Sunday, January 24, 2016

Silly old chickens

Once in awhile, I decide to have a chuckle or two.  More times than not I find them in The Everson Farm Manual that came from the farm. My lesson for today: One hundred heavy laying hens will drink 10 tons of water in a year. A laying pullet has been observed dipping her beak in a pan of water fifty-seven consecutive times after breakfast. Question: Who in the world wants to watch a chicken for fifty-seven beak dippings, and, in truth, who cares!

I am sure there must be some reasoning for this bit of wasted time, but for the life of me, I cannot come up with it. I found that there are eighteen pages dedicated to poultry while beef got only ten and swine five. Horses came in last with only a page and a half of information. Now from this information, it can only be assumed that chickens are fascinating or possibly carry numerous illnesses. I found no hint of anyone counting how many times a cow chewed her cud or that a pig snorted. For some reason the chickens have the corner on this literary market.

I did discover that if a chicken droops its head to one side and turns over on its back kicking for a minute or two, the same will be repeated in a few days at which time the chicken will die. It is most aptly named Crazy Chicken Disease. Again, who in the world sat watching the chickens?

When baby chicks are hatched it is suggested: In the first 24 hours, give them grit and water. Hard boil eggs, one for morning and one for evening mixed with two pieces of hard toast, scraped fine and mixed with eggs should be fed to chicks in AM and PM. This sounds vaguely familiar as to what was on our table for breakfast in the house. Hm.

Amazing that the old hen house sat across the yard all of my years on the farm without me giving it much notice or, for that matter, the chickens paid little attention to me as well. I gathered eggs. Played with baby chicks. Watched Mom whack off their heads, then fry them up for Sunday dinner. I never saw Dad give them any special attention. In fact, I always believed as did Dad that the silly things were very dumb. We chased them many times when they managed to escape out the gate. They pecked when I gathered eggs. They were the most skittish creatures on the farm. Yet they provided food and money for those of us who lived in the house across the way.

I find the only thing sillier than counting the number of times a chicken dipped her beak in a pan of water is a person who take time to write about it and then sends it off to you. Must be a slow day for news.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A little teasel mouse

Teasel mouse.  "Don't you remember?" asked June. I was trying to visualize a teasel plant let alone one as a mouse. Then I looked it up. Yes, my farm friends, I had forgotten that plant that invades ditches and field rows. It got me thinking.

Every year I take an ornament off the tree that Margaret Stager made for me a few decades ago. The old milk pod is trimmed with cord, painted inside and tinsel added. One of many ornaments she gave me over the years. I also have a walnut shell holding a tiny baby. At one time I had a few more but they have fallen apart over the years.

Living on a farm taught me to be creative. We learned to play house in a corn crib with an orange crate for a table and curtains as our clothing. We played cowboys hiding behind a mountain of bales. Huge rocks were the place to play house or play with tiny toys. Many a cool mount was created with a piece of twine and tobacco lath.

Tin cans became telephones. A string and two cans. I'm sure that Brenda and I considered it between our houses but were shot down. Better use for strings than to drag it across a field. I also wrapped yarn around an old can to make a pencil holder. Several cans bunched together made a great place to toss a ping pong ball. Creativity and lots of fun.

I remember well stringing buttons. Mom Johnson had a big tin full of buttons....most were from underwear. An adult tied a button at the bottom of a string with a needle on the other end. Many buttons were strung. To what use? None that I can think of. When I was smaller, I remember stringing empty thread spools. A parent could entertain a child for hours with a string and any item that could be strung.

Dad made stilts for us and the board for the swing. A small board and an old can made for balancing fun. Or in my case, a good way to fall and get hurt.

Apple baskets became a cradle for our babies, a place to toss a basketball and a great way to carry things from the house to the barn where the basket then became another piece of our playhouse furniture.

The teasel weed reminded me that probably long ago in our histories, other families did many of these same things. A child along a wagon trail looked for rocks to count with and sticks to draw in the dirt. A stick became a horse and dolly was placed in a box in the covered wagon.

What a rich history of creativity. We were poor farmers. There was not extra money for new toys. We could not buy new Christmas decorations. There was no money for crafts. A coloring book was a treat. Cut out dolls were precious treasures.

I love this history that has carried through to today. I pull from it with my grandchildren who string Cheerios for the birds. We play creative games using what we have on hand. I know that this history will mean nothing to them now. I know that one day one or more of these children as an adult will want to know what it was like when MeMe was growing up. Mom left a treasure trove of memories in the journals she left behind. She left the memories in the hands of her daughters, so now they can create a stronger bond while sharing the past. A little teasel mouse. Thanks, Mom.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Good enough for cows and kids

Writing this column is indeed a combined effort. My sister, June, is a major contributor. Thank goodness for Skype. June in Key West or in Angola, Indiana, can talk to me here in Beaverton, Oregon, most every day. We chat about the past as well as fill one another in on the present. I end up looking things up online while we chat to clarify memories. In these conversations, we learn about the different youths we had with our seven year age spran as well as open doors to memories tucked  and forgotten. This is how this column came to be.

We did not have a medicine cabinet as I have mentioned before. We had a shelf across the wall at the top of the basement stairs. I remembered bottles of pills, salves and Toni perms on the far end of the shelf. "We did not have prescriptions drugs when I was little," June said. I guess I had never thought about it. She was actually one of the very first recipients of penicillin which was a brand new drug. Her two years of suffering with rheumatic fever and the determination of her parents and doctor made her a candidate for this new medication. The difference in our ages saw a big change in that first aid shelf."

"Mom always gave me this horrible stuff to suck on when I had a sore throat," I said. June replied that it was horehound. I always thought I was sneaky putting it under my pillow when Mom left the room. Maybe, just maybe, I was not the swiftest kid when I was little.

"Remember sassafras tea?" June asked. Yep, I did. Mom always handed me a cup of that pink tea which was another remedy I did not care for when I had an upset tummy. "Mom brewed the little sticks of tea," June added. Hm. I always thought tea came from in little herbal pieces.  Swiftness.....strike two.

Farm kids are always getting cuts and scrapes. When that happened, Mom brought out the little bottle with the lid that had a stick on it. Mecuricome stung like the devil when applied and left a nice pink tattoo to mark the spot. No one thought back then about the mercury it contained. Surely many of the old remedies would have been yanked off the shelf with all the regulations we have today to protect us.

"Do you remember Lydia Pinkham?" June asked. "Never heard of her," I replied. Then I did the online search. Lydia concocted a 'woman's tonic'. According to what I discovered, her product did give some relief to complaints of the female users. And why not? Her remedy contained drinking alcohol and ethanol. Lydia probably enjoyed drinking her concoction while she created her fantastic marketing plan.

"Remember Watkins Petro Carbo Salve?" June asked. Hm. I remember that dark, thick, sticky stuff that Mom slapped on anything that needed to be treated. "Didn't Dad use that on the cows, too?" I asked. Well, sure enough, he did! It was another petroleum based product that was used from drawing boils to relieving pain and itching. Some farmers kept a tin of it in the barn for the cattle.

The label on the old bottle read:  For Man - for wounds and burns. For Beasts - for wounds, saddle, galls, scratches and wire cuts. Yep, that was on the shelf, too. Black Diamond Liniment.

I found it interesting that most of these products are still on the market. Of course, some have changed to meet FDA standards. The barker who sold his wares or the man who knocked on the door selling his products house to house would be happy to know that their products did produce results and stood the test of time.

Always I look forward to my conversations with June. Conversations that broaden my perspective and certainly bring the past into focus in new ways. I have fond memories of that silly shelf that held adhesive tape and gauze that waited to be replaced by Bandaids. I grew up knowing that if it was on the shelf, it was good enough for the cows and good enough for the kids.