Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I am a Child

Life was what we made it. It is what all farmers make of rural living. My children cannot comprehend the life even though they remember the farm. My grandchildren will have no idea what it was like being raised with cows and chickens living across the yard. What it was like to bottle feed an abandoned lamb in the basement of the white house. Life was what we made it. Life was what was made us.

Maybe you are reading this piece of writing years from now, my family. Maybe you are curious or just would like to know a little more about this grandma or maybe a great (or several greats), a past that is yours as well.
I often write about our way of our life back then. They are all pieces of the whole, but they are not me, the little girl back the lane. I remember often being afraid when my parents were off in the field. I often sat alone in the house. My sisters were older and in the field with Mom and Dad. The house was big and made creaking sounds. I was safe. They knew it. But I was always afraid. When old enough, I was taken along for the hours they spent in the field hoeing, planting, pegging tobacco. I learned patience at a very early age. I never had the slightest inkling that I could refuse to be part of this farm life. It was the way I grew up.

I was part of a work crew. We all pitched in on chores according to our age abilities. I pulled weeds early on and gathered warm eggs from beneath chickens. I had to learn not to be afraid of the chickens for some could be angry and mean. We didn't worry about the affects of the sun. We tolerated sunburn. It was part of the way we lived. The smells of the farm were almost a comfort.  The old house had its smell as did the each barn. The fields smelled of earth and plant. The creek bottom smelled of mossy water and wet rocks. They were all part of my every day. A part of the womb I was born to.

I could go to the barn and touch a cow, a rabbit, a lamb, a horse, a chicken. My first words were moo-cow. Quite appropriate for a little farm kid. We always had a dog and kitties. We grew up to the sound of the old barn owl and the mourning dove. We knew what it was to hold baby animals soon after birth or chicks after hatching. We knew what it was to be exhausted at the end of the day. We knew only this life.

I went to the outhouse and used the old pot in the winter. We bathed when small in a washtub. We bathed once a week. I was barefoot as soon as I was out of school. We were poor. I had one pair of shoes to get me through the school year. We ordered them each fall. We were all poor. I was spanked and still can't figure out why I did anything that would ever deserve such action. I was a child.

Mom and Dad provided music lessons, art lessons and some dance lessons when most farm kids never dared to even think of them. I'm not sure what they sacrificed in order for us to have those classes, but they saw to it that we did. They dressed us as well as they could. I wore my cousins hand-me-downs and thought I was rich. We only got one gift at Christmas. I remember once I got a puppy and another time a tiny plastic doll and an orange. We didn't have much one on one time with our parents. They were always busy working and providing for the community. We learned to serve and not to ask for more. It was often a lonely existence.

There was much to our lives that I prefer to put aside. I never felt that my parents were my own. They belonged to everyone else. When my sister June left for college, I was terribly lonely. My parents were older and not involved with their youngest. It was then that I learned that the farm had been my other parent. There was no place I would rather be than on that farm on Neff Road. I knew every inch of soil and found comfort in barns and creek bottom that had been with me all my life. Being a loner most of my childhood, I learned to explore and embrace the lessons of the farm. Perhaps I learned how I belonged to the earth.

So if you read this, my children, go back to our roots and see this place where my life began. Touch the soil that gave me life. Imagine the small, blond girl looking for bunnies beneath the weeds, watching turtles in the creek and walking the fields behind a tobacco planter pegging plants. I learned to ride a tricycle and a bicycle on that gravel lane. I heard the storms rattle the roof of the big white house. I watched the corn grow high until the house was almost invisible from the road. I walked to road to visit neighbors and rode my horse down the back lane. With Dad, I hunted mushrooms in the woods and the thicket at the back of the farm. The arrowheads came from this land. A land where my parents remembered old Indian living along the creek in a lean-to. I left this farm when I was eighteen. I cried every time I left thereafter. Remember me and this place on Neff Road. Remember that we belong to the land and indeed it belongs to our care.

I am a child of the earth. I am a child of Neff Road.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Small Steps and Big Leaps

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Molding the Future

Molding:  the process of manufacturing by shaping pliable raw material using a rigid frame or model called a pattern.

Time for the new school year. Very little changed each August when we returned to the hallowed halls on the yellow buses. The school always looked the same. Most of the same teachers were there. In fact, some had been there for decades.

My parents attended this school when it was new. Mr. Lawrence was one of their teachers. Little did they know back then that one day their daughter would live in the old master's house. He educated those children who lived in his neighborhood and who went to his church. It was the same for most of the other teachers who lived in the area. They were relatives and friends.

There was a history at Franklin School. One that began in a one room school house. Another time when occasionally a teacher lived in the home of a local resident. The teachers were often not much older than their students.

I received an email from a new friend of "Neff Road". She and her mother were wondering if her aunt had been my teacher in the first grade. In fact, I think if I had, perhaps I would not have been sent to stand in the corner. No, I did not have her beloved aunt as my first teacher.

"I got a note from Miss Ditmer's niece," I wrote to my sister who was in school seven years ahead of me.

"I had Miss Ditmer!" she replied. We continued on with the conversation of what teachers we both had in the old brick school. Only two had taught the both of us. The other was Miss Rhoades. I began thinking about the lives of these teachers who touched our lives. As kids we gave little thought of their families and life beyond us. As an adult I wish I had a chance to meet them all over again.

I learned from my new friend, Sue, that Miss Ditmer married after she retired from Franklin School in 1958. She went on to teach at Shady Glen, Greenville, Cincinnati, and Mariemont. She had hundreds of children yet, none were her own. Her life as a teacher touched her beloved nieces and nephew leading most of them to the front of a classroom. Miss Rhoades, too, married after leaving Franklin School. Her children, too, were those nieces and nephews and those hundreds of children who learned in her classrooms.

My friend Jennie Miller began teaching at Verona, but temporarily retired when she was married. It was the rule back in the days. She later went back to Verona when her youngest was in the second grade, later moving on to Monroe Elementary then Franklin. She was not my teacher, yet I have heard from many who attended school in a later time that she had influenced their lives deeply. She was another who stood by the community she loved and those children who still remember. Those teachers who worked where they lived.

The teacher no longer stay in the home of the student, but it those teachers who gave their students so much have touched the lives of our children. The teaching legacy that made a difference in my community happened because our teachers were friends and neighbors. Dedicated to their families. Dedicated to their students.

Thank you, teachers for your time, your knowledge and  as role models molding the future.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bump in the Night

The night embraced me like a dark cloak. An inky cloth that called to me each evening just as the rooster called to announce the morning. Not a night went by that I was not afraid. Afraid of the night.

Night time in the country is dark and quiet. Damp summer nights called for open windows begging a breeze to come visit. Along with the sought after breeze came the suffocating dark. I laid awake listening to the sounds of evening. Afraid of what I might hear. Afraid of what I couldn't hear.

The nocturnal evening brought out the hunter and the hunted. A squeal from the field meant a critter met its end. Once in awhile something went bump in the night or passed through the corn rows. A bump in the darkness of something unknown that frightened a young girl in the corner bedroom.

Sometimes Dad picked up his gun to see what was disturbing the chickens or something he heard in the field or creek bottom. I held my breath until he came back into the house. Came back with a gun not yet fired. Strangers dumped puppies and kittens in the night. Some sought gas from the farm gas tank. I knew of the things that happened in the night. We did not have the crime. We did not have the city noises, but we had the silence and the blanket of darkness. A darkness that even light found hard to penetrate.

What was it that frightened me so? Why do I still find the night time silence daunting? What happened to make a little girl so afraid? Perhaps I will never know. Perhaps I shouldn't.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dig Spot

Seems she is working her way to China. It's a slow, dirty process, but for an Airedale, a little dirt is just fine. Millie has her dig spot just because she loves to dig. The small hole that began when she was little has grown now into a long narrow trench. When she digs, only a portion of her back shows above ground. She is working her way to China.

My son lives in an old farm house on one half acre. This is unusual for a house in town. Yet the little house sits in country quiet in a busy little suburb. It will be a great place for two little ones to run and play. Millie, however, has already staked out her territory.

James noticed some time ago that Millie was digging around an old bottle embedded in the wall of her 'moat'. He was surprised when she managed to dig up a small bottle instead of finishing off the larger bottle in her dig. It was an old bottle of Mrs. Stewart's Bluing. The bottle was filled with dirty water and a dead weed. After it was washed out, much of the bluing remained on the sides of the bottle and a small cork sat at the bottom. The bottle was embossed with Mrs. Stewart's information, so we knew some background on Millie's find. I looked it up on Ebay and found out that the bottle is worth about $12.99. Mrs. Stewart and her family started selling her bluing from their home. That home business turned into one that still is active today. I also found out that there are many people who collect bottles, but there are few dogs collecting. Millie might be the only one.

It was not unusual for items to be dumped in a backyard or a field back in the days when there was no trash pickup or recycling.....even in Oregon. So now we are excited to see if Millie will find more treasures. A little bottle with blue dappled sides reminiscent of 'wash' hanging on the line and clothes pins. I can almost smell those clothes bleached by the sun (and stiff as a board) that smelled of fresh air.

Millie's treasure sits in the kitchen window. Just like a child, her parents are showing off her achievements.The day Millie digs up a saki bottle might be the time to fill in the hole. I'm not sure what Millie will find next, but I think maybe we need to get her a shovel.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Rare Day

Farm life was a simple life. There wasn't money for frivolous activity. We didn't go on exotic vacations or visit museums and other attractions. It just wasn't something we considered being farm kids. Our dreams were simpler. Our dreams were low budget. Then one day after church Mom announced that we were going to the Cincinnati Zoo. Wow, Cincinnati Zoo!!! I had no idea what to expect, but this kid was going on an unexpected outing.

I really don't remember much about that day at the zoo. I remember most being with my parents. I remember most the fact that they had a surprise for me that day, and it was so wonderfully unexpected. I don't know what triggered the idea, but it was a good one.

Another zoo day I remember was the time Aunt Esther took her niece and grand-niece and nephew to the Columbus Zoo. We all laughed when a goat tried to eat her map. It was a battle of wills. Of course, Aunt Esther won out. It was quality time with an aunt we didn't see often. It was our special time. These two events are the only times I ever went to either of the zoos again.

Gabby I went to the Oregon Zoo. Just the two of us having a day out. I wondered what she would remember of me and the zoo. Would it be the feeding of the Lorikeets or maybe the enormous Sea Lion sunning himself. Maybe it would be the picnic we packed and ate on the lawn as the bird show took place above our heads. The red hawk zoomed over us, and the bald eagle finished the presentation much to the delight of the audience. Two baby elephants romped in the pool causing huge waves. Or maybe she will just remember a day with the two of us hanging out with the animals.

It's funny how such a simple thing as an announcement of a trip to the zoo can make a lifelong impression. There weren't many times when I had my parents' full attention. This was one. The zoo was wonderful, but Mom and Dad were the best.