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Down on the farm

Down on the farm
Out of the woods.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


I have no clue where the idea for mud medicine came from.  Were we possibly bent on the destruction of the hated cod liver oil or trying to extend our meager supplies? No matter, there we were, the three of us, under the back porch in our favorite hidey hole, deciding to create mud medicine.
As I am sure you know, medicine requires "stink"! That it would taste bad went without saying. It was mud.
None of us could read, so we took every bottle in the medicine chest. I do not know how we escaped the notice of three eagle eyed moms in residence.
Back under the porch we dumped the contents of each and every bottle into our pail, then added dirt to make a really good goo. We rolled it into "pills" and  put them out to dry in the sun. When they seemed dry enough we put them back in the bottles.  It did not go well.  On the trip back to the bathroom cabinet we were discovered.
During the war most medicines were hard to come by. Our moms had pooled their treasures of cough syrup, aspirin, and vitamins along with the hated cod liver oil and my mother's precious "nerve medicine". That was the irreplaceable one.
The doctor prescribed in it's place 2 bottles of beer each day. Mom hated beer. Each time she tried to choke down a swallow she reiterated the mud medicine episode. I heard about it for more than 50 years, which may be the reason I remember it so well.
The rest of the medicine was slowly replaced as war coupons became available, except for the hated cod liver oil. It was cheap, available and back the next day.

Friday, August 30, 2013


We  planned to spend a few days in Key West when Jenni and Tony came down. They had never been there and it had been nearly 20 years since Dick and I had gone. Geoff recommended a place he and his friends stayed when they went fishing. I reserved a couple of rooms at KingSail on Marathon Key and after I finished work on Wednesday we headed out for parts south and east. 
Tony drove, Geoff was our GPS and Jenni was our official tourist. When she saw something fun, we stopped. Tony wanted flip flops, but they had to be special. It took three stops at three Sandal Outlets (there must be 80 of those between Key Largo and Key West) but he did find something that suited. I was gasping at their "outlet" prices...$186 for a pair of shoes that cost $39.95 at Bealls! Tony paid an awful price for his acceptable flip flops, but I wasn't buying so oh, well!
When we reached Key Largo, Jenni wanted to stop. She'd seen the movie and liked the sound of it, but Geoff and I both assured her there was nothing to see so on we went. We got to Marathon around 5 and sorted out the rooms. 
One was on the second floor and had a kitchenette and 2 double beds, the other was on the patio near the dock and had two double beds and a sunroom with a mini fridge and microwave. No stairs, so Dick and I took that one.
Both rooms had white with black trim tiles floors and cheap wood paneled walls, with tattered, broken matchstick blinds at all the windows. Everything was old, somewhat chipped, and quite clean. Nothing had been updated since 1970, but the beds were comfortable, and the TV got the golf channel so Dick was happy.
Outside on the dock a short round mahogany tanned gentleman wearing flip flops, a baggy swim suit and a floppy straw hat cleaned his catch, filleting each fish perfectly to prepare on the nearby grill for his dinner. He was there the next day, too.
We had a lovely dinner at a little Mexican place Geoff knew and spent the evening between the pool and the patio, sipping cool drinks and watching the Cubanitos play in the pool while their parents congregated on the patio.
Geoff knew a lot of good inexpensive places to eat so we ate well and cheap and except for the Waffle House on Thursday morning, not once did we darken the door of a chain restaurant.
It was Key weather. Hot and sultry with a lovely breeze. After breakfast we headed for the end of the USA.
Our aim was to find a glass bottomed boat for Jenni, and an Atlantic beach for Tony. We drove once around Key West to get our bearings then parked near the trolley stop.
When we got out of the car the traditional Key West chickens fluttered and clucked at us.  With his usual enthusiasm Tony skittered across the puddles trying to capture the rooster for a photo op. The rooster was having none of it and being far more experienced in escaping boys than Tony was in capturing chickens he got off scott free, or Tony free in this case.
We boarded the trolley and rode around the route listening to the wonderful patter from the driver. He had a story for every point of interest and a joke as well. We got off for a photo op near the buoy at the end of the world, or what ever they call it. Geoff and Jenni got some great shots, but when I tried to use Geoff's camera it kept going to the main menu without snapping the pic. The tourists in the long queue were beginning to grumble so we moved on. We stopped at a little row of cutsie tourist traps and fingered merchandise while Tony ordered T shirts for himself and his 2 brothers and the littles.

We found a little place for lunch...decent and forgettable. Used the bathroom, checked the merchandise, and moved on.
Back on the trolley we enjoyed more patter from the driver and viewed more Key West sights. About midafternoon Dick and I were feeling our age. We sat on benches near a museum and wished we'd thought to bring water. Back on the trolley and back to the beginning. Tony went to fetch the car while we sagged against a bike rack. They drove us back to Marathon to the KingSail, provided us with Subways and such then Jenni and Tony drove back to Key West, caught a sunset cruise, checked out the beach action, and got lost good and plenty. They got back about midnight, full of experience and sun.
In the morning we headed back, stopping for breakfast at a little cafĂ© around Bird Key. By the time we got to Key Largo Jenni had convinced us to stop, even though there was nothing there. We found a sign advertising cruises on the real, original AFRICAN QUEEN. 
It sure looked like it. Maybe even smaller than it seemed in the movie.  They offered dinner cruises...our group of 5 plus someone to run the boat would have scuttled the shiplet! We snapped our photos and moved on.
As we pulled out a sign told us a state park was nearby with beaches and such. We took the wrong turn, meandered pleasantly about, but finally reached John Pennekamp State Park. Besides a lovely beach they offered glass bottomed boat rides out to the coral reef at $24 each.  The cabin was air conditioned and had 2 glass "windows" in the boat bottom. Benches lined the cabin and you could climb down into the cavity around the glass and get a closer look. We passed over a couple of turtles, a sting ray, a small shark and plenty of colorful fish, as well as seeing the corals along the reef. They were selling seasick pills for $1 a dose, so I fortified myself. I was fine, but I saw a lot of greenish gills and many seasick bags as we moved along. It was a bargain of a lifetime trip with expert park rangers giving us the lowdown and uptick on all the sea life. The glass bottomed boats on Key West cost in excess of $50 each. I do suppose there are more and better reefs off Key West, and I am sure they have knowledgeable guides, but were they cute, long legged, shorts clad, pony tailed young women swinging from bench to glass bottom like a trapeze artist? GO, Key Largo!
We drove, passing through refurbished Homestead and  points west and north. At home Tony  grabbed a beer and flopped onto a floatie in the pool.
Jenni called Aunt May to tell her we were back and happened to mention Tony being in the pool with a beer.
May cries out "Ginny, you git him outta thar! He ain' usta drankin' and he's li'ble ta dround!" 
Tony was fine. We love May.
Saturday Tony and Jenni went shopping at Fish'ville for souveniers to take back to the littles. Sunday they left.
The following week it was so quiet I wanted to jump in the pool and "dround" my own self.  On Saturday I got a call from Jenni. Tony thought he'd left the precious Key West flip flops on the front porch. Would I go see if they were there. I opened the front door and there was Sam. Hallelujah. Sam. We didn't do much, but we talked and he walked Baby. We had a birthday dinner for the birthday boys, Geoff and Sam and Dick drove him to the airport Tuesday. It was wonderful.  A family vacation complete.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Unforgotten Friends

It was a warm, sleepy summer day and the only noises came from the Missouri Farmers' Association big store across the alley. Clucks, quacks, an occasional clang from a milk can and very occasionally a passing car were part of the sounds of living and I didn't really hear it as I carefully chalked a new hopscotch on the sidewalk.
My usual companions, Sunny Sue Robertson and Barbara Schwartz, were somewhere else, not there and then. As an only child, I was accustomed to entertaining my own self, even if I preferred not to. Head down, nose to the ground, I worked to get it perfect. I didn't hear her come up behind me and it took a few moments to feel her there.
She was just my size, with blonde hair, a dress much like mine...a bit too small, a bit worn, but clean.
I offered her the smooth gray stone I had found to pitch and she smiled.
We played hopscotch, then tag, then sat in the old hammock on the side porch to swing and talk. We had lemonade and cookies on the front steps. I told her where I went to school and about my teacher and she said she wished she went to my school, but when I asked where she went to school she just mentioned a town across the state, then asked about the story book I'd been reading in the hammock.
I walked her home, down the street to the next block to the shanty houses that rented by the week set in the alley behind the big houses like mine.
My pals came back and life was full and busy and I forgot my new friend until another lonely day a week or so later. I walked to the little shanty in the alley and knocked. The person who answered the door didn't know her.
I never saw her again. I liked her. I wish I remembered her name.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I was messing around in the office, modpodging an old pair of sandals and checking for updates on Jenni and Claude's move to the new house.
Geoff and Dick were discussing the new Jackie Robinson movie in context with the older versions. While they talked a tiny piece of trivia popped into my head and I shared it with them. Geoff said "Why don't you write stuff like that on Face Book instead of writing about failed detergent?" So I put it down while I still remembered.
My father became pastor of the First Christian Church in Rochester, Minnesota in about 1950 or 51.  At the time the resident population was about 10,000.  At least 1/4 were doctors, another 1/4 were doing residency and 1/4 were supporting professionals. The "bad" section of town consisted of a 2 block stretch of poorer blue collar 2 up/2 down clapboard sided homes. The other 1/4 was us. Clerks, mechanics, carpenters, and so on.
Downtown consisted of a few blocks of businesses, a high school on a 3 block campus with buildings connected by a warren of tunnels that connected to the Mayo Clinic which took up a lot of the downtown area. The rest of downtown was hotel space. DE-lux, lux, middle class, cheap and the tumble down building by the rail road station used by American people of color. Nearly every family in town picked up Christmas money by renting out rooms to a "transient population" of about 17,000 annually.
Walking downtown was a geography lesson. German, French, Spanish, plus languages unknown spoken by folk of every shade of white, brown, and yellow. It was notable that every black person strolling the streets was exotically clad in long silky robes, hard round brimless caps with tassels, no matter what language they were speaking.
I remember my parents being in conference, talking softly. Mrs.Jackie Robinson was coming into town. I do not know if she was going to the clinic herself, or if she was visiting someone. I do know every hotel in town had refused her reservation, except for the "Colored" Hotel by the tracks.
The clergy and the doctors were aghast. MRS.  JACKIE ROBINSON refused room at our inns? Appalling! Why, the Robinsons were rich and famous!
Yeah, even then I thought it strange that nobody seemed to condemn that rattrap hotel when it was just your average black family.
At any rate my father, along with a number of other families offered to open our homes to her.  I don't recall if she spent the night but I know it was discussed. We had a meal together, at least.  I remember a very pretty, pleasant, well dressed young housewife, who happened to be darker than me.
And that's my story.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Have You Noticed How Expensive Detergent Has Become?

I can sew quite decently. I can paint almost any surface. I am handy enough with a hammer, saw, drill, etc. I don't cook a lot, but none of my family starved even when the cookies and chips ran out. So, I figured with a recipe for homemade laundry detergent...I can do that!
I got out the stock pot, which is the largest cookware we own, and began to assemble the ingredients. I had it all, didn't even have to go to the store. Baking soda: check. Borax: check. Washing soda: check. Water...yep, got that too. Bar of Fels Naphtha soap.
It was suggested that the bar of soap be cut in pieces and grated, run through the food processor or microwaved.
Hmmm. Mess up my food processor? or microwave it? No contest. If the directions say the soap expands when microwaved, then, place it in a plastic bowl! Microwave for 5 minutes, then in 15 second increments until the soap is completely melted. What could go wrong?
The bowl melted in less than a minute. The soap took longer. It also took a while to separate the melted soap from the melted bowl.
Finally I globbed the melty soap into the stock pot, added a cup of water, and turned the heat to simmer and began adding the dry ingredients. Almost immediately it began to scorch to the bottom of the pot. I added water and stirred, more water, stir...sticking, more last I added about a gallon of water. I hopefully left the pot on simmer and went to do some other important things. You know, check my work site, my work email, my personal email while I was at it, Face Book, and a quick run through Pinterest while I was at the keyboard.
Back at the stove, the pot had "simmered" all over the stove top. Sticky glop adhered to the lid, to the rim, to the pot, to the burner and everything around it. I pulled off the lid and poked at the stuff with a long wooden spoon. Now the spoon was coated, too. ARGH! I set the pan off the heat and replaced the lid.
When the stovetop cooled I began trying to clean the mess. I wiped at it with a dice. I covered it with soaked paper towels. No effect. Scrubbies. Little effect. I finally got out a heavy steel spatula with a sharp edge and began to pare it away. It took hours.
The next morning the lid had to be pried open. Inside the stock pot was a watery soup with a thick, gunk island bobbing around. I considered my options, and put a cooling rack in the bottom of a clothes basket which I placed in front of the stove. I broke the island into gunky chunks and put them on the rack to dry. The watery goo went into a detergent container. I'll find a use for it. It is bound to be a really bad example of something. The stock pot is clean as a whistle, though. Whatever that means.
It was really cheap to make, as advertised, unless stirring time and cleaning time is included. All in all I think I'll continue buying expensive detergent on sale with coupons. On the other hand maybe it was worth the laugh on a tense Boston Marathon week.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Coyotes ate the ducklings they'd watched over so lovingly. Chickens were messy and might meet the same fate as the ducklings. Uncle Pete's cattle grazed down the front acreage. Mom & Aunt Hazel were 67 and 73 respectivly, but for some reason, live stock of their own seemed important to have, so they kept sheep.
The sheep didn't need a lot of care except during lambing and mostly ambled about gnawing up plant material. They also kept the snake population down, according to Aunt Hazel. We kind of smirked when we heard that, but as usual she was right. I watched a placid ewe turn Rambo when faced with a rattler. She jumped straight up into the air and landed with one hoof on the rattler's head, and another on the middle of it's back. By the time she finished stomping, you couldn't tell what that slitherer had been. I became a believer.
The sheep lived in the barn with pasturage that ran down toward the old log cabin. A gate that appeared in photos from Mom and Hazel's childhood led from the farmhouse yard into the lot. A burn barrel held trash waiting to be disposed of when so ever the weather was wet and/or dry enough. Each week it was Hazel's chosen duty to carry the tiny bits of debris to the barrel.
She stood beside the barrel but decided it was too windy to light a fire and turned to go back through the gate. As she stepped out Old John, the lord emperor of the tiny flock put his head down and butted her face first into the dirt.
Hazel rose with her usual composure and aplomb and dusted herself off. With dignity she turned to face the old ram.
"Why, John!" she said.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Geoff was stationed in Germany near the Czech border and cousin Charles & his wife Laverne were living 'on the economy' in Hamburg where he was a purchasing agent attached to the Army. Dick and I had 3 whole weeks. It was a lovely trip. The dollar was strong, people were friendly and the scenery was amazing.
We found a lovely small resort hotel called Zum Turken on a mountain above Heidleburg. It had been run by the same family for 4 generations, barring the takeover by the Reich during the war.
Charles and Laverne were attending a Lutheran Conference at 'The General Walker', a large military hotel about a mile above Zum Turken. Charles had learned of a Mexican restaurant on the next mountain over, in Bishophof. You have no idea how good Mexican can sound until you have lived on the wonderful, thick, saucy cuisine of Bavaria for a couple of weeks with no respite.
The trek was on.
The tiny rental Ford was crammed with 3 large guys and 2 medium sized women. With Charles at shotgun we found Bishophof and eventually the restaurant. I vaguely recall a stone built single story ediface with a wishing well in the yard and an Irish setter lying in the sun across the entry. The dog did not stir as we stretched our legs over her and entered. The front was a dark alcove, the center room was bright with windows, small booths and tables. Few people were there...not surprising viewing the stony, narrow, winding and steep approach.
We found a roomy booth in the dark snug and began checking the menue. It was well and truly Spanish/Mexican. Ahhh! Heaven. The food was excellent, the beer delicious and eventually Laverne and I needed to make our way to the Ladies'. The setter now lay across the entry to our booth. We stretched our legs over her again.
Two men who were living the description of 'mountain guide' sat in a small booth by the windows drinking the local brew. Both nodded as we passed on the way to the restroom. On our return the guide facing us smiled at me beerily and slurred "My name is Mike. You haf be-u-tiful moun-tains!" The face of his boothmate turned an even brighter red than his healthy glow. He stuttered and stumbled over the appology for his friend's boozy statement.
"His name not Mike. He is Michel! He is too much drinking!"
I could hear the reactive laughter from the snug.
It wasn't the first time I had been complimented in a bar, and maybe not the last...but I freely admit it was the only time my mountains had been publically admired.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Grandma Campbell had a fierce and determined love of all learning, and she determined fiercely that each and every one of her children would finish high school. Today, this does not seem like an unusual is generally expected that our kids will graduate from High School and go to college. But when Grandma was 13 her father decided that the high school was too far away, the neighbors might talk, it was not seemly for a young lady to ride all that distance, her mother needed her at home to care for the littler ones, and that was that. Even with the backing of her beloved teacher she could not change the mind of Matthew Nettle, "gentleman farmer", who, by the way, served on the school board! When they married, Grandpa Arthur loved her so dearly and supported just about anything she wanted, as long as he was not too much bothered with the details. All the children attended school. When they outgrew the little one room school house on the farm they were shipped off, usually two at a time, to friends or relatives in town for the school year. When it was time for Mom and Arby to go, they stayed with distant cousins. Arby had a job and Mom helped in the house and they paid their room and board in money and in service. That first year, although she loved school, Mom missed her mother, Hazel, and probably even Girly and Art desperately. Arby could hear her crying herself to sleep every night. There was no expectation of going home for holidays as we would do today. It would have been a wagon trip of the better part of a day each way, and the bus fare was beyond dreaming of. A few days before that first Christmas away from home, Arby presented his little sister with the most amazing gift, a round trip bus ticket home. He had shoveled coal for neighbors, toted feed bags for farmers and any other odd job he could find to save enough for the ticket that would mean that while he spent Christmas alone, she did not.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Walking down the hill behind the barn and entering the shadowy cedar scented forest didn't seem a scary thing to me...but I was an adult, with a stout stick in my fairly strong arms. I was not a 5 year old girl with a 3 year old sister in tow, both carrying lunch to the men working in the fields below. The way was long and somewhat strenuous for me. I cannot imagine what it was for a tiny child with the sure knowlege that her older brothers had killed a wolf on the hill above the farm just months before. Even in 1919 a 5 year old knew that wolves do not travel alone. Why was Blanche with a tiny Girly doing this errand? Mom didn't recall, although she gave the adults some credit that they must have been the only ones available and able. If Girly was 3 Grandma may have been heavily pregnant with Art. Grandma Nettle had arthritis. Aunt Maude was probably pregnant...who knows? Not me and not mom...all she remembered was shivering in fear, walking arm to shoulder with a toddler, but doing her duty, as was her wont.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I don't know the date or even the month, but it was warm and very green and it was Marlene's birthday. How I came to be there is a mystery as I surely didn't live nearby, but there I was. Terry was there, and Pris and Charles. Marlene's best friend and some neighbor kids were there, too. I don't recall either Dwayne or Colin being there, but they were "big boys" and probably off doing "big boy" stuff. We sat on the living room floor and played "Button, button, who has the button?" and "Spin the bottle" and "Telephone". The day was pure gold with dust motes glinting and reflecting light. We had cake and lemonade then piled onto the big ol' hay wagon. Aunt Ruth hiked up her skirt and climbed onto the tractor. For some reason that surprised me. As she started the engine she turned, her face lit with pleasure as she observed us. Sweet, plain Aunt Ruth was prettier than any movie star in that moment. She put the tractor in gear and we jerked away down the hill to the creek. We paddled in the shallow waters in dappled sun and shade until we were hauled protesting and dripping back to the house. In retrospect I wonder where my mother was, where my other aunts were, and Grandma? Has memory wiped them off the slate of the day? How old was Marlene that day? 2 years older than me! But how old was I? I guess it doesn't matter. We were together, and happy in the day.