Monday, March 28, 2011

About 90 Degrees

Our old house in Clifton had (still has) a very steep roof; if it isn't 90 degrees, it's not much less than that. Many years ago, sections of it had to be repaired. Lorraine and Pauline were probably grown by then, so that would put me around 13 years of age. That's the only reason I can think of why my dad would ask someone as terrified of heights as I am to assist him with this job. Now, when my dad, on rare occasion, asked for direct help, you immediately understood that you were honored to be asked to help (Huh, Bill?) That fact aside, you knew he'd be out there doing it on his own anyway if you had ever thought to say no, which you wouldn't.

I remember he had us wear those zip-up coveralls, so clothing would have less chance of getting caught on something and hurting us. I remember him nailing several 2x 4's horizontally on the roof for some foot leverage here and there. No doubt we climbed up via ladder, but I don't remember that part. He gave serious instructions, such as "if the hammer starts to fall, don't move to go after it. We can get it later." He told me to lay against the house and stick to it as closely as possible while sliding my feet along the board slowly. Duh. You couldn't have scraped me off with a Bowie knife. The only way to do this was to flatten your coveralled-self against the roof like a big bug on a windshield, use your hands to find missing tiles and somehow nail them to the roof.

N E V E R * L O O K * D O W N!

It might have only taken us an hour or so to do this, and I'm sure he would liked to have done a better job, but somehow we finished the repairs and climbed down safely. As far as I know, no one has repaired it again. A couple of years later, he needed some help building the milk room out of galvanized steel. The nails for that had heads covered with some fairly soft metal. He could get one in with one or two whaps. I beat those heads to a pulp every time. He would get them in perfectly at the right angle. I mainly learned how to pull them out and try again. He nailed up at least 20 to my 1. It would have been easier for him if he'd sent me to do some other farm thing, but that probably wasn't the point.

He was very impressed with my tenaciousness in tearing down the old chicken coop and calf areas. Once he blew the permission whistle, I spent hours each day sledge-hammering it, pulling it, kicking it, bending it, dragging it, pounding on it, etc. That coop represented to me the evil of bullying. Some poor little chicken would get their drink from a place that iced over in the winter, and the ice would stick around one chicken's neck, pulling off some feathers. Then the other chickens would sense the weakness and come pick at the the poor thing til it got weaker and just died. With every yank, I remembered that injustice and wanted to make sure that that would not happen again, at least in one place in the world. No more bullying!

Also, there is not enough money in the entire world to get me back up on a rooftop.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Gruffs

I would often tell my Dad fairy stories, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, the Three Red Riding Hoods...oh wait, only ONE Red Riding Hood. He acted like he hated those stories, which just made me tell the longest versions possible. One of those stories was The Three Billy Goats Gruff. (Read through to the end for a surprise.)

This is where the youngest Gruff kid would cross the bridge, "Trip, trap, trip, trap!" over the bridge.

"Who's that tripping over my bridge?" roared the troll .

"Oh, it is only I, the tiniest Billy Goat Gruff , and I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat," said the billy goat, with such a small voice.

"I'm coming to gobble you up," said the troll.

"Oh, no! Please don't eat me. I'm much too little," said the billy goat. "Wait a bit til the second Billy Goat Gruff comes along. He's much bigger."

"Well, be off with you," said the troll.

A little while after that came the second Billy Goat Gruff to cross the bridge.

Trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap, over the bridge.

"Who's that tripping over my bridge?" roared the troll.

"Oh, it's the second Billy Goat Gruff, and I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat," said the billy goat, who hadn't such a small voice.

"I'm coming to gobble you up," said the troll.

"Oh, no! Don't eat me. Wait a little til the big Billy Goat Gruff comes. He's much bigger than I."

"Very well! Be off with you," said the troll.

Just then along came the big Billy Goat Gruff .

Trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap! over the bridge, for the billy goat was so heavy that the bridge creaked and groaned under him.

"Who's that tramping over my bridge?" roared the troll.

"It is I! The big Billy Goat Gruff," said the billy goat, who had an ugly hoarse voice of his own.

"I'm coming to gobble you up," roared the troll.

"Well, come along!" said the Biggest Billy Goat Gruff (In today's vernacular, that would be "Bring It!") Then the biggest Billy Goat Gruff charged the Troll, knocking him into the air with his big horns, where the Troll landed in the river and was never seen again! (The End)

On my parent's farm in Clifton, there is a REAL troll bridge. No, not a toll bridge...a troll bridge. I couldn't tell you exactly where, as I've repressed that memory. Jason and Jared used to go to Clifton for a couple of weeks in the summer to "help" on the farm. They also have passed over this authentic troll bridge, with their Grandpa. Jared and I were discussing this a few nights ago. You would have to pass through a barbed-wired fence up behind the barn (going West) and follow Dad, who would soberly point out upon crossing the bridge, that we should stick close to him so as not to be attacked by the Troll who lived under there. He would have us look down under the bridge, and sure enough, the evidence was gripping. There under the bridge were piles of bleached bones, a scary sight even in the middle of the day.

Who knows how long it was until we found out that Dad was pulling our legs. That spot was where he deposited dead farm animals. There are probably bones lying in place under that bridge at this very moment.

I still half believe there may be a real troll wandering the hills of Clifton even to this day. He's probably hanging out with Big Foot west of town. Keep your eyes open!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I'm a fan of all types of violets.

Grandma Rice had a prolific bunch of African violets growing in her "north window". They were big plants with beautifully-colored blossoms. In fact, every time I see an African violet, I think of her. Over the years, I've probably bought ten plants and never got one to live for even a month, but I keep trying; same thing with kites and those bottles of bubbles for kids. Every time I swear 'I am not buying them ever again", but they keep making me a liar. One of our judges has a gorgeous selection of African violets. I asked her the secret, and she said you need to put them in containers made just for African violets, something like a double-potted arrangement. Of course, they're by her window on the north side of the building....

Grandma also had some tiny little violets growing around the bottom of her big bushes outside the "east window." She told me that the more you pick them, the faster they grow. That's probably not a scientific fact, and it's possible she hated them and wanted them gone, but I picked them regularly and they kept coming. They smelled as wonderful as her lilacs. She had two shades of purple lilacs and one white lilac bush. Oh my, they were fabulous! We used to put the little single lilac flowers up to our noses and inhale as long as possible (no doubt a well-developed skill from Dad's "breathing game.") As long as you sucked in, the little flowers stayed in place. Also, they had a little sweet flavor at the base of the bloom. Hummingbirds probably dreamed of visiting Grandma to taste that sweetness. She also had some Lilies of the Valley, which were fascinating.

Mother used to grow what she called Johnny Jump Ups. I thought they were baby pansies and didn't realize they were actually violets until I got some at Lowe's one year. They were beautiful all summer...and fall...and winter. They were almost indestructible. They stayed in bloom through several snowstorms. One January, they were still there and the weather hadn't been up to past freezing for weeks. I wondered if they were some psycho plant come back to haunt me. Finally they gave up, so I bought some more the next year. They shriveled and died. None of them Jumped Up at all.

The flowers that seem to do well in this soil are marigolds and petunias. They're beautiful together and flower the whole summer. Both of them smell yucky, but that's what roses are for, right?

Must have spring fever!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hello, Goodbye

403 number lights up on the screen of my cell's on vibrate since I'm at work, but for some reason I happen to glance up and recognize the Canadian prefix... my daughter calling me at 11:00 there a problem...?

I answer...

"Hi, Grandma."
"Is this Carver?"
(I wonder if he is fiddling with Mom's phone.)
"Well, hi Carver."
"My tooth came out."
"Really, the bottom one or the top one?"
"The bottom one." (Taylor in the background "I WANNA TALK TO GRANDMA!")
"Well, how neat. Are you going to put it under your pillow?"
"I already did."
"What happened?"
"Nothing yet.
Bye Grandma."

Just like his great-grandpa Rice. As the story goes, my dad would call my mother at her work before they were married, hear her say hello, say "seven" and then hang up.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On A Roll Now....

You know how things you can't remember bug you like crazy for days at a time til you find the answer? You do that reverse-psychology thing where you pretend it doesn't really matter, and then it comes back to you in the middle of the night? That's what has been happening with me trying to remember the table cloth fabric that was used to line the apple-basket for the laundry, although it hasn't come back to me yet. No doubt the cloth was used to lengthen the life of the wooden basket as well as to protect the clothing from any stains from the wood; it might even had some bug-prevention function. It was always gawdy with big fruit or flowers on it, but wallpaper and carpets and clothing were like that, too, probably an attempt to brighten up something, at least.

Well, anyway, I gave up trying to find it anywhere online and tonight called Hancock Fabrics. The young lady said they carried such a fabric and I asked her the name of it. She said it was flannel-backed vinyl. I know that is not what it was called "back when", and it runs in my mind (with many other random things) that it was made from some oil-based product. Does anyone know the original name of the fabric? You'd be doing a great public service, curing insomnia, etc. (It finally dawned on me that Pauline would probably know, so I called her. SHE KNEW! IT'S CALLED OIL CLOTH! Duh.) Thanks again, Sis!

I also remember a product called Ritz Dye which was sold at the grocery store, Sprouse Reitz, and probably Kings. It was less than a buck, and as far as I know, was not worth that. Nothing turned out the color on the package. Colleen and I tried it a few times and never found it to be anything but a swamp product. Here's the interesting thing. They still sell the stuff! There are probably people who find it their favorite product of all time. Good for them, because it wasn't me and Colleen who kept the business going.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Update: I pulled out my bottle of bluing this afternoon. It's a Mrs. Stewart's (unsmiling pioneer-looking woman) "standard of excellence since 1883" brand made in Bloomington, Minnesota. It contains 8 oz of "concentrated liquid bluing, non-toxic and bio-degradable". A few drops are all that are needed and "water should appear a light sky-blue color." Wow, it says it can be used in swimming pools, bird baths, for white hair and pets, for cleaning crystal and glass and more! It also says it can be used for science projects, scout troops, school rooms and family fun! (My guess is somebody added that and the toxic/biodegradable stuff way after Mrs. Stewart passed away to a laundromat in the sky.)

It's hard to believe now, thinking back, that laundry occupied two entire days of my mother's schedule every week, but it did. That's between cooking, washing dishes, mopping floors (especially in the winter when, if you opened the South door, the soot came back down the chimney and puffed throughout the kitchen), making bread, changing all the wallpaper every other year, raising a big garden, helping with the farm, serving her church, shopping, sewing, mending socks over a light bulb, mowing the huge yard, etc. The etc was no cinch, either.

By Tuesday, the clothes were either gathered from the line out back in the summer, or from clothes racks inside the house, in the winter. (Randy Howell and I often raced back and forth between the clothes rack while Mother ironed. We must have been as small as miniature collies back then...and as flexible as that Asian actor in Mission Impossible. It would indeed be an impossible mission these days.)

Mother would sprinkle water on the clothes (in those lined fruit baskets) prior to ironing, supposedly to help decrease the wrinkling. Keep in mind that absolutely nothing was made out of anything but cotton back then, so everything was ironed, including sheets, pillowcases, levis and handkerchiefs. Maybe towels and washclothes escaped. They were always considered "fresh" when they were hung out to dry. I don't blame the women, because it was one less thing to do. I'd have pretended to like the "freshness", too...maybe even come to actually like it, all things considered. We let Mother do almost all the ironing, but could sometimes be talked into "helping" iron some square things, like the pillowcases and handkerchiefs. I remember when she got some of those metal levi-shaper things you shoved down the leg, then stretched a bit to give the pants some shape...happy day!

Which is PRECISELY why I do NONE of these things in my own home. I loathe crispy "fresh" face-scraping towels and truly believe there is no such thing as a bath towel too luxurious or soft.

If someone said one word about their levis not being ironed, they wouldn't say it twice, there being an iron stuffed in their face. Last night Kyle and I were talking about Thurl Bailey's suit-pocket handkerchiefs. I said something about them never being used. He said, "Why would anybody use a handkerchief? How gross! Use a tissue."

You see, there has been progress over the decades in this 2-day laundry thing. First of all, they've developed fabrics that don't need ironing, even melt if ironed. It's a fairly well-known fact that if a shirt comes out of the dryer wrinkled, you just rinse it and throw it back in, maybe with a wet towel. Wash it a third time if you have a bad memory or busy schedule. If it gets to be too much work, well, Folks, it just ain't worth it. Hang it in the back of your closet or pass it on to someone who loves to iron. Or start a new style, like the corncob skirts.

I remember a college student dressed to the T, or the 9s (that means very well, to you younguns".) He gave a 2 1/2-minute talk (yes, those used to exist) about how things can appear to be something they aren't. The only other thing I remember is that he took off his jacket, and the part of the shirt that showed when he wore the jacket, still looked perfect. The rest of the shirt was trashed. So, men, you might want to consider giving an impromptu talk if you're ever caught in this predicament. Or, you could invest in one of those wonderful Mr. Mac wrinkle-free white shirts. Or wait til Thurl has a yard sale.

Anyway, hat's off to the women of yore! You taught all us other women that washers and dryers and dryer sheets are as important as toothbrushes.

And, Mother, I truly apologize.