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Archive for April, 2008

A Bit of This and That

I can always tell when age is beginning to make it presence known by the manner in which I allow little problems to irk me. While I wouldn’t know a schedule if one hit me over the head, and will deny with my last breath that I could be trapped into living my life on any sort of a daily plan, I have to admit I’m more set in my ways than I like to admit. I can’t remember what I was watching on the television last Thursday evening when I must have pressed a button on the remote control I shouldn’t have, causing the screen to go blank. My television reception comes through a separate unit I need for playing DVDs and VHS casettess. There is a set routine for pressing buttons for DVDs,  another for VHS casettes, and still another to bring the TV back to regular programming.  Nothing I did for the rest of the evening and all day Friday worked. Saturday afternoon, I gave up and called the cable company. They’d send a man out Tuesday. O. K. by me. Because the news, these days, consists almost entirely of the upcoming election, and I don’t really need to be entertained, Tuesday would be fine, but . . . what’s Saturday evening without my favorite British standbys: Being Served, Keeping Up Appearances, As Time Goes By, and, my very favorite of them all . . . Waiting For God? Saturday evening, with an hour to spare, I sat down before the television once again and started pressing buttons. Eureka! TV up and running. Don’t ask me how I did it.

Life since then has been back to normal, but normal is never boring. It gives me time to “talk over” various subjects with myself. That word ‘myself’ brings back something a once, dear-to-my-heart-creative writing teacher included in her suggestion of how to be a better writer. Would-be-famous authors should never use the word ‘myself’ when refering to one’s self. At least I think that was her admonishment. Anyway, now that I am no longer occupied with reprogramming the television, I can go on to other things and other things include questioning what I come across when reading. Before logging on to my blogsite, I poked a bit into the Internet news. One of the top stories concerned the Fundamental Church of the Latter Day Saints. I try, I truly try when it comes to making an effort to understand religions, all religions, but when I read such words as, ‘the sect, which broke from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a century ago, believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven’, my mind latches on to the thought: if the human brain is capable of believing something so outrageously funny—to my way of thinking—it explains all other beliefs in everything from God, gods, goddesses, angels, spirits—both good and evil—ghosts, shadows, reincarnation and voodoo, as well as absolutely everything else unseen and unexplainable.

Imagination: What a fearfully wonderful gift with which human beings enter the world.

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Old, But Not Stupid

There is a well known adage: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em . . . or somthing to that effect. I have, over the past few weeks, managed in one way or another to reduce the number of times I am called to the telephone by someone trying to sell me something I neither need nor want. Occasionally, I have talked to an actual, live, thinking, human being, had a few moments of polite conversation, asked the caller to please remove my name from his or her list of “clients” and wished him or her a good day, after which I could settle back, calm in mind and body to procede with whatever it was I was doing when interrupted. I think I can count such experiences on the fingers of one hand.  There have been other calls when I wouldn’t want any children around as I’m screaming words into the mouthpiece of the phone: words any sailor would be honored to have in his vocabulary. It must work at least part of the time because such calls became less frequent as time passed. Then, there are calls where nothing works. I had such a call this morning. 

I recognized the voice immediately. Female, soft but clear and always with the same message. After her initial spiel warning me that it is my last chance to obtain extended coverage on my automobile, followed by ‘press two if I want my telephone number removed from the system’ or, press one if I want to talk to a representative. Without exaggerating, I’ve pressed “two” at least three or four times, and still the same voice, using the identical message interrupts me at least once a day. Yesterday, I pressed “one”. I was shuttled to some one who could barely speak English and who wanted all kinds of information which I was not about to give. She hung up on me.

This morning, again, the same caller but this time I managed to get as far as a “representative”. He must have thought he had a sucker hooked. I answered his questions: name, and so on, make of car, year of car and mileage. No, I did not need “road coverage”, already had that, but, no, I do not have an extended warranty on my second-hand car but realized I should have. How much would that cost me? Just three hundred ninety five dollars, or something in that neighborhood, plus two payments of . . . the amount, I didn’t catch. I led him on. When could I expect someone to come to the house, so I might sign the papers?  Oh, it’s not done that way any more. Everything is taken care of right over the phone. Just give me the name of your credit card carrier, the numbers, last four digits and all would be taken care of. I protested. What assurance would I have should something happen to the car and I had no papers to prove I was covered? I added, someone could call me, ask me to send them a thousand dollars and they’d send me five thousand. What kind of a fool did he take me for? I had nothing to do at the time, but I took up about ten minutes of his that he could have spent trying to con somebody else. I didn’t need to hear him cussing me out to know he was angry by the way he cut me off. 

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The afternoon Carl received his draft notice, the weather was on the dank side with gray, moody clouds threatening to begin a late February snow storm. I was in the kitchen when Carl entered the back door clasping an opened envelope in one hand and a white sheet of paper in the other—his draft notice. I have to admit, the first few minutes of whatever conversation took place between the two of us is a bit hazy in my mind. I remember reminding my husband that he was a farmer, a dairyfarmer and not likely to be drafted, that it had to be a mistake. Men with important jobs and who had children,  were not yet being drafted, that we had one child and another due in May. It was not until I heard something that sounded like, I deamed of going into a partnership with Jack—his younger brother by two years—all my life and you ruined it the first time . . . intermission . . . 

 intermission equalled a wonderful afternoon with a dear and beloved niece, Veda, daughter of my younger sister Betty Hodges who died, I believe, sometime in 1987. My niece reads my blog but not yet into “commenting”, so, Veda, here’s your chance. Straighten me out and introduce yourself in a comment.

     As I mentioned, I don’t recall in detail all I said to Carl after hearing that he intended to allow himself to be drafted, but I do know this: nothing I said meant anything. I recall his argument: other men with families were in the service—shouldering his duty in the war—looking his fellowmen in the eye and so on, comes to mind. It was not until these words burned their way into my memory: if you hadn’t ruined my lifelong dream of going into partnership with Jack, my brother would be here on the farm instead of risking his life in North Africa!   

     Stunned? No. Forever silenced is more like it. My father was, and I wish I could come up with something original with which to describe him, a man of few words. Among those few words had been an admonition to avoid partnerships, and especially those concening member’s of one’s family. As far as I was concerned that afternoon, as well as all others to follow, he might just as well have never warned me. I married Carl for better or worse. You know. . . that kind of marriage when, Whither thou goest, I will go. Thy people shall be my people. Thy God, my God, and so on and on and on, really meant something to those of us unable to think for ourselves. Hell’s Bells! Now, I wish I had never gone to Sunday Schools where such nonsense is taught to naive children, because I know that is where I first heard the story of Ruth and Naomi. 

     However, if a partnership was what my husband wanted, I was not going to fight it. I have to smile as I write these words, words I recall as though I had just said them aloud: We’re all older now and should be able to talk things out.  Boy that was a crock of something. Nonetheless, about three weeks later, a well-to-do man from the area who had had his eye on the fieldstone farmhouse, purchased the farm. A few days later, I stayed in the kitchen brewing coffee for the area farmers and their wives who were bidding on everything we owned. Everything had to be auctioned off,  machinery,  tools, milking equipment, cows, heifers, calves, pigs—the chickens had been eaten and work horses had long since been sold—and. . . my beautiful little paint mare, Blossom. Heartsick, but stoic, and with my second child due in another six weeks or so, I had no choice but to accept the present and live for the day I would once again own my very own riding horse.  On April the 15th, Carl left Bainbridge, Maryland and his induction into the navy. I stayed on the farm but not alone. My youngest sister and best friend, Jean,  had come over from Akron, Ohio some months before to live with me.

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From that beautiful early Autumn afternoon, 1944, when the words to Blue Skies settled themselves into my inner-most being, and Carl received his draft notice on a miserably cold March day, I cannot recall anything worthwhile writing about, unless one calls getting pregnant sometime in October. I shouldered my share of the daily chores and, twice a week, Monday and Thursdays, helped Carl pluck the chickens he’d slaughtered for the next day’s trip to Philadelphia. Life must have gone on smoothly enough. Twice a week, I took care of the milking, saw to the needs of the cows, two work horses, two pigs, a housefull of chickens, Blossom and our small daughter. I am always amused while watching a TV movie or sitcom and watch what is supposed to be a young pregnant woman struggling to rise from a sitting position. I could not have been more than five to six weeks from giving birth to our son, born May 11th when Carl left for Philadelphia to return with the news he was to be drafted into the navy. I must have made an amusing sight walking from the barn out to the milkhouse, a bucket dangling from each hand with my stomach well ahead of me. But I’m getting ahead of my story.  

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I can’t believe this: I had today’s blog written, ready to save to my blogsite when, and don’t ask me what I did because I haven’t the slightest idea, just as I was to hit “save”, everything was highlighted and with the next click, vanished. So, I have to rewrite the entire page. I’ll be back.

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Blue Skies

I wonder just how old I’ll have to be in order not to have the song Blue Skies  send me reeling back to a beautiful early autumn day and to a moment in time when I first accepted my then, current situation: my husband was a farmer and planned to become a Master Farmer—don’t ask me to explain the term— that life was not going to be any better, but should not become any worse for me. I loved my husband. He was, at that moment, looking after our two years and nine-month old daughter while I rode my beautiful little brown and white pinto mare toward a nearby town for nothing much more than showing her off. 

     I can see it now: the iron bridge over which Blossom first feared to cross, the wayside folliage awash in sunlight with the first blush of autumn and the bluest of skies overhead smiling down at me. Yes, I was happy. Really, really happy. I pulled Blossom to a halt, sat in the saddle, looked about me and broke into song—Blue Skies, nothing but blue skies for now on. Fie on the fickle, feckless gods of fate! They allowed me to live in blissful ignorance through the coming winter until one afternoon on a miserably cold, March day when a letter was delivered from the draft board with the news that Carl was to appear in Philadelphia for his induction into the armed services. My husband was a farmer, a dairyfarmer, and farmers, especially dairyfarmers were exempt from the draft. Something was wrong somewhere and that “somewhere”, I now believe, can be placed directly at my feet. I was a hell of a long way from learning how to say NO to the man I married. I was already, that afternoon and without realizing it, on my way to years of “hell on earth” in the shape of a full-time dairyfarm partnership between Carl and his younger brother Jack.

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Chapter Three

Friday Evening: I am well aware this chapter needs a great deal of revising, but I am “publishing” it just as it is. I can make adjustments later. It’s been a long and tiring day and I’m ready to admit that age has a way of slowing the body down. The time I could get up at five-thirty in the morning and keep going full speed until ten or eleven in the evening is well behind me. Well, here it is: the morning after what had to be just about the dullest wedding and wedding night you will ever read about. 

The morning after our first night at Grubb’s, Mrs. Grubb had breakfast on the table when Carl and I came downstairs to greet not only our host and hostess, but two friends of theirs. My new husband ate a hasty breakfast and left for Philadelphia and his many customers who depended on him for eggs, butter, chickens and smoked breakfast meats. Eager to escape the friendly chatter of strangers and the hidden amusement I imagined behind every smile, as quickly as politely possible, I excused myself and headed for the barn to become acquainted with the horse.

To my delight, it was not a thick boned, Roman-nosed, dull-eyed plow horse that turned his head from a manger of hay and acknowledged my presence with a nicker of welcome. Tom was definitely not beautiful, but he was of riding stock. I’m certain he was delighted when I put a riding bridle with a soft curb bit into his mouth and placed an old army saddle on his back. His response to neck reining and the brand on his flank proved him to be, at one time, a cavalry horse. If I had anything resembling a honeymoon, it was the moment I mounted to explore the neighborhood that was to be my home territory for the following year. Tom was well past his prime, but appeared to come to life at my bidding. Later on, his objection to harness and wagon, after rediscovering the freedom bridle and saddle provided, became a problem for both Carl or Mr. Grubb. From the moment Tom took his first few steps down the lane and away from the barn with me on his back, pulling a wagon load of chicken manure was beneath his dignity.

Two or three days after our arrival, Carl and I moved into the apartment he rented shortly before he left for Akron. Our needs were few; a nearby dealer in second-hand furniture quoted fair prices and promptly delivered our purchases. I was glad we were not going to board with Grubbs. Though but nineteen, I knew myself to be adult enough to accept whatever responsibilities lie ahead. Or so I believed.

 For the first six to seven weeks of married life, I was an extremely happy bride, but my happiness was short-lived. Without asking my opinion or for my permission, Carl’s younger brother, newly graduated from college, moved into our one-bedroom apartment. The one and only entrance to our apartment opened to a tiny vestibule. To the right, a door opened to a small living room, a small kitchen and an even smaller bathroom. A short flight of steps led up to our “doorless” bedroom. Our only privacy was the door at the bottom of the steps leading into the livingroom. Carl offered to pay for his brother’s room and board at a nearby farm, but he refused, saying he preferred to sleep in a small room in the basement. Carl did not insist and against my better judgment, I accepted the situation. I did not know how to tell Carl I did not want my brother-in-law living with us. Jack’s room was barely large enough to hold a narrow cot and a dresser. Naturally, he spent his waking hours in the living room when he was not over at the chicken farm. For all too short a time, l was content and cozy in our little apartment.

Unless Jack was out of the apartment, Carl and I had absolutely no privacy. I began to dread going to bed because I was positive every word uttered, every movement made in bed could be heard from below. My embarrassment caused me to wish Carl would forget I was anywhere within reach—that he would simply turn over and go to sleep—and I was too shy to tell him how I felt. In the nineteen years I spent with my parents, I never heard my mother complain about anything. Determined to follow her example. I tried not to express my displeasure over the extra duty with which I found myself burdened, but my patience came to an end when both men continued to come into the house still wearing their dirty work shoes. My words to Carl had effect; he must not have passed my complaint on to his brother and I didn’t have the courage to tell him myself. Jack wore thick, crepe-rubber-soled shoes that soak up mud and manure like a sponge. He removed them only after he finished his day’s work with the chickens. Each and every time he entered the apartment during the day, I had to remop the floor after his departure.

A few of Jack’s mannerisms drove me to distraction. From the time I was a child, I had been taught not to make unnecessary noises while eating at the table. My father did not like raw celery sticks served during meals although he  tolerated them, but eating with the mouth open, smacking one’s lips and other such table manners were strictly forbidden. Gum chewing while in his presence  had to be accomplished with absolutely no noise and with as little movement of the jaws as possible. Jack slurped food into his mouth with so much noise, I was forced to flee the house at times. He was clean about his person and I kept his clothing washed, ironed and mended, but his socks presented me with a problem. He had but about a half dozen pair and they needed replacing. Though justifiably proud of my darning ability, I was darning socks with no original sock material left in the heels and toes. I asked Jack if he had other socks to replace the worn out ones. He told me no, nor did he add he would buy new ones. I continued to darn away. I may have privately “damned” away while I was darning. One day while cleaning his small basement bedroom, I pulled some boxes out from under his cot so that I might clean beneath it. One box contained at least two dozen pair of socks, all neatly folded and without a hole among them. For some reason I don’t understand to this day, I finished the cleaning, put the boxes back where I found them and never said a word to either Carl or Jack.

Carl took the route truck and was gone for several hours one sunny afternoon. Jack came in for lunch, left, I mopped the floors, washed dried and put away the dishes and prepared the evening meal. With the whole afternoon to myself and nothing to do, I decided to go to a movie in a nearby town. Carl and I had not been to a movie for at least three weeks, and I would be back in plenty of time to have supper on the table when Carl and Jack came in to eat. All I needed was a car to get me into town and back. I had a problem. No car. My brother-in-law always used our car to drive to and from Grubb’s, but his car sat just outside the kitchen window and I saw no reason for not using it. I went down to his basement bedroom, found his keys on the dresser, left a note on the kitchen table and drove off, never suspecting and would not discover for another four or five years, I was about to break up a partnership between Carl and his brother.

After the movie was over and I arrived home, I found, much to my dismay, neither Carl nor Jack apparently believed in equality between the sexes. Jack, when he discovered I had borrowed his car, was furious. Carl’s anger matched Jack’s. These few words to Jack from Carl might have been all that was needed to avoid the first harsh words spoken between Carl and me. You’ve been using the car Mary should have been driving and have been doing so ever since you moved in. Why shouldn’t she have the privilege of using yours when you are using hers? Instead, Carl agreed with his brother. Under no circumstance was I ever to borrow Jack’s car again. It might just as well have been my father standing over me with his razor strop in hand. Crushed and overwhelmed, I burst into tears. I remember nothing of what I said and was told nothing of what passed between Carl and his brother, but a few days later Jack packed his bags, left the apartment and found work elsewhere.

As though nothing disturbing had happened, the matter was dropped and life returned to normal. I believed the upsetting incident to be forever over. Without his brother to help him care for the chickens, collecting and cleaning the eggs, my duties were greatly increased, but I did not mind because I was young, confident and quite capable of handling any problem that might arise. 

During the early forties, many young men voluntarily enlisted in the armed services to serve a year, thus escaping an impending draft. I have no idea when Carl’s brother enlisted in the army, but before his year was out, Pearl Harbor was attacked.  He was not to come home until after the war, and I was permitted to live in happy ignorance until my husband, himself, was “mistakeningly” selected for the armed forces during early spring, 1945. It was not until then, I was told I was responsible for my brother-in-law’s voluntary enlistment, his induction into full service, and  would have been, if seriously injured or killed, been blamed.  Because I had no words at the time with which to rebut the accusation—later—some two weeks into January, 1947, I walked into what I was to call my years of hell on earth. However, I am not quite through with “my honeymoon”.   

I enjoyed riding old Tom, but I wanted a younger animal and one of my own. Shortly after Jack left, we found and purchased a beautiful, little brown and white pinto I called Beauty. I dreamed of owning my own horse since a child and that creature was perfection. Unfortunately, sometime during the early summer of 1941, a neighbor boy whom Carl hired to help with the heavy work, forgot to lock the stable door one evening and Beauty freed herself. She made her way over to the apartment and to me. I could have ridden her safely back without a bridle, but I was pregnant and Carl did not want me riding in the dark with only a halter for control. He said he would take her back to the stable. Instead of leading her, he mounted and headed for the farm. They never made it. Beauty, unaccustomed to Carl and without a bit in her mouth for control, broke into a gallop and headed for a busy highway. Carl saw the danger ahead and unable to bring her to a stop, jumped to the ground. Beauty raced on and into the path of a passing car that struck and killed her. I was heartsick, but thankful Carl did not remain on her back. There could always be another horse; there was only one Carl. End of honeymooon.

It must have been in early fall, 1941, the apartment house in which we lived was sold by its owners forcing us to find someplace else to live. Carl found and rented a one-room, combination kitchen and living room on the first floor in an old rundown farmhouse close to the chicken farm. There was a chipped and stained sink with cold running water in one corner of the room that served for a kitchen. A cast iron wood stove occupied the center of the room, our only source of cooking and heat. Our bedroom was on the third floor and as cold as any barn in the winter. For toilet facilities, we shared an outside privy with the landlord and his family. We were lucky to have found anything within walking distance of the chicken houses. It was into that “home” we brought our first child Bonnie,  born one week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Before our little daughter reached her sixth month birthday, Carl had found and purchased, with the help of his parents and relatives, a one hundred and ten acre dairyfarm some thirty five miles above Philadelphia. I was not consulted, nor was I asked what I thought about being left alone on the farm twice a week to care for and milk, by hand the first year, a small herd of dairycows and see to the needs of two work horses, two large pigs and a housefull of chikens. Oh, yes—our baby daughter. A few months after moving to the farm, I had the pleasure of once again owning my very own riding horse—another beautiful brown and white pinto mare I called Blossom. My world was once again, complete—that is until Spring 1945, and I learned how fragile a thing called happinesss, can be.  

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