Tag Archives: farm fun and games

Ethan’s Gift

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Some of the stone “castles” my grand-nephew Ethan likes to be the “King” of.

There is nothing more precious than the snuggling-in and holding-on kind of hug a three-year-old will sometimes give when it comes unsought for, unrequested, just plain out of the blue.

Sure, we had been playing hard outside all afternoon together, what with racing back and forth in the bright sunshine across the brown lawn as he gleefully stepped on my poor slow shadow’s head numerous times to my once on his— a game he always delights in.

And then, I had willingly taken a seat on the too-small bench at the window of his pretend hamburger joint, a little playhouse under a backyard spruce tree. I “enjoyed” with gusto the takeout fries and burger he prepared— somehow magically transformed from the pieces of cedar mulch and the dried out pine cones he hurriedly gathered for my order.

Later he picked a fist-full of yellow miniature daffodils, and nodding Snowdrops and placed them on a crumb-covered plate on the patio table— a gift for Mummy. Next to it was a scattering of small coloured stones from the driveway— collected for Daddy.

A screeching flock of black grackles dispersed in a flapping rush at the sound of his shouts of “Go! Go! Go!”. This he accompanied with the clatter of two old dented cake tins that he banged together beneath the locust tree each time the birds returned. The bespattered backyard deck, under the tree’s budding branches, revealed their other annoying habit, and he did not want them to mess on the table where his treasures lay. Beside those lay the pile of coloured paper clips and magnets he had abandoned there earlier— all but the red ones, his favourites, which were protruding from the cracks between the deck boards under his chair, next to his yellow bulldozer.

We capped the afternoon with a game of King of the Castle played on every boulder and berm around the three acre yard with me doing all of the boosting up and him doing all of the boasting down: “I’m de King of de castle! You’re de dirty rascal!” I chose not to protest my perpetual “dirty rascal” position, even as he clung tightly to my uplifted hands while teetering four feet off the ground on slippery granite, his chubby little fingers drawn into tight little fists around my own.

Looking up into his laughing eyes, as he looked down at me from his elevated position, I said to him “You know Ethan, you are growing bigger and bigger every day. One day when you are all grown up you will be as big as this all of the time, and then you will have to look down at your old Aunt Vonnie all of the time.” Just then he let go of my fingers and bent down a little to get his arms around me. He snuggled in close and gave me a hug so tight it practically took my breath away. Or perhaps it was not really so very tight at all, but it had the same effect. I realized then, that I had just experienced one of life’s unforgettable moments and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Aah! The Smell Of Actinomycetes In The Morning

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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!

The Cousins Are Coming! The Cousins Are Coming!

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DocImage000000498I didn’t hear the conversation my mother was attempting to have. Likely six or seven of the more faithful listeners on the party line did, but their being on their phones listening in was likely cutting into the clarity of the words coming through the line to Mom. With several of  us kids  milling around in the kitchen curious to know who Mom was talking to, and her shooing us all away with her one free hand as she held the receiver in the other she was looking a little flustered. Her eyes told us “Hey! I’m going to use this hand to do more than shoo you away, if you don’t give me a little space, so the bigger ones of us tried to get control of the crowd so that Mom could hear. Soon enough we heard her say “Anna Mae”, her older sister who was closest in age to her. There were excited and happy outbursts of “Great!” and “Terrific!’ and “I can hardly wait!” and questions too, all spoken in an upbeat and excited tone. “When?’ ” What time?” and finally the question that affirmed all of our hopes,”How many of you will be coming?” Then a short pause as  she took a big gulp before saying “All of you!” with a slight hint of panic. Then a long pause and a return to that  joyful excited tone again.

If we hadn’t heard Mom say “Anna Mae” with such joy and excitement it could have been any number of people on the phone who would have elicited that same response.Mom had left her home in Pittsburgh when she was 16 to emigrate with her parents and some of her older siblings. They had bought a tobacco farm near Melbourne, Ontario,not far from where we lived growing up, on the advice of cousins who had emigrated to Canada much earlier. Mom met Dad and married him when she was just 18, and  had her first child, my sister Marsha a little over a year later. Within a few years her family’s farming adventure had gone off the rails; they had, upon bad counsel, bought a very poor farm and were hopelessly unsuccessful. They had no choice but to all move back to Pittsburgh leaving her behind. I realize how absurd that it sounds to say that they left her behind, because she was clearly never going to go back home without us, and yet there wasn’t any doubt at times that that was exactly how she felt—left behind. She missed her elderly parents terribly, (she was a very late- in- life baby for them) and she really pined for her many siblings, and nieces and nephews too, some who were actually older than she was.

What was so exciting about Aunt Anna Mae coming  with, as Mom had said, “All of you,”  meant that she wasn’t leaving any of the kids behind with their Dad, our Uncle Virg (Virgil), or with their Nona,(our uncle Virg was Italian.) Nor would they be staying behind with any of their other relatives while Aunt Anna Mae had a sisterly visit with Mom. As these occasions happened more than once, I can’t be sure just how many kids Aunt Anna Mae already had when they came for that particular visit, as some of her last kids were a bit younger than ours. It would have been quite a houseful in any case as Aunt Anna Mae and my Mom each had eight kids in quite close succession.

All summer long people would come up from Pittsburgh in various combinations, our grandma “Mum” while we were blessed to still have her, would come with one or two of her children. And aunts and uncles and cousins, and uncles with friends of uncles, and aunts with just each other would take their turns at visiting. Later on, when they were more grown up, cousins would come all on their own, or even after they married they would come with their children. Our house was like a summer camp with people constantly coming and going. Coming to play, coming to work, coming to rest,to commit to being a god parent, to advise, to help, or to grieve. Sometimes they came to show off a new baby, and sometimes, I suspect, even to say a secret last goodbye if they sensed in their heart that they might not have another visit. Each and every one who came brought us a gift. They brought us love— love by the buckets full, except for our cousin Philip; he brought us buckets of clams. Clams that he and his girlfriend had dug in Cape Cod a few days before. Some of us got diarrhea, some of us didn’t. Whether it was a gift to any one individual  depended on the appetite and attitude of the receiver.  Marsha had a rather snug form-fitting  dress to fit into for the Teachers’ College end of year dance just a few days later.To her it was a gift!

Bathroom Tale, An Inside Story

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You’re probably asking yourself how I could ever hope to become a noteworthy writer, someone whose blog develops a wider readership, if I am always running off to the bathroom (as a source of  story ideas that is! ) Well, perhaps I really do have a subconscious inner tendency towards writing bathroom humour. If so, it’s a very mild affliction. I’ve only covered such benign topics as an outhouse makeover, communal bathing, bathtub slip and sliding, bath water baling, and sudsy tic-tac-toe up to this point—my twenty-third day of blogging. And so far I have done nothing I regret, and done no irreparable harm. Some may accuse me of massacring Poe’s Raven, in a bathroomcentric parody, but I think the jury’s still out on that one. After all, parodies of literary masterpieces just can’t be resisted sometimes. So now, on to the business at hand!

As Dylan Thomas once wrote:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should blog and post at end of day;

Write, write against the dying of the light!”

—He didn’t say that? Well, I think I can fix that! 

Many tales could be told, focusing on that large bathroom to the left of the stairs, in the big yellow brick farm-house where my father grew up. Unlike the tiny bathroom in the little white house next door, where we lived until my fourth sibling, Kathy, was born, this one was very roomy.Before the installation of indoor plumbing it had been one of  four upstairs bedrooms. When we first moved in, its floor was covered with horrible dark brown tiles that repulsed my mother. She complained that my grandmother’s favorite colour in the house seemed to have been brown, as it was everywhere. For someone who liked to know when things were truly clean, especially bathrooms, it was a terrible situation. To change it became my father’s first project in a list of many.

The floor was soon a gleaming white, and the walls and floor-to-ceiling cupboards either side of the tub enclosure were freshly painted a bright aqua.The one thing that Dad overlooked though,was replacing the door handle in the bathroom’s square walk in closet. This closet  had become a favourite place to run to when playing Hide and Seek.It had one draw back —you needed to remember not to shut the door all the way, as it had no doorknob on the inside. It had apparently fallen off and been lost years before. Occasionally it happened that you would, in fact, lock yourself in, but with a large number of kids around at all times, rescue was an easy thing;  you just yelled. That is, until that fateful day that one of the younger girls,  locked the bathroom door, hid in the closet and slammed the knob-less door firmly shut!

“HaHa! No one will ever find me in here!” seemed to be playing out rather well until boredom set in. And then impatience— and then realization— and then panic—and then yelling and pounding—and then howling and sobbing.  It was so traumatic for the younger kids that more than one of them believe, to this day, that they were the trapped victim.

The rescuer is known, of course.  Several frantic kids ran at breakneck speed to chase down a valiant prince in a nearby field. He jumped from his dusty tractor, and ran to the barn for his extension ladder. He clattered up to the bathroom window, and pushed the screen in ahead of himself. He overcame his fear of heights to step off the ladder and heave himself in through the narrow opening. Ten seconds later he came out of the bathroom with our sobbing  sister in his arms. Then he  put her down and helped her blow her nose into his dusty red hankie, took  a two-inch  pencil stub from his shirt pocket, and wrote  “door knob” on the bottom of his ever-present list.