Tag Archives: big family dynamics

The Salvagers


Yvonnes Musings

imagesMy father, a major restorer of order and tidiness to all things within his reach, had done an amazing thing for a man with his character traits. He had taken something built by someone else’s hands and torn it down. One day it stood as a testament to the hard work of the many hands that had made it, and the next day it was a scattered heap, lying across the ground.

The enormous elevated barrel— the water tower next to the CNR tracks, in nearby Strathroy, was where steam locomotives had filled their tanks with water for generations. It was no longer necessary when diesel engines took over. The tower was up for grabs, and our dad’s bid won. After careful planning and consultation with his Uncle Fred, a lifelong railroad man with many skills himself, the measurements were all worked out, and the distance of the fall was calculated…

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Plates Will Fly!


I love to write and I have taken great joy in putting pen to paper since early childhood. Perhaps I should say that in those days, in the Fifties, it was at first, a  big fat red carpenter’s pencil, stubby and flat-sided, and the paper was usually old brown grocery bags, the insides of empty cereal boxes, or anything else that was of little value. (I learned by bitter experience that wallpaper doesn’t fall into that category.)  That first pencil, I borrowed from my father, who often kept one tucked behind his ear. He used it whenever he was working on a project, to work out his measurements or put down marks where he wanted to saw next. God provided fathers with ears, not just to hear, I’m sure, but also to keep them from cursing at their children. Where else would that pencil be safe from  covetous little fingers? Well, in truth, my dad was not a cursing man anyway, but just to be on the safe side he still kept his pencil there.

Once I arrived on the scene, there were two kids in our family. By the time I married and moved out of the house, there were eight. In large families, it is always difficult to maintain ownership of any of your things for very long.

A favorite doll gets quickly adopted by a little sister (if it doesn’t lose an arm or a leg in the transaction). That first bottle of “grown-up” perfume becomes an everlasting drawer-scent at the hands of a snoopy little brother. Strangely, he fails to appreciate the karma of  rose-scented tighty- whiteys when later your dresser is exchanged for his because only the smaller one will fit into your room. That’s because there are three sisters’ beds to make space for now that the “new baby” has arrived and has ownership of the crib in Mom and Dad’s room.

Big family life can be hard. Your most treasured books end up as a pile of scissors’ fodder ( even for blunt-tipped ones, no less!) Dresses are inevitably borrowed, unasked, or even shortened, unasked, when a sister has a “really important occasion”, and the family’s finances are tight. “Lost” “snagged” “ripped” “gouged” “broken” “stained” “spilled” and “run-over”— these words are the true driving force behind a child becoming a writer. When you are young, your writing is just about the only thing that nobody else attempts to lay claim to. It is the only thing that is truly your own.

So it  was, that my love of writing evolved. I moved on to thinner, longer, yellow pencils, of course, to ancient nib pens for learning perfect handwriting “the old fashioned way”, in a one-room schoolhouse with a crotchety teacher; to refillable fountain pens with blue, black, or turquoise ink; to ballpoints; to fine-tip markers and then eventually the computer keyboard. Perhaps you noticed that I  left “typewriter” off my list? (A deliberate shunning, actually.)

My first attempt at learning to type was in Grade Ten; I was anxious and uncoordinated from the outset. It didn’t help that I was two weeks late starting classes— an accepted practice among farm families in the tobacco belt. Generally parents required their older kids’ help until the harvest was complete and the school boards accepted it. Although in all other subjects I quickly caught up, unfortunately,  in typing I never got up to speed. Literally! On my final exam I got a humiliating 26%! When I told my parents “My fingers got jammed in the keys!” in all likelihood it was a false memory of that event. It is more likely that it was actually a panic attack. But that 26% isn’t a false memory! It still appears on an aging yellow report card, in a rusty old tin box in the back of my crawl space.

 Even more traumatic than the mark was the fact that it was used to factor my academic “Final Average” for that year. This was the cause of deep mortification, and teenage angst. To this day, I sometimes use it as an excuse for the throwing of plates and silverware at my siblings.(Back then, of course, not now— I’ve finally mellowed out some.)

Like me, several of my siblings love to write and, in fact, they write very well. Sometimes they write poems, and sometimes stories of shared family history. At other times it’s simply a story to make everybody laugh, or to lift someone in particular up. And some of them write in an attempt to make things better in the world at large.

Each of my siblings mean so much to me that words cannot really express it. But just let one of them try to borrow one of my stories, and say that it was they who got bitten on the leg by Aunt Grace’s  chihuahua,  or yelled at for loudly singing a hymn in the schoolhouse bathroom, or that it was their eye that the baby robin pooped in— then plates will fly! Mark my words: Plates will fly!

An Icicle to the Heart


1186264_10151828279107022_1341115404_nYesterday Rolly and I were out and about with my beautiful 84-year-old mother. We had decided that we needed a day away, and as my mom loves the USA, land of her birth, we headed across the border at Sarnia to Port Huron, Michigan. There were no delays at the border crossing and in less than an hour we were at our first stop, a good old Dollar Tree store. We have them here too, but their deals are even better there, and in twenty minutes both Mom and I had each picked out about two dozen  miscellaneous greeting cards to stock up our stashes again. They are always only fifty cents rather than a dollar, as they are here, and the quality and variety is very good too.

Mom is like a little Miss Congeniality in her Seniors’ Complex. She is all of five foot nothing of caring, love, and compassion for those who are hurting or lonely. She is never one to forget her kids’, grandkids’ or close friends’ birthdays either, so she is always in need of cards. Some of them she sends by mail, others she gives with gifts of her homemade chocolates (or muffins for under the weather neighbours.) The bright dinosaur or animals holding balloons cards are meant for taping to gifts for her little treasures— those great grandsons, Finley, Joshua, Jacob, Ethan, and Brayden.

Another grandbaby is on the way in early May and Mom can hardly bear not know whether she should be buying a gift for a baby boy or baby girl. (Later on in our shopping excursion she buys both.) She has confessed to quizzing little Jacob, the future big brother, as to whether he is going to be getting a baby brother or a baby sister. She knows her granddaughter, Andrea, told us all that she and her husband want to be surprised. Still, Mom is so desperate to know, that she is hanging onto the remote possibility that they may have changed their minds and that by now little Jacob may have overheard something. He is not quite three, but he never forgets a thing.

I, for one, have not stooped so low as to try to pump the poor little potential stool pigeon for information. It somehow just seems wrong! Great Grandmas on the other hand are probably under some kind of special dispensation for this kind of uncontrollable behaviour—a kind of “Need to know! Need to knit!” compulsion. But then again, my mom doesn’t knit. She gave it up for lent 75 years ago and lost the knack. (There has to be some explanation for this apparent deficit in her otherwise overabundant skill set!)

Off we headed to the shoe store, where both Mom and I tried on several pairs apiece. I was able to find a great pair of brown suede boots which actually fit very well, in addition to two pairs of shoes. The much greater range of shoe widths led to almost immediate success. After a discouraging half dozen trips to London in search of anything in my elusive size it was a real victory. I can finally throw away my leaky boots! Mom is fun to shoe shop with because she is still so trendy in her fashion sense, despite her age. She likes lots of bling and a bit of a heel, and if it even hints of orthopaedic, it’s straight back into the box. No shoes for her this time, but I suspected that it was because she was hoping to spend her permitted cross-border shopping dollars on gifts for the little ones on her list. A little while later she proved my intuition entirely correct.

If the rest of the world could be so blessed, to be able to spend an afternoon every now and then with the kind of person my mom is, the pharmaceutical companies would likely go broke. There would be a whole lot less anxiety, depression, and general sadness in the population as the ratio of smiles and laughter increased. The conversations between Mom and I were both interesting and comic at times.

Mom: “Do you think an icicle could ever come down and stab you to death?”

Me: “Not unless I decide to lie down underneath the edge of that building and wait until one comes down and stabs me in the heart.”

Mom: “I don’t think I can eat spicy soup so late. I might get indigestion when I go to bed!”

Me: “But it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon Mom. What time are you planning on going to bed anyway?”

Mom: “Do these look like old lady shoes?” (She has a terrible fear of old lady shoes.)

Me: “Aaah! These are the most comfortable shoes in the world! I don’t even want to take them off!”

Mom: (only half under her breath) “Yuck!”

I had a great day yesterday, a day that was special because of the things it reminded me of. Our Mom is happiest when her kids, and her grandkids (and all of our spouses too) are happy. She knows that this one, and that one, may have their struggles and trials at times, but she counts on us supporting one another through them. That’s the way she and Dad raised us, and she is trusting us now, even though we have become large in number, to continue to do that in the same way as we always did. She takes great joy in hearing from each of us about how that is actually playing out in our lives. I for one would never want to be the one who disappoints her. It would pretty much be like that icicle stabbing me in the heart!

The Girls In Yellow Dresses

Janice and Kathy (on right)

Janice and Kathy (on right)

There is nothing better than having baby sisters. I was blessed with three of them, Jeannie,  Kathy, and Janice. I also have another treasured sister, Marsha, who is almost a year older than me as well as three younger brothers, Keith, Jim, and Don.

I wanted to write a little here about a sweet memory of my two  youngest sisters,Kathy and Janice, after I found this picture of them in their matching yellow flower girl dresses. These were the little girls who were born after I’d finally grown up enough to be able to help with baby care, which happens very young in large families.

Disposable diapers weren’t commonly used in the  50’s or early 60’s,  so changing diapers involved using those very large diaper pins which could really inflict a painful injury if not handled deftly. Our Mom was of the two-pin school of thought— one on either side, rather than just one in the front. This involved twice the risk of injury, but by placing a couple of fingers inside the diaper, between the pin and the baby, the sharp pin would always hit your fingers first, rather than the baby’s torso if you were clumsy. (It ensured a very speedy learning process!) Of course, Mom didn’t just hand us a baby and say “Go to it!” She knew that Marsha and I had already learned to be extra cautious, by pinning diapers on our own baby dolls first.

Baby bottles, in those years, were limited to those simple glass bottles with the measurements stamped into them and rubber nipples attached with plastic rings. There were no high-tech bottles containing plastic bag inserts or special tube and valve systems then, to avoid the baby sucking in a lot of air if fed improperly. So even under the best circumstances, much more frequent burping was necessary.

While it might be much easier for a five year-old today, to properly bottle-feed a baby sibling for his or her busy mother, back then we quickly learned the more complicated method in a big hurry. Our reasons were selfish. If we didn’t hold the bottle up high enough the baby would suck in and swallow air. If she swallowed air she would need to be burped a lot more often. If she wasn’t burped often enough she would scream a lot. If she screamed a lot, nobody would be having any fun! So each of us girls, in turn, learned to be little mothers to somebody younger, as the new babies came along.

The two pretty  little flower girls, in their flouncy yellow dresses, were like tiny princesses that day at our cousin Donna Lynne’s wedding. As a concession to agreeing to do the “very grown up job” of serving coffee and tea to the wedding guests, Marsha and I were each finally allowed to wear our first pair of nylon stockings. On the same day, Kathy and Janice were wearing their very last pair of fancy ruffled baby bloomers, under their bouncy crinolines.

Kathy and Janice at Donna Lynne and Reg Smith's wedding

Kathy and Janice at Donna Lynne and Reg Smith’s wedding

Marsha and I were probably as proud of them as Mom was that day. We too, felt a maternal pride in their angelic appearance and sweet conduct—and of our role in teaching them to hold their bouquets just so, and to step ever so lightly down the aisle in time to the music —neither too fast nor too slow— and to not pull off their fancy head bands because they were “Too scratchy!” or yank off their little white gloves because they were “Too tight!”

Yes, Janice Mary and Katherine Marie, I for one was very proud of both of  you on that day— just as much as I was when each of you joined me in the role of real motherhood a few decades later.

And now that you are both grandmothers… I find it almost impossible to believe, because in some ways you will always be my babies too!

Patiently Awaiting A Brother (Revised)


DocImage000000877My two youngest sisters are Kathy and Janice. They are the girls who arrived before the brother who was promised to my brother Keith— and if not actually promised, at least  maybe’d. I actually remember the way that Keith’s belief that Kathy was going to be a baby  boy began. Mummy was sitting on the kitchen table in front of the big mirror in the little kitchen of our first little white house. That way she could see herself well enough to put her hair into pin curls because she was too short otherwise. I guess Daddy hadn’t asked her to stand in front of the mirror before he hung it up, and it was too high.

All at once she said to us, as we sat on our new kitchen chairs, wearing our new pajamas while watching her twirling her hair: “I’m going to be going to the hospital soon to pick out a new baby for us.” “Can we come with you to pick one out?” Marsha asked, and Mummy told us that they don’t let children into the hospital. Keith asked if he could have a brother this time as he already had Marsha and I and Norma Jean, who was the sister who was younger than he was.Whatever Mummy said, whether it was “Maybe.” or “We’ll see.” or “I”ll try.” he took it to mean a promise and was all excited at the  prospect of getting a brother.

Marsha, Jeannie, me, Keith, and playmate Kenny on the porch where Keith ate the June bug.

Marsha, Jeannie, me, Keith, and playmate Kenny on the porch where Keith ate the June bug.

I guess he didn’t realize at the time that this brother he was expecting to get, was going to take a very long time to get big enough to share in games with him and with the plastic army men that he hadn’t buried yet. All the rest of them were under the dirt beneath the big old maple tree that grew in front of the house, the one that got hit by lightning a few months before. Keith seemed to like burying things a lot that summer. Maybe he was just copying our black dog Judy. Maybe that was the reason that he ate the June bug when he was little too, the one that was crawling across the porch by the kitchen door. Maybe he had seen a dog do that once.

Keith liked to howl like a dog sometimes too; he did that one time when we were waiting in Daddy’s red pick up truck in Melbourne, when Daddy had gone into  a store to pay a bill. After awhile a whole pack of dogs were  gathered around our truck. It was really terrible what trouble little brothers could be— even if you only had to look after one of them for a minute or two.I didn’t know how he could ever want a brother of his own so very much.Girls sure didn’t do stuff like that!

I suppose if we had noticed Mummy getting any bigger before baby Kathy arrived we would have just thought that she was just eating a lot, and growing very fast like our puppy Judy had that summer. We didn’t know anything different about babies coming than that they were picked out at the hospital. Keith, who was called Butchy when he was little, was too young to remember Norma Jean’s arrival. She was called Baby until she was much older, and then Jeannie after that, and Marsha and I will always remember everything about her coming.

Both of us had been crying a lot, especially in the last few days before our Mummy finally came back. Our Grandmother, Mum, had been staying with us, and she told us that Mummy had to stay at the hospital for awhile, because when she went there to pick a baby she got a terrible kopfschmerzen. We were glad when we found out that a kopfschmerzen was not a really cranky screaming baby but just the German word for headache.When we thought we wouldn’t be able to stand Mummy being away for a single minute longer she finally came home to us with a little bundle all wrapped up in a white fuzzy blanket.

When it was unwrapped it was wearing a lot of pink so we knew for certain it was a girl. Butchy was so little himself at the time that he couldn’t have cared less what it was— even a cat— as long as it didn’t take up more than its fair share of space on Mummy’s lap. The idea that a cat would ever be sitting  on Mummy’s lap was a silly one of course. Mummy didn’t like cats very much. She thought they only rubbed up against your legs to get rid of their fleas. When we were little we never truly believed that story because we liked to rub up against Mummy’s legs too, and even hang onto the back of them if we could. Butchy would even try to sit down on her feet, right on top of her nice warm slippers if she was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes and we knew we didn’t have any fleas!

Me, Keith, Kathy, Jeannie, and Marsha

Me, Keith, Kathy, Jeannie, and Marsha

When Mummy was off picking up the baby who turned out to be Kathy, we weren’t  moping around crying all the like we were when she was  away picking up baby Norma Jean. It might have been because we were a little older and there were more of us to keep each other busy. It might have been because we had heard this headache story not so long ago before and we remembered that at the end of it our Mother really did come home. Mummy and Daddy came in and she was carrying another white fuzzy bundle. We all came running towards her and hugged and kissed her and when she sat down in the middle of the couch and unwrapped the bundle it was  the same pink bow-covered baby doll outfit on this baby as the time before. “But it’s not a boy!” Keith said as he stood beside the couch, with his little arms at his side when Mummy asked him if he would like to climb up and sit with us and take a turn holding the baby. Then, in less time than it takes to sing Rock A Bye Baby, he was up on the couch too, and demanding his turn. As he sat and looked at her and touched the her fuzzy little head he loved her just as much as we all did.

Toddler Kathy and baby Janice

Toddler Kathy and baby Janice

Mummy brought another beautiful baby home to us after we had moved to the big house my grandparents had lived in, and they had moved into our small one next door. That was baby Janice, the baby who never hardly ever cried. Everybody was just as happy that time as they always were whenever we got a brand new sister. Even our brother Keith didn’t seem to mind when he saw all those pink bows and ribbons.

And because Keith was such a patient boy, God decided to make sure that there were enough baby boys to go around after that and he finally got his brother— two of them actually— first Jimmy, and  then Donny. That’s when he really got to know what it is like to have one of your very own.They are really a lot of work sometimes, and they break your toys and they spill your perfume, and they would rather make moats than mud pies, but I guess if you were another boy you would understand. And no matter how they act, you always love them anyway… just because they are yours.

Jimmy and Donny Stephenson on the move.

Jimmy and Donny doing “boy stuff”

The Ugly Gym Suit Strategy


DocImage000000436I was going through my meagre collection of photos of my teen years the other day when I came across the one that is attached to this post today. My brother Keith is shirtless. He has his arm around me affectionately and I am wearing a blue bandana on my head and a blue gym suit. The suit is even uglier than it was originally before my temporary alterations. I have rolled its overly abundant cap sleeves and part of the tucked-in collar into elastic band-scrunched rolls which hardly minimize the suit’s bulkiness. It is still a laundry bag-like structure with five openings for appendages to stick out of—one head, two arms, two legs. I am only wearing it in the first place to ensure that I will get a bit of a sun tan while working in the fields, replanting tobacco.There was no way I was going to risk ruining my one and only swim suit, a snazzy two piece sailor suit of sorts—with a short white pleated skirt, a blue waist band, and an anchor-embossed red top. It was the polar opposite to this monstrosity, but working with the big

My sister Marsha in same suit.

My sister Marsha in same modified gym suit.

heavy hand planters which dispensed part of the water that they carried, and a new plant into the dirt wherever we needed to replace one that had died was heavy, dirty work— So much for keeping the white part white and the rest snag free if I had chosen to wear it to keep my tan lines in all the right places whenever I happened to don it at the beach. That would be just plain dumb, and a total waste of many weeks of saved allowance. Other more practical clothes were always provided for, but choosing a two piece over the plain old boring ones that were Mom’s picks had cost me.

Replacing it using my own money would have been just about as painful as it was to have to ask my parents for the money to buy that ugly blue gym suit at the beginning of grade nine. Money was very scarce in those years, and I resented the outlay of our family’s cash. I also resented having to put the time into embroidering my name on the back of it in the midst of our busy harvest season which coincided with the return to school. Just in case any of us girls might have been tempted to cheat, by falling back on our mothers to embroider our names on the back of them for us, in the large gold script requested in keeping with our school colours, our first classes in grade nine Home Economics were on embroidery — chain stitch, back stitch, satin stitch, cross stitch— enough to get the job done anyhow. Home Ec was compulsory for all girls at Strathroy District Collegiate Institute School then, and Miss Dunlop would be checking our handiwork. As soon as we gathered for our first Phys Ed classes in our newly emblazoned suits it was obvious that our Phys Ed teacher had either been sadistic in ordering them all several sizes too large, or she had been compassionate in her desire to avoid causing any further expense, as many of the girls, like me, had come from large farms families. They would certainly fit us until we graduated, regardless of whether we were in a four or a five year program, what with a gym class three time a week and junk food as yet not much of an issue in the 60’s .

Obviously the ugly gym suit didn't work. I married my high school sweetheart,the guy in the centre at the back.

Obviously the ugly gym suit didn’t work. I married my high school sweetheart,the guy in the centre at the back.

Perhaps the fact that everyone’s suit was so huge, regardless of the size we ordered it in, was because it came with a generous excess of fabric built right into it. Maybe it was a ridiculous attempt on the part of school administrators in Ontario to ensure that teenaged girls remained absolutely devoid of feminine allure while exercising. Otherwise the teenaged boys being screamed at in the neighbouring field to “Get those knees up!” or “Give me twenty!” might be driven into hormonal overload at the sight of any of  us kicking a soccer ball around, or running— even at a quarter-mile away. Perhaps that red-faced herd being driven around the cinder track by their masochistic retired army sergeant gym teacher wouldn’t be able to keep their eyes on the prize— a winning track team at WOSSA— the most prestigious of Ontario High School track meets.

If they passed a little too close to the soccer field when the girls were there it could be potentially disastrous otherwise! So it was for the sake of school pride that we girls were subjected to wardrobe humiliation by our mandatory apparel. Sure, the generously elasticized legs could definitely be pushed up if one desired, as indicated by the photo, but in doing so it gave the torso the appearance of a partially deflated weather balloon.

My brother Keith has always been an affectionate and funny guy. We five girls couldn’t have asked for a better brother growing up—he would have defended us or our reputations to the death. Sure, he may have pushed a few buttons in my late childhood years, being only seventeen months younger than I, and struggling through the turmoil of adolescent angst in the wake of my own emotional upheavals, but he loved me and all seven of his siblings too much to be anything but supportive.

In the picture, taken beside our family’s greenhouse, we appear to be enjoying the closeness and some sort of shared joke. Perhaps it was something he said. He is likely the only person who could have told me at the time that I looked like crap, and still left me smiling. That’s the way it is with this brother of mine. I probably sat right along side of him while he played in the sand box with a stinky pants-full more than a few times and so really, what could he tell me about myself that’s got one over on that? We’ll always be “even” Keith.

Love you Brother

Aah! The Smell Of Actinomycetes In The Morning

It was faster to take a bike from the house to the barn past the long greenhouse.

Biking from house to barn past the 150 foot green house saved a lot of time

More and more people have no connection to, or pleasant sensory memories associated with the farming experience at all. The smell of soil, with its inherent potential for abundant and luxurious growth, may only have been experienced, if at all, if they opened a bag of top soil for their patio planter out on their apartment balcony on the twenty-fifth floor. If a person has never left the confines of the city, the smell of soil may be at best unfamiliar, and at worst unpleasant.

The smell of a green house in the spring, right after you water it— is a memory that I treasure from my childhood, from the hours and hours of taking my turn behind a hand held water sprinkler. The heavy brass sprinkler head was at the end of a seventy five foot hose that could be dragged in either direction from the tap in the middle of the centre aisle of the green house. When we were available in the spring, either before or after school and on weekends, one of my siblings or I would take turns swishing it back and forth, back and forth over one and then the other of the two 150 foot by ten foot beds of growing tobacco seedlings on either side of us. The plants would later be yanked gently out by women Dad had hired or by members of our family for planting out in the fields.The task was usually done while resting the butt on one board and the feet on another as one moved along a foot above the damp planting beds.I never minded the job of watering the greenhouse very much. It was always warm and bright under all that glass, and it was never too hot or too cold either, as we were always raising or lowering the glass windows at the greenhouse peak throughout the day to keep the temperature as close to tropical as possible.

My Aunt Wilma, my Grandma "Mum" and me at age 9

Aunt Wilma, my Grandma , & me

Unless plant pulling was going on the greenhouse was very quiet too—a place where I could get away from all the noise and hubbub that living in a busy household with seven siblings generated. The only sound in the green house when watering was the gentle “Swish, Swish, Swish” of the water which had to be carefully applied until the beginnings of a puddle were visible on the surface of the black muck in the band being watered before moving on.

The relative silence was so different from inside the house where the sounds of doing laundry, cooking, and vacuuming, and various motors and fans on fridges and freezers emitted their constant hums. Add to this the sounds of the latest baby crying in the earlier years, or siblings occasionally arguing, and there was never a quiet moment. That is, of course, until an hour or so after curfew in my late teen years when it was as deathly still as that moment before a judge’s gavel drops. That was how I perceived it anyhow whenever I tried to sneak past my parents open bedroom door and up the squeaky stairs to my room. (But that’s another story.)

Jimmy, Janice, Donny and Kathy, the little helpers

Jimmy, Janice, Donny and Kathy, the youngest four

Watering the greenhouse was my mother’s job when we were in school. She relied a great deal upon our grandfather, who lived next door to us then, to come over and look after the little ones while they were napping, or when it was raining and Mom couldn’t take them outside with her. There was nowhere for them to play inside the greenhouse but in the nice weather Jimmy and Donny from toddlers on up, spent a lot of time playing with their shovels and buckets, and their trucks and bulldozers forming muddy motes and “lakes” just under the water tower beside the greenhouse door. That was when they weren’t off making mud pies with Kathy and Janice, before they too were old enough to help with the outside work.We older ones— Marsha and I, and Keith and Jeannie also had our own soul satisfying exposure to the smell of good damp earth. A heavy rain always granted us a day off from hoeing tobacco, a day to do our own thing.

After doing some investigation to try to better understand better what it is about soil that makes it smell so great, frankly, I was a little surprised. Apparently we owe a lot to Actinomycetes, a type of soil bacteria which grow in soil when it is warm and damp. When the soil dries out it produces spores, and when the wetness and force of rainfall hit them (or water from water sprinklers or crazy kids at taps) the tiny spores are kicked up into the air, the moist spore-laden air acting as an aerosol— the antithesis of a can of Lysol, actually.

It is ironic that a bacteria and spores are, in fact, the cause of that sweet after-the-rain smell of newly watered earth. I suppose it is ironic only to this generation, in our sanitized, germ exterminating, spore abhorring society. Who knew germs and spores were our friends? I wonder if there is a conspiracy between the makers of Lysol which promises to kills 99.9 per cent of them and the makers of Glade which promises that “After the Rain” scent in so many of its products? Supply and demand folks! Supply and demand!