms, and tattoos. Might be a good time to do some plucking and to wear long sleeves. Note: Gargoyles were created to ward off those nasty, evil spirits. Might want to add one or two to your house.  If, perhaps, you see a spider on Halloween, it is the sign of a good spirit watching over you. I would suggest that you treat it with respect.

Tipping cows. Pushing over outhouses. Knocking over corn shocks. These things I heard Dad talk about happening when he was young. Mischief that the farmers did not find funny. Bad boys. A dark side does indeed seem to come out on Halloween. We are afraid to allow our children to go out alone for trick or treat. We check the candy. We are hesitant to open the door when teenagers come asking. We are afraid. Afraid of things that go bump in the night.

Make this Halloween a special time for children. Take time to look at your community and stand against evil. I would love to see the Police Log empty. It is not just up to them. It is up to each of us.  Let's make this a great time for children to feel safe, to dodge vampires and to find their candy bag full of yummy delights. Make mine chocolate! Trick or treat!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Town kids gone country

"So what do you say we go to a farm today?" A farm. Emma and Nolan really have no concept of farm. They have seen them along the road. They have visited petting farms. So now a year older, I packed them into the car and headed to a little farm where they found their pumpkins the previous fall. The sweet simple farm now included pony rides, barrel rides and a hayride for a healthy price. I decided that we would be richer for the experience by not adding on the bells and whistles. Farms = simplicity.

Last year the farm had two porta potties. This year they were up to ten. Seems that last season was so profitable that they increased not only the price and activities but also the 'facilities'. The farm was busy with several preschool classes in attendance. Evidently, this would be a good season as well.

The kids and I took the path less traveled and found that we were alone with the animals. Emma went directly to the horses. "MeMe, can we touch them?" Well, we certainly could. I grabbed a handful of hay and the beasts raised their lovely heads, and noses were rubbed. "MeMe, they smell bad." How do you tell them that the smell is wonderful. I grew up surrounded by the smell of the barnyard. What they smelled was the smell of home.

We talked to the calf and donkey then visited with three bunnies who did not take time to stop nibbling in order to give any notice of us. We chatted with three of the biggest turkeys I have ever seen. None of us could take our eyes of their colorful heads. The pig did stink, so we didn't hang around long. When the duo saw a baby goat nursing, we had the conversation regarding milk and the udder. I seem to have destroyed their belief that milk came from a box. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.

We ate lunch sitting by an old John Deere tractor surrounded by pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. We talked about the farm equipment in the field. They ran through a maze and slide down a huge slide. They did it all for free. We went into the store and paid for my lumpy pumpkin. On a shelf I spied a bag of freshly made donuts just like the kind they made at Painter Creek Church on voting day. I took home the donuts, the pumpkin, two honey sticks and the kids after a day of adventure and only one porta potty stop.

Emma: MeMe, was that a farm?
MeMe: Yes. I grew up on a farm.
Emma: What! Did you have a horse?
MeMe: Yes, I did.
Emma: Did they let you touch it?

Hm. We came a long way that day on the farm. Seems we still have a long way to go. We talked to animals. We learned about milk and udders. We found the head of the turkey frightening as well as fascinating. We discussed the smells with their pros and cons. And, best of all, we sat on a bale of straw eating sugary donuts.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Harvest gold

Harvest gold. Wagons full of gold. When the leaves began to turn, the tractors pulled wagon after wagon down Neff Road. Golden ears of corn filled each one. Corn that was planted in early spring, that pushed through the earth and reached to the sky. It grew by the grace of God, a hard working farmer and the rich Darke County soil. The farm family would have a good winter with a hearty bounty from the field, or they would suffer from a summer of poor growing weather. The answer would come with the fall harvest.

Cousin Gene Johnson readied the corn picker for the harvest. Gene pulled the red beast behind the tractor, and Dad drove the full wagons to the barnyard where the corn was dumped onto an elevator that lifted the ears skyward into the top of the corn crib. Brenda and I played in the corn crib in the summer, making it our playhouse. In the fall, I sat high up in the top of the crib, watching our little nest fill with corn. Of course, I knew that mice lurked nearby just waiting for their winter coffers to be filled. They could just move on when summer rolled around again.

All the farmers were working feverishly to get the corn in before the weather deteriorated. The air vibrated with the recognizable, autumn sound and the bridge creaked as each load passed over it. The wagons were heading to the S & L Elevator on Red River-West Grove Road where the corn was shelled.  If the grain contained too much moisture, it passed through the grain drier fired by a big fan blower with hot air passing through it in order to maintain a proper temperature for proper handling and storage. Corn might be ground for animal food, stored or sold. The corn destined for animal food was ground and mixed all year round. The family bank account would be a little healthier, and the animals would be a little fatter if the corn crop was good.

I asked my friend Ron Scammahorn to help me out on this subject. His dad was the S in S & L. As often as I saw the tractors go up and down the road, I found that I knew little of the process that took place at the elevator. Yes, I knew where to find the right info. I always thought Ron was lucky to be where all the activity happened....and the gossip. But Ron informed me that what was said at the elevator stayed at the elevator. Hm. Thanks, Ron, for your help.

After the corn was shelled and dried, it was put into bins for later use or was sold to processors. When that happened, it was shipped to the end source by train. Trucks transported the grain in bulk to Bradford where it was then loaded loose onto the train cars. Franklin Township corn heading out into the world.

In my possession is a picture of me as a small toddler, clamoring my way up the elevator. In the next picture, Dad has his escaping child in his grasp, lifting her from said elevator. Each season brought a new adventure and more ways for me to get into trouble. I might be old, but I would give anything to climb that elevator one more time.

Harvest. Corn pickers. Wagons full of harvest gold.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The smell of fall

Fall. The morning air is fresher, crisper somehow. Leaves are turning (very slowly here) and pear and apple trees are just about finished for the season. Screens come down and storm door windows go up. Farmers are harvesting while the women are pulling the blankets and winter clothing from storage. Fall.

Corn mazes and petting farms were not part of our growing up. There were no pumpkin patches or petting farms. We could walk into the corn field, get lost and find our own way home. We grew our own pumpkins. And, we could walk across the yard to pet a farm animal. No autumn bells and whistles for the farm kids. My favorite fall recreation belonged to trees and leaves.

Emma and Nolan attend preK on a nature reserve which is part of our Tualatin Park and Recreation District (THPRD). Every day, rain or shine, they hike in the woods. Nolan saw a deer on the first day and was quite happy with his new school. Ecology is used in all aspects of the teaching. Fall. A perfect time and place to learn.

THPRD covers 50 square miles and serves 240,000 people. 2,500 acres of parks are owned/maintained. This is in Washington County where I live west of Portland which is in Multnomah County. There are 51 paved trails and 17 unpaved. There are 27 miles of streams/waterways and three lakes. The area contains 162 natural areas covering 1,491 acres.  Fall turns this area into a colorful wonderland where migrating birds rest and hikers enjoy the cool weather. My dad would have loved it. This would have been his fall retreat.

Dad was between crop-seasons in the fall. Tobacco was drying out in the shed. Grain and corn had been brought in. Hay and straw was baled. Barns were cleaned and fresh bedding put down for the livestock. Dad had more time on his hands. More times for a little girl.

This was quality time for us. A last fishing trip by the pond. Walks through the woods. Small animals skittered or slowed down with the cooling weather, giving a father a chance to show his daughter more mysteries of nature. Firewood was in place and anticipation was high knowing that soon the fireplace would be blazing and hot dogs roasting once more. Mom made hot chocolate and filled the freezer with pies. She rolled out dough, cutting it into thin noodles to add to our winter favorites. It was fall.

My parents have been gone for many years, yet fall brings them to mind more and more often. Perhaps it is because that was the time of year that we all interacted more. No one was exhausted at the end of the day. We looked at the stars and listened for migrating geese. We lingered by the window with coffee in hand, watching the birds at the feeder. Neighbors dropped in and stayed longer. We all had more time....more time for each other.

It is fall. I do not need the calendar to show me. I can smell it in the air. It is the smell of nature, the smell of clean, the smell of home.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just bobbing along

The round red and white bobber just sat there. It rolled with the ripples and the wind. Occasionally, a dragon fly would use it for a resting spot. It rarely had any activity so just sat there doing what it was named for. It bobbed. If fishing was slow, Dad replaced the red and white bobber with an elongated white and yellow bobber. They bobbed the same. The dragon fly had little sit on. And, usually the fishing was no better than before.

I grew up with a fishing pole in my hands. Initially, I just sat holding the pole and looking at the water, the trees, the bugs and most everything else. My bobber just sat there....bobbing. I grew a little older and was allowed to get the worm out of the bait bucket. The slimy thing twisted and curled, and in all my little girlness, I said 'yuk'. With age came more freedom. I graduated to putting the worm onto the hook. I found that if I whapped it with my shoe first, I could stun it then put it onto the hook with absolutely no resistance. Once I was adept at this task, my father allowed me to remove the hook from the fish. Yes, I grew up with a fishing pole in my hands, watching the red and white bobber.

I watched the bobber. It was on the end of the line hooked to my old cane pole. When we sold the farm, I saw my pole in the corner of the barn. I really wanted it, but what was I to do with? I hadn't fished since I was a child. Then I realized that this pole represented so much more. It held memories of a little girl getting attention from her dad who seemed to work most of the time and never played with his daughters. Dad and I had something in common as I watched that red and white bobber. We talked and laughed. With each fish I caught, I gained his praise. When I caught none, I received his support. We relived the day of fishing as we dined on that same fish at dinner. It was in those times that I learned old stories of when as a boy Dad fished in the same fishing holes. That old pole beaconed to me that day in the barn....not to take it home. No. It called to me to remember.

As I watched that red and white bobber, I learned about nature. I learned patience. I learned the excitement of the tug on the line and of landing the fish. I learned what it was to be quiet. I learned to listen to the earth. Most of all, I learned to know my father.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Putting on the feedsack

On the kitchen wall, just inside the door, was a row of hooks. Coats, hats and colorful aprons and bonnets hung there just waiting. A vivid memory of Mom and Pop Johnson's kitchen. Mom put a little blue flowered bonnet on my head, tying it beneath my tiny chin. We were off to the chicken house where I looked for the glass egg that supposedly encouraged the chickens to lay. But this is not about eggs or chickens. Nope, it is about the fabric in that little bonnet that resided in readiness on the hook in the kitchen.

That sweet bonnet was made out of feedsack cloth. Quilts sewn by that older generation are made from that same type of cloth. Small prints, floral pieces, pieces of children's clothes, old aprons, men's shirts and mother's dresses. Pieces of history that came from feedsacks.

My children and grandchildren will have trouble understanding how people could use these pieces of cloth for clothing, but times were hard and store-bought fabric was a luxury. Buying clothing in stores was impossible for the farmer. Articles of clothing were handed down until they were frayed. It was a generation of recycling, before we even had the word in our vocabulary. Nothing went to waste. Creativity and invention were used in a time when life was simple, when necessity required ingenuity.

In the time of my great great grandparents, farm and food products were shipped in barrels and tins. Eventually, food products were shipped in bags. In 1846 Elias Howe patented the lockstitch sewing machine and made cloth bags that could be reused. The bags were white with the company name stamped on them or the farmer's name was placed on the bag, so it could be refilled. Women removed the stamp with a mixture of lard and lye soap. Even with over the counter products the labels were difficult to completely remove from the white fabric.

Eventually flour and feedsack manufacturers realized that they could make these bags more attractive and appealing. Stamped labels were replaced with paper labels. Patterns were designed to appeal to the womenfolk. By the 1930's manufacturers were competing to design attractive patterns. The fabric weight was determined by the contents of the bag. Flour required a tight weave, while animal feed used a looser weave. Sometimes a farmer might find that he had more bags then he used, hence he sold them back to the store. Peddlers even began peddling empty bags. Women went to the store with their men to pick out the design of the bags he purchased, looking for a new dress on the shelves of the grocery store.

During WWII, it became patriotic to use feedsacks for clothing, bedding, just about anything that required fabric. Manufacturers began producing yardage of the cloth. I was surprised to discover that feedsack material was still partially in use in the early 1960's.

My sister June and I were having one of our daily conversations. The subject of quilts came up. Each of the Loxley girls have a quilt made by Great Grandmother Hollinger. We have treasured these since we were little girls. I was probably about two or three when she died. Still that quilt means the world to me. "You know that some of that fabric is probably from the feedsack clothes were wore," June said. Suddenly I was not only looking at a quilt made by a great grandmother's hands, but I was looking at my past in the clothing my family wore. A fabric that had a rich history in the life of a farmer and his wife.

This last thought is for my children: It is not the riches we leave behind. It is not the tangible dishes, furniture, other items that have been with you throughout your lives. The wealth of our family has been in the simplicity of the times in which our ancestors made do. In the work of their hands, in the love by which they created. It lies in the struggles they suffered to make our lives better. I am able to give you more because those before me they gave their best.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Letter from home

July 15, 1987. What? I looked at the seal on the envelope. It had never been broken. The stamp was 22 cents. Mother's writing was scrawled across the front in her beautiful cursive writing. A letter from home.

When moving, I tossed papers into boxes determined to toss most of it when I got settled. Well, that was almost a year ago. Now that my hand is back in action, I decided to tackle the job. Memories. I saved memories. Special letters, tickets stubs to my son's shows, programs, scribbles from a child's hand, even letters from my second grade class when I had German measles. Yes, I had it all.

It is an emotional thing when you touch these memories from your childhood, from the lives of your children. Sweet memories of those who are now gone and of days when you were young and silly. My first book when I was four scribbled on several little pages. A story of a clown and the firemen who saved him. Old yellowed clippings from the Advocate telling of births and deaths. A story about my mother with her smiling face looking at me. A letter. A letter from home.

Yes, a letter from my mother was buried in the pile. "Mom?" I said out loud. I feel her presence often but never so much as in that moment. At that moment I wanted to have my mother's arms embracing me as I held this unopened letter. A letter written when my children were kids, and I was married. A whole lifetime away. I felt a bit tentative opening it. And, why had I not opened it when it came? What would I find inside? Was it a message from the great beyond? Well, just open the letter, Pam, and get it over with.

Mom wrote every week even though she called every week as well. Her letters were full of news of the neighborhood and of the church. I was caught up on family comings and goings and the health of all. This letter was like receiving one of the same many years ago. A letter from Mom.

Her first words: Surprise! (Well, indeed it was.) I thought maybe if I wrote you a letter I could forget how hot it is and maybe the heat will go away. (For a brief moment I thought maybe Heaven was having a hot spell. Better than the alternative.) She went on to tell the weather forecast and told me she had just talked to Peg. The letter was written soon after my sisters had come to visit. Evidently they loved Oregon. Community news: Doris Wert was not doing well. Margaret Stager was having pain. Doris Lavy was having a rapid heart beat. Neff Road was not healthy on this particular day. She was dreading the church picnic in the heat. And, Gene and Betty Johnson, my cousins, were preparing to visit me. Uncle Bob stopped smoking and Aunt Welma was playing cards. She finished with Dad going out to pick zucchini. Nothing earthshaking. Just her usual filling me in. The normalcy of it was more touching than had it contained a message from the great beyond. It was another normal day in the house back the lane. I was homesick.

"Just think, in a couple of weeks I'll be 75. The years are going faster all the time. Love you much, Mother." More a treasure now then it would have been all those years ago. A message from Mom just to tell me she thought of me and loved me. I got a letter from home.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Thrill of the Darke County Fair

Forty-two years gone by and 2300 miles away, the Great Darke County Fair still gives me a thrill. From the days when Mom and Dad held my hand to the time when I took my own children to the fair, the same excitement waited for me each August.

Last week my grandchildren and I attended our Washington County Fair. In comparison, this is fair is about a third the size of Darke County. When visiting my sister in Angola, Indiana, I was shocked that their fair was basically only animals. I am not sure we who lived in Darke County realized just how good we had it. One thing our fair has that neither of the others have is the rodeo. Those scarred animals are all in a pen outside the animal barns. County fairs with different meanings in different counties.

This was the first year that the little ones could interact with everything around them. Emma was excited to touch a horse; however, when we walked into the horse barn full of towering Belgian and Clydesdale horses, she wanted nothing to do with them. Nolan rubbed their noses and planted a kiss on one. For me, walking by theses giants reminded me that our big barn had been built by Dad and his Belgian team. Emma asked, "How do you get on it?" Good question. I could not even imagine how Dad put the hulling harnesses on his giants. MeMe's are supposed to know everything. "Well, maybe they get on from the top of a fence or a big ladder....very big ladder." I have found that if you don't know, then make up a reasonable answer. Works well with four-year-olds. Gabby, my fifteen year old, gave me 'the look'.

We visited the cows. We visited the sheep and goats. We visited the pig barn where we were chased by a runaway pig. Then we found the best part of the fair for this little duo. My father would be proud. These two climbed up on every tractor, backhoe and piece of equipment that was there. I smiled. The life I lead as a child will be foreign to them, but for a few minutes at the fair, I could share with them shades of the past.

Fair time means missing. I was never much on the rides. No, it was about the people, and, of course, all of that unhealthy food. A once a year feast. Old friends sat by the race track watching the comings and goings. Seeing friends I had not seen in years passing by. The smells, the taste, the feelings that are all captured once a year, even if you live in Oregon.

There is something that calls to me each August. It takes back to the fair, looking for familiar faces. It calls as naturally as does my farm home. The Great Darke County Fair. Enjoy, my friends. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Old screen door

According to Wikipedia: A screen door can refer to a hinged storm door in cold climates or hinged screen door in warm climates covering an exterior door; or a screened sliding door used with sliding glass doors. (Wow! Lots of screen options.) In any case, the screen door incorporates screen mesh to block flying insects or airborne debris such as seeds or leaves (frogs, snakes, mice, my list goes on and on) from entering, and pets and small children from exiting interior spaces, while allowing for air, light, and views.

When I told Mom that we would be moving to Oregon, she was worried about the wild west. In her mind, she still saw a land of cowboys and untamed countryside. And, all that rain!!!! After our first visit here, I assured her that it was a very civilized place with less yearly rainfall than Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I saw no wild Indians or cowboys. Oregon actually has highways and not trails. 

Ohio was always my standard for state comparisons. After seven years of living in Appleton, she had exposed all of her weaknesses. I was happy to leave the snow up to the top of the car, minus degree temps causing the house to stay below 65 degrees in the winter, mosquitoes the size of birds and humidity that you could cut with a knife. No, I slammed the old screen door on that state when we moved with no regret. We had moved to paradise.

In September we arrived in our new state. The weather was lovely and the countryside green, noteworthy especially since we had moved from Wisconsin where it was already getting very cold and trees were dropping leaves like crazy. Life was chaotic as we settled into our new life. Little by little we began to observe the differences in this place. Fall lasted until mid November. Winter was grey but mild. We got rid of the snow shovel and our heavy winter wear. Spring came at the end of February along with flowers. And, it was in the spring that I noticed the screen door....or rather, lack of.

Front doors did not have screen doors. There was no call for a storm door. And, with the lack of flies and mosquitoes, there was no need for a screen door. What's not to love! My apartment lacks a lot of windows. The skylight helps, but I miss having that natural brightness. So, I quite often leave the front door open with a portable gate across so the landlord's dog Moosie does not come to visit. My landlord informed me that he is going to put a screen door on my door. A screen door! The old screen door.

The slam of the old screen door. We grew up with that sound. It was the sound that meant that Dad was in from the field, a Loxley girl had come home, a neighbor had come to visit. And always, "Don't slam the door!" It was the sound of home, of comfort, of return, of family.

"How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it....." - Shel Silverstein

Friday, July 22, 2016

Day of Rest

Seventh day. A day of rest. Chicken was in the oven slowly baking, while we were in church pews singing "This is My Father's World". It was Sunday. The seventh day of the week.

Monday was a day of laundry and gathering eggs. The old wringer washer sloshed the clothes and the Loxley girls hung them on the line.  Mom began her week of cooking and cleaning. It always seemed to me that the cleaning took place mostly when the daughters were home (or in my case after my sisters left, when I was home). Spring meant spring cleaning. Summer meant beating rugs and cleaning floors. Fall meant that everything that was dragged out for summer had to be put away and the winter things pulled out to air. Winter meant that the house was on a downturn from our cold weather hibernation indoors and would definitely need to be cleaned and aired in the spring. It never ended. And it all seemed to start on Monday.

Tuesday through Thursday consisted of outside activity. Spring meant tobacco. Summer meant tobacco. Fall meant tobacco. Winter meant tobacco. Hm. Seems to be a commonality here. There was also garden to put out. Garden to take in. Garden to preserve for cold weather. Lawn to mow so we could watch it grow and mow it again. Hauling manure, baling hay, driving the tractor, picking up rocks. (Yep, they needed a couple of sons.) We gathered eggs, feed sheep, raised rabbits and chased cows, chickens (whose eggs we gathered) and sheep that got loose. Tuesday through Thursday could be very busy days. Oh, and on Tuesday we dampened down the clothes and ironed.

Usually by the time Thursday and Friday arrived, Mom was up to her elbows in pie dough. We girls were shelling peas or snapping beans on the porch, spreading noodles to dry and peeling potatoes. Chickens were killed and cleaned. Pluck, pluck, pluck. (I hate cleaning chickens.) Then we began the task of cleaning the house. Dusting, mopping, washing dishes, taking potato peels to the stock yard and gathering eggs. (Some things we just did every day.)

Mom and her trio of daughters went to town every Saturday. We went to Arcanum to the bank and to load up on groceries and to Greenville for piano lessons and enough meat from the locker to see us through the week. Sometimes Dad went to Gettysburg for a haircut, and we visited with relatives. Saturday was the day to say farewell to the week behind and prepare for the week ahead....just after we gathered the eggs.

Sunday was indeed a day of rest. Mom's well-plucked chicken was in the oven baking. The potatoes peeled by her daughters were swimming in water ready to boil. The house smelled too delicious to leave, but off to church we would go. It was this day of rest, the Lord's Day, yet often seemed to be the busiest of all. Visitors always came around. I think it was Mom's chicken they came for, but they stayed all afternoon. Kids played in the barn. In winter, hot dog roasting in the basement. Mom and Dad were finally enjoying a day of the week together doing nothing. We gathered eggs and animals were fed, but I think even they knew it was a quiet day on the farm.

Sunday was a day that my family gave to others. And, well, you know about the eggs.