After I graduated college, Mom and I decided to take a road
trip to see Grandma. I asked Grandma if
Willow, my cat, could come along.
Grandma didn’t have pets, but she reluctantly agreed to let Willow
visit. With everyone packed into my Ford
Escort, we were off and running. Willow
decided the best place to ride was standing in my lap with her front paws on
the steering wheel.
A couple of hours into the trip, while speeding down the
highway, the car suddenly lost power. Utilizing
the last bits of momentum the car had, I maneuvered to the side of the road. Turning the key didn’t do any good – she was
dead. Of course, this was before cell phones. We decided that Mom would stay with the car
and Willow. I saw a house through the
trees and gathering my courage, started down into the ditch. I managed to scale the road fence and slogged
through the tall grass and brush to the house.
Knocking on the door, I hoped I would make it back to the car unscathed. A nice lady answered and after explaining my desperate
situation, let me in to use her phone. I
called a local tow company and told them where to find us. Traipsing back to the car, I assured Mom help
was on the way. Soon enough, the tow
truck pulled up and loaded the car. I stuffed
Willow into her carrier and all four of us squeezed into the cab of truck. The driver dropped us off at the nearest
mechanic. After taking a look, the
mechanic declared that I would need a new timing belt (that is what I assumed)
and that I should change the water pump too.
A quick call to Dad, determined that the water pump was not necessary,
so we had them replace only the timing belt.
Mom, Willow and I waited in the dingy waiting area and after a couple of
hours, we were back on the road.
After a long, exhausting day, it was a welcome relief to
pull into Grandma’s driveway. She wanted
to hear all about our adventure while she dished up a hot meal for us. We played Rummy Cube, which required agility
to dodge the occasional tile that went airborne, when frustration set in with
Grandma. She also like to play Sequence,
where she would click her tongue and say, “Everything looks like it’s going
Democratic”, when she didn’t get the cards she needed.
Willow behaved beautifully at her house. Grandma said she was OK for a cat, but then
one morning, I got up early and heard Grandma talking in the kitchen. I tiptoed out and peered around the
corner. There was Grandma petting and
cooing to Willow, who was just eating it up.
I tried to convince Grandma that she should get a cat, but it was a
firm, “No.” However, Willow was welcome anytime.
When we started back home, it was a beautiful sunny day. The windows were cracked, fresh air blowing
through the car. Willow was fast asleep,
Mom and I chatting, when all of a sudden she yelled, “Cherries, there is a sign
for cherries! Get off at the next exit!”
Swerving off the highway, we followed the signs to the roadside
stand. Mom darted out of the car with
her pocketbook and was already dipping into the bag of sweet cherries before
she reached the car.
Back on the highway, with the bag sitting between us, a
cherry pit spitting contest ensued. But to make it challenging you had to spit
it out the opposite front window – passenger – out the driver’s window, driver –
out the passenger window. Not exactly conducive
to a 100% safe driving environment but very entertaining, especially when you
missed and hit the other in the side of the head. I was picking cherry pits out from between
the seats of my car for six months.
We continued this annual pilgrimage until I married. The good times and giggles from our trips were
recounted at many a family gathering.
Today on Mother’s Day, I continue to remember it fondly, but I sure do
wish I had one more opportunity to ping Mom in the side of the head with a
cherry pit and hear her laugh.
I have been obsessed lately with making fabric yo-yos. Not
sure what the end product will be, but the repetition of cutting circles,
placing small stitches around the perimeter and pulling the thread tight to
create a small flower like bundle has been soothing to me lately.
I have stacks of fabric waiting to be transformed – the
finished pile keeps growing. Browns,
blues, greens, reds – each with its own delicate pattern. As I work my way through the stack, each
fabric can transport me to a time in the past when I created a project using a
similar (or sometimes the same) color or pattern.
When I was little, my mother was the creator – sewing,
knitting – she was always working on a project for one of us. My clothes were either handmade by her or
they came from the huge Sears catalog that would arrive in the mail each summer
and winter. I would sit for hours
leafing through the pages, picking out which Garanimals I wanted for back-to-school
clothes. But my favorites were the
outfits that she made for me.
On my first day of kindergarten, I proudly wore the blue pull
over sweater that she had knitted. It
had a hood and a pouch on the front, where I could stash my treasures. I wore it every day that I could, that year,
and then the next and the next. As I
outgrew it, she made me a new one and I continued to wear a version of it
throughout my elementary school career.
Mom also made herself three smocked hats of different colors, blue,
yellow and pink and had some material left over so she made a tri-color hat for
me and we could often be seen in the summer time wearing our matching hats. I would wear my hat with the color in the
front to mirror whatever hat she was wearing at the time. I always called it my hat of many colors. It still sits perched on my closet shelf,
welcoming me each time I open the door.
When I was old enough, Mom had me join a 4-H sewing club. Each season, I needed to sew an outfit from
start to finish. At the end of the
season, there would be a fashion show for family and friends at the fairgrounds,
where I had to walk the catwalk, while one of the 4-H leaders read a
description of my outfit. Mom and I
battled each year to get the chosen project completed, as she was just as much
of a stubborn perfectionist as I am.
Each stitch needed to be perfect.
As I approached high school
graduation, I couldn’t find a dress to wear, so Mom offered to make me
one. I can remember going to JoAnn’s and
picking out the pattern and the fabric.
It was yellow taffeta with a lace overlay. To me, it was the most beautiful dress I had
ever had. When I went to the school for
graduation and walked in, my friends ran over to me and wanted to know, “Where
did you get that dress? It is so beautiful.” The amazed looks on their faces when I told
them that my Mom had made it was so special.
When my mother passed away, my father
encouraged me to take on her large stash of fabric, yarn and unfinished projects. They sat tucked away in boxes in our basement
until last year, when my husband had our three-season porch converted into a craft
room. It has provided me with the
opportunity to not only finish all of her projects, but to explore new creative
paths. And the yo-yo pile keeps expanding…..
first time I met him I was standing with my parents in the shop of the car
dealership where my brother worked. My
brother had recently graduated high school and moved nearly six hours away to
start a new life in the wilds of Northern Michigan. In the midst of the bitter
winter, we had ventured there to see him and the big annual snowmobile race
that was a huge town wide event. As we
waited for my brother to finish his shift, I will never forget the mingling
smell of gas and oil and then the sound of this voice, “Hey Tony”. I looked up and saw this solid, blonde,
gregarious guy striding toward us. Quickly hiding behind my brother and
clutching his pant leg, I peeked out as he shook hands with my Dad. With a big smile and a booming voice, he
chatted for a few minutes as I stood frozen, trying to focus on him with my one
second time I met him, I was at my Mom’s office working on homework, waiting
for her day to end. A familiar voice
echoed down the hallway. He burst into
the office area and bantered with my Mom as I tried to slump down in my chair
and disappear. He noticed me and strode
over, wondering what I was doing, peering over my shoulder. I sat mute, unable to do more than nod and
avert my eyes. Chuckling, he moved on
and I breathed a sigh of relief. After
that, whenever I visited Mom at work, I kept a keen ear out for his voice. Upon hearing him, I would quickly dive under
Mom’s desk, hiding there until the coast was clear.
graduating college, I was getting my hair cut when he came into the salon. With my hair disheveled, he didn’t recognize
me. As the hair stylist snipped my hair,
he chatted with her, talking about his recent divorce. I quietly listened, absorbing the details he
shared and feeling so horrible for him.
When I was done, I stopped to see Mom and told her about seeing him and
how sad he was.
few months later, my friend Mary, convinced me to go out to a local bar. I was never a drinker and had probably been
in a bar once or twice in my life, but she insisted we go out and listen to the
house band. We entered the noisy, hazy
atmosphere and found a table. As we glanced
around to see if we recognized anyone, Mary squealed.
look, there’s my cousin”
“Where?”, I said.
by the pool tables, see the one who just stood up.”
she finished her sentence, he turned around and I am sure my mouth dropped open
in shock. It was “him”. Mary stood up and waved at him, beckoning him
over to our table. Just like all those
years ago, he strode across the floor with confidence, closing the gap between
us. Grabbing a nearby chair, he whipped it around and sat down, resting his
arms on the back. He was wearing a white
t-shirt and I couldn’t stop staring at his muscular arms, bulging out from the
Mary, who’s your cute friend?”, as his eyes looked me up and down.
is Sandy”, she said.
at him, I stammered out, “You know my mom, Peggy.”
eyes widened, “What? No way. She and I were just talking about you. She told me I should give you a call and now
here you are.”
spent the rest of the night, dancing and talking. As the bar put out last call, he offered to
take Mary and I out to breakfast at the local casino. Not wanting to say goodbye, I agreed and off
we went, dragging Mary along as a chaperone.
We enjoyed a hearty breakfast and as we parted, he asked for my phone number.
I nervously slipped it to him and drove Mary home. As I pulled up to my house, the sun was
rising over the river. I got out, closed
my eyes and tipped my face up to the sun and breathed in the fresh air. I wondered – will he call?
The summer I turned fifteen, I decided to spend a week at my
Grandma’s house, before summer harvest season started. My first step was to convince my
parents. The second was to find a way to
transport myself there and back, as her house was about 300 miles away. An awfully long distance when one doesn’t
have a driver’s license. My aunt and
uncle had a cabin about halfway between our house and Grandma’s. They were there most weekends in the summer,
so Mom and I left early one morning and she dropped me off in their care. Aunt and Uncle then safely delivered me to
Grandma’s doorstep, where I was greeted with one of her famous hugs that left
you breathless but feeling so immensely loved.
A few red lipstick kisses later and she was settling me into her guest
Grandma had a grand time spoiling me. She always made me my favorites – Campbell’s
chicken noodle soup with Club crackers for lunch and for supper, pork chops
with scalloped potatoes. We puttered in
her yard and I helped her with a few projects that required a young person’s
balance and dexterity. We went shopping
at the mall and saw “Silverado” at the theater.
Church attendance was mandatory where we sat in “her seat” and all of
her friends stopped by to admire “What a fine young lady I had grown into” and “Aren’t
you lucky to have your granddaughter visit”.
Every night I would slip between the cool percale sheets and snuggle my
head into the familiar feather pillow.
Mom and Dad had arranged for me to take the Greyhound bus
back home and all too soon the day I had to return was upon us. I was
nervous as Grandma dropped me off at the stop where I would board. The bus driver checked my bag and give me a small
paper ticket to clutch. I had a satchel
with books, drinks and snacks, courtesy of Grandma. One last hug and kiss and I trepidatiously
climbed on the bus. I found a seat next
to a window, close to the front and kept my eyes forward and downward, as the
bus lurched onward.
The bus stopped often at small stations to pick up others as
we traveled westward to Grand Rapids. I
would have a lay over there and would need to switch buses to continue
north. Pulling into the large bustling
bus station, I followed the crowd off the bus and waited for my luggage to be
unloaded. Grabbing it, I went inside to
the ticket counter and asked the kind looking lady behind the glass when my bus
would arrive, “1:00 sweetie, you can have a seat out there and just listen. They will call when it is time to board.” I found a seat in the enormous, echoing waiting
area and kept my luggage close to me. Grandma’s
dinks caught up with me and with some time to spare, I began to search for the restroom. I tugged on the stall door, but it wasn’t
budging. This country girl found herself
staring at something she had never seen before, a pay toilet. Not knowing what to do, I went back to the smiling
lady at the ticket counter and she slipped me a token, “Here you go,
that taken care of, my bus was called and I repeated the boarding process again
but now with confidence.
Relaxing a bit, I settled back and enjoyed the view out the
window as we rumbled along the country roads.
I even chatted with a couple of people, sharing where we were from and
where we were going. The bus pulled into
a small restaurant for a dinner break.
Everyone shuffled off the bus and found a table for a quick bite, then
back on for the last leg of the trip. It
was dark when we crossed the Mackinac Bridge, but as always, the lighted span revealed
I was close to home. A few minutes
before midnight, we pulled into town.
Mom was waiting for me.
Exhausted, I climbed into the Chevette and fell asleep, grateful for the
adventure and more grateful to be safe at home.
Marie was my best friend in elementary school. She had jet black curly hair and her parents had immigrated from Eastern Europe. Where I was plain and insecure, she was exotic and confident. We would spend hours in her room, listening to Kiss records and sharing secrets. Typical pre-teens, we viewed our parents as unfair and over bearing.
One day, when we both had arguments with our parents, she hatched a plan to run away. We would escape our parents rules and go out on our own. We lived about four miles apart and she decided each of us would sneak out after dark and meet at the designated halfway point.
That night I ate dinner with my family as usual but not much made it down. It is difficult to swallow when your stomach is fluttering with apprehension. I had been preparing over the last few days, gathering the items I would need for a new life – snacks, a change of clothes, my favorite book (Little House on the Prairie) and a flashlight. I put everything into a black trash bag, so if anyone caught me leaving the house, I could just lie and say I was taking out the trash.
Tip-toeing out the door, I paused to say goodbye to my dog, Taffy and then walked down the driveway to the barn. In the inky darkness of the barn, I wrestled my Schwinn 10 speed out the door. Since we were traveling at night, I figured I could lash a flashlight to the handlebars of my bike. The light kept slipping and falling, no matter how much rope I used. As my frustration grew, the darkness began to envelop me. The excitement began to wear off and my anxiety and fear of the dark took over. I threw my bike back in the barn, snatched up the garbage bag and sprinted back to the safety of the house. Breathless, I breached the back door and skidded into the kitchen. My mother stood there with a puzzled look on her face, but never said a word. I scurried up the stairs to my room and slammed the door. I had failed my friend, now she was out there on her own – wondering where I was. I sat on the floor sobbing until I finally fell asleep from exhaustion.
I went to school the next morning, fully expecting that Marie’s seat would be empty. But there she sat, acting as if nothing was wrong. She just glanced at me and smiled. We never spoke about the failed plan again.
I matured that day, my innocence gone, I became more guarded. I realized that even if someone calls themselves your friend, their true intentions may not have your best interest at heart. The experience became a lesson learned, adding to the skills I have gathered over the years that allow me to evaluate situations I find myself in. Hopefully, I listen to that inner voice that guides me in the right direction. I know that day my inner voice directed me in the right place – back to the warmth and safety of my home.
I started the website – www.kittensandcows.com – to help capture and memorialize the stories that roll around in my head. Everybody has a story to tell. We have all suffered through challenges and rejoiced in the good times. Every milestone and moment in our lives transforms us, perhaps directs us down a different path. When my mother passed away three years ago, I realized that she had so many more stories to tell. Stories that are now lost. As a tribute to her, I wanted to use this forum to share not only some of her stories but my own journey as well.
As I approach two years of travels down this reminiscing trail, I want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement. It is through my friends and family that I have been able to persevere and push through self-doubt, writer’s block and wondering if I was sharing too much or too little. While I have been trying to stick to a sequential order to each tale, I am going to move forward with a mixture of posts from different times in my life. I have recently reached the half century mark and it has brought me to a place of reflection – of not only the past but of the future. Thank you all and stay tuned for some new and hopefully engaging stories.
Baling Hay. Those two words cause my skin to prickle and start to itch. Sweat drips from places I never knew it could. Even with my mastery of most other farm chores, I never ran the balers. We had two balers – one for smaller square bales and one for the large round bales. After finishing filling the silo, we would start square baling. Our baler was different than most in the area, as it had a bale thrower on it that would shoot the bales out the back and into the hay wagon attached behind it. Take a turn too quick and whoosh, the bale would go flying through the air and land in the field. These stragglers would then need to be picked up and loaded into the wagon.
Once the wagons were loaded, they were hauled to the nearest barn, where the tall hay elevator waited. The elevator slowly transported the bales from the wagon to the hay mow in the barn but not without a lot of human effort. One person would unload the wagon, bale by bale, placing them on the elevator and another would be in the haymow awaiting the bales delivery up the steep slope. Each position had its own pros and cons. The one on the wagon had a chance to feel an occasional breeze on their chaff covered skin, but they were working under the hot sun blazing down on them and risked injury pulling the bales out of the stack. Pull the wrong one and it would end up looking like a bad game of Jenga – usually with your body pinned up against the sides of the wagon. The one in the hay mow was out of the sun, but there was rarely a whiff of air, breathing in only the air that was full of hay chaff. There was also pressure to keep up with pace, making sure to stack the bales correctly so they would stay upright, layer after layer. I excelled at unloading the wagons – so much that my brother would often poke his head out of the mow to tell me to slow down. Every summer, I would wear through a pair of leather gloves and grow large calluses on my hands as the baler twine and hay hooks took their toll.
It was hard work, but it made me tough and strong – you were taught to never quit until the job was done. I was bullied a lot in high school until one day when one of my teachers told the guys who were giving me a hard time – “You don’t want to mess with her. She lifts fifty pound bales over her head all day – taking you out wouldn’t be that difficult for her.” The hay bales were a piece of cake compared to the 100# feed sacks I used to throw around. As momma always said, “Don’t underestimate a woman – especially a quiet one”.
Wednesday was auction day. The famer down the road had a cattle truck and on Wednesday’s he would pick up cows in the area and take them to the auction a couple of hours away. His truck would rattle into the yard right after we finished milking and we would drive the wild beasts onto the truck, hopefully without any incident. On a warm Wednesday, he arrived and as he lowered down the ramp, a beautiful doe eyed Jersey cow blinked slowly at me as her eyes adjusted to the sudden sunlight. She was a young heifer and before I knew what was happening, the wheeler dealer farmer, said to me, “Isn’t she cute? I hate to send her to auction. How about you save her the trip?” Looking back over my shoulder at my Dad, he instantly knew that the heifer had found a new home. “Take her off the truck”, he directed. She darted down the ramp, unaware of the fate we had saved her from.
I settled her into her own pen in the barn until we could give her a once over and have the vet check her out. Much to our surprise, the vet declared that we would soon have TWO Jersey cows, but otherwise she was fit. We put her out into the field with the other cows awaiting their deliveries and she quickly developed a commanding personality – demanding attention and giving you a swift head butt if you tried to ignore her. Later that summer, she delivered her calf, who looked exactly like a small fawn, minus the white spots. That one Jersey cow (and her offspring) expanded our herd of Jersey cows until he had a good mixture of both Holsteins and Jerseys. The Jersey’s were smaller in stature and looked innocent enough with their big black eyes and smooth brown coat, but they never backed down from pushing their way through the herd to get what they wanted – whether it was a mouthful of silage or the human attention they craved so much.
Once the fields were ready to start harvesting, we filled the silo first. The mixture of timothy and clover was ideal for silage that would feed the cows through the winter. The first step was prepping the silo – cleaning out any leftover silage, checking the machinery that was inside the silo and also opening up the access hatches at the top. This required scaling the outside of the silo, with only a small wire cage between yourself and a rather far fall. It was definitely not OSHA approved. My brother was not afraid of heights, so he always volunteered to take the treacherous journey, both in the spring and in the fall, to close the hatches.
At any one time we had two to three silage wagons and the wagons would rotate between the fields and the farm, where they would be emptied into the silo. This was by far one of the most labor intensive activities on the farm, as ideally it required a minimum of three people – one to chop the silage and fill the wagons in the field, one to transport the wagons back and forth to the farm, and one to unload the wagons into the silo.
At first, I transported the wagons back and forth – hauling a full one, them bringing back an empty one. My mother like running the blower at the base of the silo – the wagon had self-emptying (most of the time) equipment, that would slowly move the load towards the front of the wagon, a little at a time. Then a set of rotating beater bars across the front of the wagon would chew into the heavy load and dump down into the chute. The blower would then send the silage up the enclosed chute on the outside of the silo and into the silo where it ever so slowly built up. As the silage compacted in the silo, it began to ferment and would eventually become the pungent feed that would sustain the cows during the winter. Emptying the wagons and running the blower had its risks as there were several power take off shafts and moving parts that if you were careless for just a moment could cause great bodily harm.
So I hauled wagons back and forth – empty, full, empty, full. Until one day we were shorthanded and not wanting me to take on the dangerous job of emptying the wagons, I was tasked with filling the wagons. Unlike mowing or raking, chopping the silage involved a tractor, a chopper and a wagon – three implements all attached at once. I had ridden on the tractor with my Dad while he chopped and had watched him from afar, so I had a general idea on the intricacies of the machine and how to maneuver such a long train of farm equipment. So in true farm fashion, I was given a ten minute lesson on the ground about the equipment, what to watch out for and what could go wrong.
I climbed aboard the big tractor with Dad by my side and started both the tractor and then the power take off that started the chopper behind me. The chopper had a chute at the back similar to a snow blower that would direct the silage into the wagon. This is where multi-tasking is critical – by pulling levers and ropes, I would need to move the chute periodically in order to fill the wagon completely and evenly, while driving the tractor along the rows of cut grass as the chopper scooped them up. So I was constantly looking back and forth – keeping an eye on where I was going and when did I need to turn and also on the chopper and wagon behind me and its progress.
After a few rounds around the field, Dad jumped off and took up a full wagon, leaving me alone. My confidence grew with each pass through the field and only a couple of times, did I forget to change the trajectory of the chute as I made a turn, watching as the precious grass was blown out into the field instead of the wagon.
With my successful training, I now could place this new skill in my pocket and many days, I would both cut the grass and then chop it – switching back and forth between tasks in order to get the silo filled as quickly as possible.
Our original herd of Holsteins all had names (and tag numbers). Hippo was #19. As her name indicates she was a large cow. Her first calf on the farm was a bull. Normally, we shipped most of the bull calves to the market, but we kept this one and he became our resident steer. We named him Potamus (Hippo – Potamus – yes, we thought we were very clever).
Hippo’s second calf was a heifer. I had shown an interest in showing calves in 4-H, and my Dad thought this new heifer would make a good show calf. I named her Snipper. I set about raising her, just as I did with the rest of the calves. I spent extra time with her so she was especially comfortable with humans. I brushed her and then as became friends, I started halter training her. After a few weeks, she was able to walk around in the barnyard with her halter and lead, following me like a dog.
Snipper and I
My Dad discovered that she had an umbilical hernia, so on a warm spring day the vet arrived to perform surgery on her right in the barn. He gave her something to sleep and we propped her up on her back between two square bales, legs sticking in the air. Doc quickly cut her open and sewed the hernia closed. Placing her in a pen, where she could safely wake up from the anesthesia, I waited next to her until she was awake and able to stand on her own.
Snipper never made it to the show ring as my interest waned in wanting to join 4-H, but she stayed on the farm, joined the milking herd and gave us several healthy heifers. Her halter training proved to be beneficial whenever we needed to lead the herd to a new field. We would just throw the halter on her and have her lead the rest. She had an incessant need for attention. If you turned your back on her, she would head butt you, trying to get you to pet her. She loved hugs and getting her head scratched .
When a cow was no longer productive or was unable to have calves, we would ship them to market. But when Snipper’s milking days were done, she avoided the immediate fate of her herd mates. Due to her status as my favorite cow, she was allowed to live in the “dry cow” field with the other cows who were not milking as they awaited the birth of their calf. She lived there for several years, being the boss cow and looking out for the young ones. I was at college when I got a call from the family. Snipper had developed cysts on her ovaries, which put her into a hormone imbalance. With this imbalance, she became aggressive and after charging my sister-in-law one day, Dad made the hard decision to ship Snipper off to market.
Snipper provided me not only with companionship, but also taught me perseverance, responsibility and how to cope with loss. We had great memories together and when I tell people that I used to have a pet cow, I relish the funny look I receive.