Friday, August 31, 2012

Freedom and Free

The Republican National Convention is over, at last. We now know more of the man who will run against our incumbent President, Mr. Barack Obama. What the future holds for our country is still uncertain, regardless of who wins the upcoming election. What I'd like to see is for the United States to remain the bastion of Freedom, the cradle of Democracy, and the home to the tired masses that it should be.
Clint Eastwood was pretty funny, though, or at least the clips I watched.
So once again I distract myself with the technical world. How about that Apple™ versus Samsung™ conflict, and the results? One of the funniest bits about that, though, is on YouTube. When I looked at it this morning it only had 311,000 hits, but I think it is being viewed across a lot of other venues. Apple kills Star Trek
PCMAG put out its article on The Best Antivirus for 2012. As expected, of course, Norton and Kaspersky scored well (nicely done, Wes!) for the ones that cost money. For those of us that like cheaper fare, AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012 and Comodo Cleaning Essentials have top scored. I still use AVG on my PCs, but need to go get the updates.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

August Fades

Our previous house is still on the market. We need to sink more money into it so it will sell, and that's okay. I liked the wallpaper in the kitchen, but now it goes. Oh, and we are dropping the price a bit.
The new place is shaping up, and I really need to quit referring to it as "the new place" since now it is simply home. I mean, that's where Darling is, and that's where the food and bed are, so that makes it home. I do have quite a few of my swords now hanging in my new Study (not Office!). And many, many less boxes in the house than there were. In fact, all but one room is box-free.
Darling did have a Doctor appointment today and now will have another surgery next Wednesday. I am not sure what it entails, but I'll find out about it tonight. It might or might not make it to the blog.
I read a number of books suggested by my brother B: Christopher Bunn's trilogy A Storm in Tormay (I liked it), David Wells' Sovereign of the Seven Isles up through book four and now await book five (I like it, but feel Wells is stretching it a bit too much and makes some foolish plot mistakes doing so), and Michael R. Hicks' In Her Name: Redemption trilogy (I liked it).
I also bought and read John Scalzi's Redshirts, which was pretty entertaining.

Politics and storms are everywhere in the news, and I don't have much to say about either of them. Well, actually, I might, but don't have the time or inclination to say all I want to say about some aspects of each. So I retreat into technology and find a nice list of links to talk about briefly.
There's a nice article on Fifty Awesome Gadgets for under $50. I like the t-shirt. You'll know the one I mean.
Tim Rains starts a series for Microsoft Security tools. It looks like it might be pretty technical, but it might be worth watching too.
Wired has an article on how researchers can hack EEG headsets (used by some gamers) to obtain security information, read directly from brain inputs. It isn't as sophisticated nor as exact as the title implies, but it is fascinating that technology has progressed to where we can interpret brain waves. Minority Report, anyone?
I'm not much of a photographer guy, but a flat photographic lens is an amazing idea. What struck me, and they don't seem to notice it themselves, is that it almost mimics how flies and other animals with multi-facet eyes see, at least in concept. Or it doesn't and I just have no idea what I'm talking about.
There is the classic article on the best iPad games and 75 of them are listed here. This one actually gets updates pretty often on the PCMAG website.

But I will finish with a little political chatter. This is the season for politics, as evidenced by a friend of mine heading off for the US Congress for the great State of Texas soon. Yeah, there's this pesky little election thing he has to get past, but he'll make it. The Republican National Convention is going full blast and if all you read is the mainstream newsfeeds, you miss a lot, like the fact that Gov. Christie from New Jersey isn't simply a passionate speaker; he actually worked with the NJ delegates and saved the state's economy. I didn't see that anywhere in the media, and I really must wonder why. For alternate views one friend suggested I start reading George Will, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist at the Washington Post. I haven't read his articles yet, but he's probably worth taking a look, even if it's just for a differing opinion.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Michigan Stories, Fini

Never this pretty at our house, though
I've written about Mom's cooking before, so I won't go into it here. There is one funny story, though, and it has to do with the milk we got from Aunt Nora. Mom often let the cream separate and then scooped it off the top before she watered it all down. We would occasionally be allowed to have some cream on our berries as dessert, and it was lovely. One time Mom decided she was going to do something special and make whipped cream, from real cream. She added the sugar to the cream and beat it. Then she had me beat it for a while. She was looking for that smooth, fluffy appearance, but wasn't getting it. So she beat it some more. I actually remember the look of puzzlement on her face when she stopped beating that bowl of sweetened cream. We now had butter. Mom invented sweetened butter.
We loved it.
She never tried to make whipped cream again.
Mom was always canning food. We had a pretty good garden and Mom canned a lot of home-grown vegetables. She tried pickles, and we loved the taste, but they were never crispy. She canned fruits too. We had a pear tree near the fence on the right side of the driveway and it gave her enough pears to pack quite a few quarts. We boys thought eating those was a special treat. We often went on short, local journeys in the summer and fall and we'd pick fruits and berries. Mom arranged with the owners of the orchards and berry patches to pick some for them and then keep some of what we picked for us. She canned a lot of apple sauce, almost as many quarts as she did the year we lived in Washington State. Though she made the same arrangement with berries (especially in Washington State, where we spent many, many long days in the strawberry field) we often found wild berry bushes along the side of the road in Michigan and it became Mom's mission to strip them of their freely provided produce.
She'd occasionally pull over and send us off into a corn field to gather a few ears of yellow corn for dinner, too. We weren't allowed to gather many of them, and I'm guessing the fields belonged to people she knew. She'd boil the corn on the cob and we'd feast on those ears for dinner! What a grand time that was! I didn't understand the difference between field corn and sweet corn until I was grown and out on my own. Doesn't matter. I still love corn, regardless of field or sweet (though I prefer sweet!).
At the end of the season we had a great abundance of squash. Yellow summer squash and green zucchini squash were at every meal. She would have fed them to us for breakfast if she could've figured out how. Mom even found a recipe for zucchini chocolate cake, which was delicious - and full of zucchini. We knew it was there, even if we couldn't taste it. Sure didn't stop us from eating the cake, though. We had so many summer squash that she couldn't even give them away, though she tried to barter with neighbors and the grocer in Brown City. I guess everyone had a bumper crop of squash that year. Dozens of the yellow squash ended up in a heap near the pear tree as the season drew to a close and Mom couldn't figure out what to do with them all. The next year that pear tree was surrounded by squash vines, but we moved before they ripened. The pear tree seemed to like the squash, though - it was covered with blossoms.
Mom did her best and we managed quite well. I don't think any of us ever suffered potential starvation. It was fantastic that we lived in an area surrounded by her family, but she sure missed Dad. We all did.

Our cat was a good mouser (and we needed a couple of those) and stayed on friendly terms with some of the stray male cats in the area. Mice (and probably rats) considered our house a safe refuge from the harsh elements. I suspect the dilapidated and crumbling barns and outbuildings served as similar housing developments to both mice and rats. I don't recall that we ever fed our cat, except an occasional small bowl of milk (without oatmeal!), but she thrived living with us. We strategically placed mouse traps through the house, and especially in the basement, which simply enhanced the frightening atmosphere of that dank cellar. We considered the mice non-paying renters, evicting their dead bodies when we caught them and listening to the others scamper through the walls as we dozed off to sleep at night. Occasionally we'd see a mouse scurry from a dark corner to the cover of furniture, and sometimes we'd give chase, but often we simply changed the location of a trap and hoped for the best.
Our cat had a litter of four or five kittens, so each of us four boys could pick one and give it a name. I don't recall any of the names except the one chosen by my brother D. He called his kitten "Froggy" and though we laughed about it, we all agreed he had the right to name him whatever he wanted.
Our landlord's dog took a liking to us boys and came to visit almost every day in the summer. The owner came to get him and Mom would apologize and we'd pet him and off they'd go, our landlord taking his dog back to his own farmhouse down the road. Then the dog came back the next day. We called him "Tramp" though I don't know if he had another name. Covered in shaggy fur and about the size of a Saint Bernard, that dog played with us for hours at a time, then disappeared back home.
Tramp found the kittens and Mom had to explain to us that he was just playing with them, but they were so small that he accidentally mauled them to death. The little bodies had no teeth marks, but they were all covered with dog slobber.
Shortly thereafter the owner took the dog to someone else far away from us. We had another dog after that, a gift from Uncle Dwight, who named the dog Hubert Horatio Humphrey because he said you couldn't keep him chained up; he was an escape artist.
This proved to be true, and our yard often contained lots of toys each morning that the neighbors across the street left in their yard the previous night. We returned them all, of course. (Okay, maybe we played with some of them first.) Mom tried a dozen different collars for that dog, and he slipped them all, including that choke chain one. I think he delighted in his nightly forays. He was some sort of reddish Irish setter mutt with a perpetual grin on his face.
He disappeared one night and we four young boys were baffled and saddened. Years later Mom told me what really happened. During one of his pillaging trips across the road a truck hit him and broke his back. Mom heard the commotion and went out to the road. She made the young driver of the truck shoot him. I don't know what she did with Hubert's body.
I think Mom got a little dog after that, a nervous little thing that piddled on the floor every time we petted it and shivered whenever we walked near it. That's actually all I remember about that dog. Maybe it's just my imagination.
The television displayed the Viet Nam war most of the time. I'm not even sure we watched any other shows on it. Occasionally a letter arrived from Dad and he even sent me one, answering my request for money to buy a pair of Hercules wrist bands (an advertisement in the back of one of my few comic books) with a polite "We'll see when I get home." I really wanted to be strong. Eventually I saved enough money on my own to order a pair. They didn't help, and they looked goofy on my skinny wrists.
We prayed the rosary at least once a week, sometimes more depending on the news reports and how Mom felt. There is something comforting about saying a rosary. A sense of peace descends on you after the first few prayers. I'm pretty sure Mom prayed one every night. Raised Baptist (I think), Mom became a Catholic to marry Dad. She took it seriously.
Snow Moose
He knows what I'm talking about
We went to church in Capac, a few miles down the road in the opposite direction of Peck (where my Aunt Nora and Uncle Dwight had their farm). I don't recall much about the church, except that we were late one Sunday because of the time change. Funny thing to remember, isn't it? The only other thing I recall is that the priest that we all liked (who was a young man) left the church and married a nun. That was quite the scandal, and I only heard it in whispers when the adults got together.
The winter of the heavy snows delighted us boys for the most part. I recall shoveling the driveway from where we parked the car by the house out to the road. I couldn't tell you how far that was, but it seemed like a mile, though it was most likely simply a few dozen feet. Before shoveling the entire driveway I walked out to the road to find the path for the car.
Stepping into the country ditch by the road was the first time I ever remember being stuck in waist deep snow. As I struggled with it I just sunk deeper into the white stuff. You'd think I could just reverse my course and step out, but somehow it didn't work that way. Eventually I managed to wiggle and crawl out of the ditch, which I had to do on my own because nobody heard my frantic cries for help. By the time I got into the house I was pretty cold. I did eventually finish shoveling the driveway, though it took days.
We all wore bread bags on our feet that winter. I know that sounds odd, doesn't it? We each had a set of plastic bags from loaves of Wonder Bread that we put on after we put on our socks and before we put on our shoes and boots. It might have been to help us keep our feet warm, but it might also have been because we had holes in our shoes and our boots. I don't think we wore them to school, thank goodness.
Mom kept the house cold, too. As a child I never really understood why, but looking back she probably had to ration the fuel oil for the furnace. There were many mornings we would wake up and break ice out of the sinks to brush our teeth. We all got in the habit of wearing our clothes into bed, waiting for the bed to warm, then taking them off and putting our pajamas on while under the relatively warm coverings. I'm pretty sure that all four of us shared the big bedroom upstairs, but I honestly don't recall.
When the power lines went down that winter we got on the road and went to visit Uncle Floyd and Aunt Ida and their son Jim. A few years older than I am, Jim introduced me to The Lord of the Rings by loaning me the second book. I read that one first, then went back and read the first, then the last. In any order, that was a great read. Jim also let me read a book that he wrote, and he was probably still in Junior High School. It was just as good as many detective novels I had read up to that point. I still remember that the hero died at the end, a fan (or something electric) dropping into his tub while he took a bath. He had a rejection letter from a publisher that said they couldn't publish the book since he was too young.
There was a family reunion in the summer and we all met in a park not far from where we lived. I don't recall much of it; a sweet time near a cool, clear flowing brook and tons of people we didn't know but are related to. Lots of good food, I'm sure.
Our times in Michigan are mostly just sweet, vague memories. I have some recollections of my school year, but those are a different set of stories that I'll publish soon in another series, My Abbreviated Life or something.
I will say this. We learned to love all our relatives and were baffled by the number of them we had. I don't know of any of them that didn't love my Mom. I wish I'd asked more questions, learned more stories, listened more intently and remembered better. Some stories are now gone forever.
Hopefully, this isn't one of them.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Brother!

My brother turns fifty today. Happy Birthday, B! Fifty is a milestone, so welcome to the decade!

I didn't get you a present, but I'll send you to something almost guaranteed to make you laugh: Elizabeth's most recent blog post!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Michigan Stories, Part 3

Elston Organic Farm, LLC - run by Uncle Jerry's son Lee
and Lee's son Garrick
All the relatives cared for Mom while Dad was away. Most notable among them was Uncle Jerry. He dropped by to see Mom a few times each week, quite often leaving an extra can of food, or some small package that he bought too much of. The best story of all happened one Saturday, though. Uncle Jerry came in with a long face. I remember, because he always seemed quite content with life.
"Jerry, what's wrong," said Mom, sitting him down at the old vinyl table and giving him a cup of coffee. She sat in the chair next to him.
"Fran, I have a problem." (He probably called her Earline, a name my Mom hated, but grew up with in Brown City. If anyone called her Fran, though, it would have been Uncle Jerry. Earline is actually the name listed in the 1940 census also. Mom would have hated that.)
"I'll do anything I can to help, Jerry. What can I do?" Mom clasped her hands together and looked at him with those piercing blue-green eyes.
"Well, I bought a side of beef and I don't have room for all of it in my freezer. I was wondering if you would take some of the meat off my hands for me. It would be a big favor."
Mom's eyes widened and tears started to form. "Jerry, I don't have the room in my freezer…" and she started to cry softly.
"It's okay, Fran. The guy in town who owns the meat lockers owes me a favor and can let you use one of his lockers for the meat."
That's the kind of guy my Uncle Jerry was. His oldest son Lee is just like him, and I hear good things about his grandson Garrick as well.
If you don't know what "meat lockers" are here's the best I can explain them. Not everyone had or could afford a freezer, but in small towns like Brown City people often butchered large animals and needed a place to put the meat. There was a guy in Brown City who rented "meat lockers" which were essentially rented freezer space. I suspect most other small towns had one too. Think of a frozen storage locker for meat and you have the right idea.
We visited Uncle Jerry's house pretty often also. My cousin K (she's my age) and my cousin P (he's my brother B's age) were summertime playmates quite often. For part of the summer Mom was the babysitter for all of us and my two youngest siblings. We spent a lot of hours at our house, as well as a lot of hours at Uncle Jerry's house, just a mile away or so.
Uncle Jerry's place was amazing. He had a really old brick two-story house that we were not allowed to go into. Next to that was a willow tree that my Mom told me she planted. When she was a little girl she lived in that brick house with her grandparents. When she was bad they sent her outside to get a switch and they'd use that to swat her backside. She said she put one of those switches into the ground and it grew into the huge willow that now stood sentinel outside the empty house. (I opted not to ask where she got the switch if the tree wasn't there yet, as I did not really want to go after a switch of my own!)
Uncle Jerry and Aunt Marie had a newer home built next to the older one. I'm sure it was a nicer house, but I have to admit that at age eleven I thought the older home was much more interesting. Not that I would go into it, of course, since I was afraid of ghosts (among many other things).
Aunt Marie was from England, so she talked funny. (I'm just kidding.) Uncle Jerry brought her back after WWII. We were all a little bit afraid of her, and she seemed quite proper and very strict. When I got to know her better many, many years later I realized that she was a very nice lady - but definitely with a feel for what was proper and not, and most of what we did as children was not. Conversely Uncle Jerry seemed a huge, smiling barrel of a man who got along with everyone.
My Grandma Minnie, Jerry's Mom was still alive and living with Uncle Jerry. She had startling white hair and she always said what she thought. I wasn't afraid of her exactly, but I certainly was in awe of her. In my mind she probably walked the earth with Moses.
They also had an amazing barn, but if Uncle Jerry had milk cows he must have only had a couple. He wasn't running a milking farm like Uncle Dwight. Uncle Jerry had a job in town at the grain silo; I don't know if I have that right, but that's what comes to mind. Their barn was a gymnastic playground with secret tunnels throughout. They had this rope on a pulley that went from one end of the upper hayloft to the other. K and P were fearless, and so was my little brother B. Recklessly they would jump off a high pile of baled hay, snatch the rope like Tarzan of the Apes and swing across the barn, dropping safely into the hay on the other side. Me? Not quite so brave. I was probably calculating the forces needed to break my small bones and wondering why I would ever do such a thing. I did, of course, and loved it. I recall tunneling through the hay, which, as I look back on it baffles me. I am currently pretty claustrophobic, so when did that start?
We had some good times, but I wasn't always the nicest person. I don't recall the exact incident, but it had something to do with P and B getting in a disagreement. K took P's side and I stood up for B (of course we did!). Heated words were exchanged and K said something like "I hope you go home!" and I retorted "I hope you die!" and stormed out of the barn. Even now those words tear at my heart and I'm sorry K. Saying that upset me so much that I walked home from there. At some point Mom came by in the car, and Grandma Minnie rolled the window down. Did I want to talk about it? No. What was said? I didn't tell her what I said, I was so ashamed. I don't recall if I got in the car or finished the walk home, but I do recall my misery.
We made up, I'm sure, since that wasn't the end of the year and life went on. 
I'm thinking (now that I am older) that Uncle Jerry probably had some influence on the house we rented as well. We had a large two-story house with a bathroom upstairs. All the bedrooms might have been upstairs, too, actually. I don't recall. I think that all we had downstairs was the kitchen, a small eating area and the living room.
A wheat field surrounded the house on three sides, belonging to the owner of the house, who lived in a very nice place down the road from us. When the wheat was ripe, or nearly so, it glowed with a golden hue, and was refuge for birds of all kinds. The most prevalent were the red-winged blackbirds, and they were fun to watch. They'd perch in the large willow or in one of the trees near the abandoned farm buildings. We'd often see a flock of small wild canaries (or at least that's what Mom said they were). Their bright yellow bodies would streak through the grains of wheat, and we'd see them sitting in the field, the dark crests on their heads and wings a contrast to all the gold around them.
There were a lot of old buildings on the property with the house. The owner stored some very old equipment in the buildings. Though we were not supposed to rummage around in them, my cousin K and I often combed through the cast-off newspapers, magazines and books in the lofts of the buildings. Moldy, dusty and half-eaten by rats these magazines had little value, except for the archaeological significance to the two of us.
An ancient chicken coop, badly in need of repair, adorned the back left corner of the small lot. In hindsight we should have fixed it up and put some chickens there, but Mom probably had enough to worry about feeding four growing boys without worrying about chickens as well.
An awesome tree with a tire swing dominated the yard right outside the side door, which was the only door I ever remember using while we lived there. In the summers we practically lived in and around that tree, allowing us upward mobility into its green-covered branches. A spaceship, a spy headquarters, a pirate ship at sea - it's hard to find a good tree nowadays.
I once climbed that tree to get small green branches for roasting marshmallows (what a treat!) and used the very, very cool pocket knife that my Uncle Bill gave me. I cut one branch with the edge toward my left hand and sliced through the branch deeply into the edge of my thumb. I was terrified that Mom would take my knife from me, so I wrapped it in black electrical tape and left it like that for about a week. I still have the scar.
I broke the end off that pocket knife once when I threw it into the tree and pulled it out wrong. That wasn't the last knife I'd break by throwing it at trees, but it was the first and I was heartbroken.
The house came with a basement. The basements in older homes in Michigan almost always have a huge furnace in them, but the basement can often be converted into something usable. If not, you can put shelves along the walls and use the cool basement environs as a place to store canned goods. Some basements had their own cinder block storage rooms for canned foods. I don't recall which we had, but our basement was not habitable.
I was always scared to go in that basement. One naked bulb hung in the center of the room, near the furnace and provided sufficient light to barely be able to tell the canned peaches from the canned pears. The shadows were what always got me, though, swaying back and forth, reaching with dark fingers toward me just as I thought I was safe. I knew strange things grew in the dark because I could smell them, a pungent odor of mold and age and dirt and crawling things. (The mold which pervaded Frau's room smelled differently, older and drier than the Michigan basement mold.)
There are a few more stories about when we lived in Michigan, coming in a few days.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Michigan Stories, Part 2


Maids a-milking
Mom's Uncle Dwight, similar in appearance to Don, always seemed as good-natured as Uncle Don seemed ill-tempered. We didn't see much of him because he worked all the time. So did his three daughters and his wife, our Aunt Nora. A working dairy farm seemed a hard life, and I think it was. My three cousins were up every morning before dawn to do the morning milking, and to bed late after the evening milking and homework and other chores needed to keep the farm running.
I once tried to help my eldest cousin, a girl a few years older than I. She hefted a full five-gallon milk pail in each hand and carried them to the ice house. I barely managed to drag a single container out there. Some help I proved to be…

Mom visited Aunt Nora for milk and took us with her most of the time. I'm sure we disrupted the household routines, but it was always a pleasure to see our cousins. Mom refused to take charity from anyone, even her local relatives, so she insisted on paying for the milk. Aunt Nora never said anything (that we heard) but it was quite a coincidence that she always had fresh-baked bread and butter and peanut butter and jam and let us eat our fill. And we did, bless her heart.
She did yell at me for chasing the chickens once, but once was enough. Chickens don't lay eggs when they are upset by small-town hoodlums.
When Mom brought the milk home she immediately mixed it with water and a powdered milk that was used for calves. I think she invented one-percent milk. She also froze some of it in the freezer in the basement, so we got in the necessary habit of shaking the jug of milk before we used it.
Mom was frugal with the milk, too, even after stretching it. (Here's the milk story, kids.) Occasionally we had bread and milk to eat, but most often we ate oatmeal for breakfast. Here's the way it worked. The first boy got a heaping spoonful of oatmeal in the bowl, and poured milk on it. Mom allowed some small amount of brown sugar. The first boy ate the oatmeal, but had to leave the milk. The second boy got a heaping spoonful of oatmeal in the remaining milk and added a little sugar. He had to leave the milk. We followed the same process for the third boy. The last boy got to eat the oatmeal and drink the milk, which was pretty sweet from all the sugar. We rotated who was first, going oldest to youngest. (That's the milk story.) It's easy to see why my brother B doesn't like oatmeal. I still love brown sugar though.
During one visit to Aunt Nora's in the spring we boys found an incredible water park right next to the barn. There was a twenty foot length of black mud that was slick and exactly the right consistency for running and sliding from one end to the other. I don't know how long we did that, but we were covered in the stuff when Mom came out of the house. Our cousins didn't join us, but laughed heartily while we enjoyed our playtime in the slippery ground. Mom used newspaper and some plastic to cover the car seats so the filth from our clothes didn't ingrain itself in the car. Turns out the black mess wasn't just mud and water, but a by-product of the many milk cows that came through the barn every day. Even after much scrubbing, each of us got a bad case of ringworm and had to coat our sores with a thick, tar-smelling substance every morning and night for weeks. Mom never forgot that incident. Neither did we, though I have to admit it sure was a lot of fun for a while.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Michigan Stories, Part 1

During the recent trip to Michigan my brothers mentioned that they would read my blog if I wrote more stories about our childhood times. Not that I crave readers, but it does seem like a good idea. Some stories can be inspirational, some can be warnings, some simply informational and some likely boring. But I do have stories, so this seems a good place to share them.
Since we just came back from Michigan, I can start in the middle, in about 1968, the times we spent in Michigan. This will cover a few posts, but I'll start with some background.
We lived in Brown City Michigan when Dad was in Viet Nam. Mom signed me up for fifth grade and then had to correct it to sixth grade after I went for the first day. I don't recall what I said, but I was probably pretty upset. That sort of thing bothered me, even then, and I'm also sure I didn't want to repeat fifth grade. Once was enough. Instead of going to school in the main building in Brown City, I went to class in Burnside, an old schoolhouse a few miles down the road. I took one bus to the main school, and then changed to a different bus to get to Burnside. That was sort of a hard year for me, in many respects.
It was hard for the entire family, Mom most of all, but we each have stories of that time in Michigan, surrounded by Mom's relatives. These are the ones I recall.
I could start with a short story, a horror story for four small boys (and even in sixth grade I was pretty immature and nervous). That would be Mom's Uncle Don. Going to Uncle Don's farm scared us. Untouchable knick-knacks crowded the inside of his house. Mud covered the ground outside. Chickens ran free and mocked us. Brazen and angry geese came after us with murder in their little red eyes; we were sure they planned to eat us and they might have, since most were bigger than my youngest brother.
Uncle Don loved those geese. He told one story of the Christmas goose that he sold three years in a row. Apparently it was a record-size goose, which would have made it, oh, I don't know - as big as a Shetland pony or something. One year this guy came and bought the goose for his Christmas dinner. A week later the goose landed back in Uncle Don's farmyard, happy to be back no doubt. Maybe he ate the guy who bought him. The next year the same thing happened. I can only assume it was a different guy. Uncle Don sold the goose for the third Christmas in a row and it never came back.

First confirmation of age and birth place.
Here's a side story my Mom told me about Uncle Don and our Grandfather (Mom's father, whose information was lost to us for our entire lives, but recently found in the 1940 US Census records - thank you, Ancestry-dot-com). Mom told me that her dad was a horse-whisperer - her words, not mine. Uncle Don planned to put down his blue roan since it had a badly infected hoof. I don't know much about horses, but I guess back then not much could be done about it. Apparently Grandpa Earl (Mom's dad) asked Uncle Don to give him a week before putting the young horse down and mixed some herbs and spices and took care of the horse. The horse's hoof was totally healed.
Uncle Don was a big man with a barrel chest and perpetual whiskers and oak-tree arms, and he always had grease under his nails and oil on his clothes. He spoke loudly and sharply and grinned a wicked smile as he explained to us quite clearly how he would capture Santa and drown him in a rain barrel. I just shivered at the monstrous evil of it all. (He also mentioned to Mom, quite loudly, that children should be put in a rain barrel just before they are teens and fed through the hole until they were adults.)
And during the massive snow storm in 1968 that covered Michigan with a couple feet of immovable snow he came and plowed our road and our driveway with his huge snowplow so that Mom was not snowbound. We never saw him do it and he never mentioned it to anyone.
We also never saw Santa…

Monday, August 6, 2012

August Roars In

I did pretty well on posts last month. It wasn't because the month was busier or I had more to say. I did cheat a little. I found a way to assign a posting date, so even if I was late (which I was for the first three posts) I could make it appear I followed my schedule. Keep an eye open; I'll do that in the future if I need to. I also found some quiet hours and wrote a number of posts, then kept them ready for dropping in place. I need to do that more often.
I probably just felt more loquacious. It helps that my cousin Mary and brother Dave chimed in on a few of the posts. That gives me incentive to write more. (With apologies to my long-suffering steady readers; I value your comments too.)
In my defense, the last week was almost unreal. On Friday Darling got the house empty and arranged for a painter to come in and completely repaint the interior, including stripping the wallpaper from the kitchen and painting it. I wasn't keen on the idea, but, as she pointed out, if the house sells faster it is money well spent. That afternoon our lovely realtor told us the house was fine to show it as-is and leave the interior as a bargaining point. She posted it on Saturday night and by Sunday morning it had over thirty hits on-line. By the end of the week it had shown three times.
It is a beautiful house.
Darling, J, E and I all jumped in R's vehicle and drove to Michigan to see my Dad and brothers and their families. We left on Sunday morning: two days up, two days back, three days in the middle. Though the GMC Terrain is a lovely vehicle, it fell short on a few traveling features. First of all, though it boasts 32mpg on the highway, we didn't see anything close to that number. There is no separate temperature control for the rear passengers, so sometimes the people in the front seats froze in order for the two in the back to be moderately comfortable. The back seats don't recline, which would have been most welcome on such a long journey. Finally, though I could get the Bluetooth to connect for making phone calls (which we didn't want) I couldn't connect it so that I could play music through the car speakers. Oh, we could have used a few more chargers, although we managed okay with one in the front and one in the back.
Still, it was better than traveling in the Camry for that distance.
Everyone took turns driving, which was really nice. Though we managed the trip quite well, I still felt rushed. I only have so much vacation and the driving parts were not really fun or relaxing.
Dad looked fine and it was good to see him. It disturbs me that his nieces describe him as "cute" since to me he will always be a lean, mean fighting machine. Though I have to admit his hair was pretty soft and fuzzy, like a kitten.
It was good to see my brothers. Good to spend a little time with their families. All my nieces and nephews are awesome. I miss them all tremendously. I am having a tough time getting over that, actually.
And that's all I have to say today.