Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thursday's Story: Oh Canada!

When I was 14 we went to the World's Fair in Montreal. Then we drove as far north as we could - until the road ended. We camped for a week among the chipmunks, beaver and moose... caught sturgeons, cooked on the fire. We didn't see anyone else for a week. Then we traveled around up-province Quebec - so long we started to speak French. 

Eventually it was time to decide how to head home - school was starting in a few days. My Dad: "We could get up at 4 am to catch a ferry - in Sorel, Quebec - and have one day to explore New England. Or. We could drive to Niagara Falls and spend our last free day there...". My dad justified the westerly route: "We'll be able to see the Erie Canal on the way home - it's an important part of this country's history. Besides a fellow never want to go home the same way he came - that's backtracking." We all agreed! Niagara Falls!! New England deserved it's own trip, but we mourned missing that ferry ride more than just a little. 

We packed up that night and drove most of the next day. Before finding the campground we went by the Falls to see them lit up and glowing in the twilight. 

We woke up excited! In full tourist mode! There is a space needle, a botanical garden, the FALLS, the Maid o'Mist, a power plant Thomas Edison designed (this country's first!) took two days. 

On the fourth day my dad called the school principal collect and said "We'll be home soon." And we pulled out. 900 miles. A station wagon. 6 kids, Mom. And a 23 1/2 foot camper. Buffalo. Cleveland. Columbus. A few hours sleep in a rest area mid-Ohio. Cincinnati. Lexington. The cornfields of Kentucky. (Tamera Moman got bored and stuck the Super 8 camera out the car window and made movies so we'd remember them.) About nightfall, finally, Tennessee. About 2 am, on the other side of the mountains, we made it home. My white Tom cat, Frosty, met us on the porch and actually cried. 

Six hours later I started high school on the third day of school.
© Bill Dutfield

This year on my Dad's birthday my sister Lydia said, "I again remember how thankful I am to have had a dad with an adventurous spirit, a Rand McNally and a camper." Thanks for reminding me too, Lydia. 

I love gardening because of that botanical garden. I can still read a map. I understand DC vs. AC electricity. I remember the beautiful blue mosaic tile on the Iran exhibit. I remember the beautiful flowers of Ottawa and the St. Lawrence River in Montreal. If I am scared I think about the roar of Niagara Falls and how powerful it is - and so am I.

I don't remember hardly anything from 9th grade. And. Funny enough, I don't remember the Erie Canal. But I do remember it's an important part of this country's history.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thursday's Story: Ree and Christmas

Thursday's Story
I was in the stores today. They were pulling out Christmas "stuff" - Santa-shaped platters and sparkly baubles... potholders that light up and play Rudolf.... So much will end up - if not in the landfill - in the thrift shop come January.
It made me think about 'Ree - Marie Whitmire - the little wiry, sweet, tough and funny red-haired mountain lady that took care of me and my sisters and brother when we were growing up.
She never looked a day older that 14. There was always a look of joy on her face - in seeing the sun shine, the chickens set, the beds made - babies well fed.
After I went to college I'd come home to the mountains for Christmas and first thing, I'd go see 'Ree. When I asked her what she wanted me to get her for Christmas, likely as not she would say, "Your moma is getting me a chicken so I can make a pot of chicken and dumplings. I don't need a thing!"
I finally learned to stop asking. I'd bring her Arnold Coconut Macaroons and a scarf I'd knitted or a quilted vest - something warm. She lived in a cabin on the top of "Blue Ridge" - one of the world's beautiful spots - and the wind always blows there. And she loved coconut.
I can smell the wood smoke and flannel now. She cooked on a wood cook stove.... She'd give me a bowl of pintos and corn bread and hand me a big spoon - I think the size of the spoon was a point of pride.
After supper we'd listen to Country and Western records with her son Charles. Between Loretta Lynn and Conway and Bill Monroe her husband Stein would be telling stories. He knew everything and everybody.
And 'Ree was always piecing a quilt - pulling small colorful scraps of fabric from a black Hefty bag taller than her, stitching by hand. Me and my sisters all sewed back then. There was an never ending supply of scraps... 'Ree sewed them into quilts one stitch after another.
Now as I spread a quilt on the bed I recognize a skirt I made, a niece's jumper, my sister's Easter dress... tiny stitches... I have two quilts from 'Ree and two from Aunt Myrtle - they are my prized possessions.
Today. As I looked at the Christmas Kleenex and Christmas Oreos and Christmas bell-shaped-Jello molds... I knew I didn't need any of that to have a happy Christmas.
I'd love a bowl of pintos. A big spoon to eat them with. The smell of woodsmoke, flannel and hot cornbread. Chet Atkins on the stereo. Stein telling stories. Ree piecing a quilt... .
I hope your Christmas is everything you want it to be - and coconut macaroons.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thursday Story Planting Corn

Thursday's Story: Planting Corn
by Cynthia Raxter 

My dad grew up along the French Broad River in Brevard NC, on a dairy farm. He was the oldest son of 14 children - born 1921. They farmed in the spring and summer and logged in the winter.

He said down by the river the corn field was so long, he'd plow down and back, and he'd have to have a biscuit. Twice again and it'd be time for lunch.  After lunch six more rows, and it was time to do the milking and get the chickens in.

When the days were long in the summer - like now - he'd get another row or two in before dark.

He wasn't plowing with a tractor - they worked mules. There was one Ford pickup on the farm to haul milk to town. (Daddy said he never had to mow ditch banks - his sisters - my aunts kept them cleaned out learning to drive.) All work was done by hand and with draft animals.

With mules you don't say, "Stop!" "Go!" "Turn right!" or "Turn left" - you say "whoa and giddyup" (which we all hopefully know from watching Bonanza!). To turn right you say "gee." To turn left, "haw."

"Gee and haw" was significant again just a few years ago:

I was home in the mountains, washing dishes with my mom. My dad was in the den. And my Jack Russel, Rascal, sneaked in despite the "no dogs in the house" rule.

Daddy wanted to read the newspaper. She wanted attention. She kept trying to jump in his lap and he kept fussing, "Rascal get off of me!" "RASCAL you're messing up my newspaper!" "Stop it RASCAL!!!"

After about five minutes, I looked at my mom and rolled my eyes and wiped the soapy water off my hands. Jack Russels - the more excited you get the more excited they get! And my father was past red-faced mad.

"Daddy Daddy Daddy! You have to say 'Rascal down!'" Rascal immediately stopped spring-jumping off the ottoman, and plopped her little bottom on the rug, and looked at me! "Okay Mom! WHAT WE DOING NEXT?"

This just made my father madder. "What's wrong with saying 'Get off of me!!!!'???"

How could I explain this? "Daddy, Rascal doesn't speak English. It's like... like... the mules on the farm... to go right or left..."

He finished my sentence, " say gee or haw!" He laughed. "You've taught her some English words! She's does what you say... Well! Most of the time!"

I laughed too. And realized for the first time in a long time, me and my father were talking - not just butting heads.

From then on when I was up home, I was showing Dad Rascal's new tricks. Then he'd take her to the feed store or the post office and show the fellers. Those years - me, him, Rascal - before Parkinson's took over... well... that time was golden.

Later, I started telling stories to children. The "gee and haw" stories and one more always seemed to be told together. Finally I realized, this last story was when my dad and his father learn to talk to each other - not just butt heads:

My father was planting corn in that long cornfield. Two kernels in a hole - a hand-width apart. Two kernels in a hole - a hand-width apart. Two kernels in a hole.... Can you imagine how long it would take a 10 year old boy to plant that field of corn? He got about halfway across and he dropped the bag of seed.

It was 1931 - the Depression - and they still had to spend money to buy seed corn.

Corn doesn't breed true. Field corn will cross with sweet corn. When it does, your field corn will rot in the silo, and your Silver Queen will be too tough to knaw.

Give my dad credit - he was only 10! "I picked it up... well, most of it." And what kernels were left he covered over and ruffled up the dirt so none would be wiser.

But we all know what happened. Spring! "And the sun comes out and dries up all the rain...."

When Papa walked in the barn my dad said he knew he was in trouble before Papa even spoke.

"Come with me, Calvin."

Across the farmyard and the old farm road and over the fence into that big old cornfield. And, there. In the middle. A hundred corn plants were growing up in a wad.

Daddy said Papa didn't whoop him, he didn't chastise him - he just looked at him and said real quiet, "Calvin, learn yourself good: no matter where you go and what you do, your sins shall find you out."

c. 2012 cynthia kay raxter