Category Archives: Farm Stories

The Box

In the autumn as leaves turn red
The house is quiet and school has started.
My mother takes me by the hand
And fetches the little red wagon.
In it she places a tin lunch box
And some shears for cutting away the wood.

Across the pasture we walk to the wood
Gloriously bedecked in frocks of gold. The red
Barn winks at us, and I wonder what is in that box.
Thwack! Thwack! My mom has started
Hacking away the foliage. Behind me I pull the wagon,
Receiving the branches she puts into my hand.

A little spider scampers up my hand
And with a shriek I send the wood
Flying while I drop the handle on the wagon.
Startled, my mother turns her red
Cheeks toward me. A laugh erupts that Started
From the depths of her soul, and once again I eye the box

A mystery is contained in that box
Enticing my chubby hand
To pry it open, but just as I get started
My mother guides us further into the Wood.
I swat at branches snatching my favorite red
Sweater and tread upon the roots who dare belay my wagon.

Twigs and brush spill over the edges of my wagon
Until it rolls to a labored halt. Mother takes the box
Into her hands and sits beside a hollow tree; red
Leaves swirling shadows over her hand
As she unclasps the rusted metal. The wood
Holds its breath and even the wind has started

To calm in anticipation. In wonderment I start
to gaze upon the treasure convoyed by the wagon
Through the wild wood
In its homely rusted box.
Mother places in my hand
A beloved book and chocolate wrapped in shiny red.

I have barely started to unwrap my red
Treasure as I lean upon the wagon. Mother clasps my hand
and reads about enchantments in the wood, hidden in a box.

-J.H. Schmidt

Written in a form called Sestina for a class, based on my love of fall and this memory.

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Slip

Weekly Anamnesis #29

It looked like a science experiment gone wrong, or the latest goo technology of the 80s. I eyed the bowl warily as I saw long flat green things swimming sinisterly beneath the murky surface. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. In horror I watched my mother dip in a spoon and fish out some of the green stuff. A pale greenish slime drip from the spoon, there was practically enough elasticity that I thought it was going to bounce right up again before the line grew thinner and separated. With a resonating “schlop” she plopped it on my plate, a sound similar to a suction cup slowly being peeled from a window.

“I have to eat that!” I gasped as my nose caught an odor equal to dog vomit. My brothers were eyeing the mess with as much timidity as I, but my sisters didn’t seem the least bit phased. “They had probably helped make it,” I reasoned in my head.

My Mother’s glower was enough to answer my question. I knew the rule; once on the plate it had to be devoured in order for us to make our exodus from the table. I poked my forked at the pile of sludge on my plate and a chorus of “let my people gooooo” rambled through my brain as I leaned in my seat, gazing with yearning through the door where freedom lay. There would be no hope of Salvation for me as I eyed my Promised Land beyond the kitchen table.

“It looks like mucus,” my brother whispered in my ear sending us into a fit of giggles.

“Mom, what is this stuff anyway? Are you sure it’s actually edible?” I was expecting it to walk of my plate any minute as I waited for her answer.

“It’s called okra; it’s very good, and very edible.” (Let me insert a disclaimer that I have heard that fried okra is quite good, but I can testify that boiled okra is of the devil himself, heh)

“No guts no glory,” I mumbled under my breath. I speared one of the long green things with my fork and deftly clamped down on my nose with my left hand. I tipped my head back and held the dripping okra up over my plate. I cranked open the hatch and let the slimy thing fall. Trying my best not to gag, I felt it slip right down my throat, no swallowing or chewing involved. Disgusting and slimy, but at least I didn’t have to chew it!

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Stamp

Weekly Anamnesis #27

“Stamp it out J! Quick! Stomp on it! Stomp on it!”
With a flurry of feet I stomped all over the glowing sparks that had burst and scattered across the ground. We were gathered around the burn pile, a giant bonfire, watching to be sure things didn’t get out of control. That is how it was done when I was a kid growing up on our farm. Once a week, maybe more frequently, we had burning day where we would burn our garbage. As kids we enjoyed it and occasionally would whoop around it in a big circle doing our version of Indian dances. We always had at least one person on fire duty to keep an eye on things to be sure that things didn’t get out of control. One night, it was my turn. . .

The wind came up unexpectedly, ruffling my short blondish hair. I didn’t think much of it until I saw the first few sparks fly into the dry grass. With a crackle the grass immediately burst into flame, the wind carrying it further in the direction of our neighbor. With a shout of alarm I raced as fast as my short little legs could carry me. I burst through the back door of the farm house, “The fire is spreading! The fire is spreading!” I heard the sound of feet hitting the floor as everyone charged for their shoes, a bucket and a burlap sack. I didn’t wait. Charging on I ran to the neighbor’s house, pounding on their front door. “We need your help! The fire is spreading!” The neighbors were out the door in seconds and running after me.

As I approached the fire I could see our family lined up, stretching from the nearby pond to the fire, silhouetted against an eerie orange glow passing buckets and wet burlap sacks down the line to where my dad and oldest sister were battling the fire. The wind had died back down, but the damage was already done. The fire wasn’t big, but it had fuel now as it chomped hungrily at the parched grass. It was beatable if we worked quickly. Dad had worked on the lookout towers in the mountains of the Cascades for a number of years, spotting fires, and on seldom occasions even putting out small ones. He was a machine, beating away ceaselessly at the licking flames. I took my place in line as the neighbors began helping Dad stamp out the flames. Bucket after bucket passed through my tired arms sloshing across my arms and chest, as the fire shrank, smaller and smaller. Soon it was just a pile of embers and charred grass. We all began to soak burlap sacks and fling them on the embers, stamping across them to be sure the fire was out. We continued to beat the ground with a fury long after the red glow had diminished from the embers, smothering the heat. We could still here the hiss of steam rising into the air as our sacks whacked the ground.

Finally the hiss and the steam stopped, the ground was soaked, and the fire was out. We looked around at each other, our faces, hands, and clothes muddied with soot and water. We clapped each other on the back, congratulating each other for a job well done, shaking hands with our neighbors and thanking them for their help. There was a feeling of camaraderie, no one felt like bickering and squabbling, we had joined our forces, even if only temporarily (as siblings often do, heh) to battle something greater. I have seen that happen many times, not just in our back yard battling a spreading fire; uniting together to battle many things, standing up for each other. I learned many lessons that night as we strove together to stamp out the flames.

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of Robin Hood and the Monkey Tree

I picked up a long straight stick; it was just shorter than my shoulder and about ½ to ¾ inches round. It wasn’t yew, but it would work just the same. I pulled out my pocketknife and proceeded to whittle off the bark and the knotholes. Finally notching both ends of the stick, I drew out my piece of string and firmly wound and fastened it to one end. Then pulling the string taught I bent the wood, winding and fastening the string to the opposite end of the stick. I tested it. It didn’t quite twang, but it was pretty good for such a quick job. I scavangered for some small sticks and then whittled them too, forming a point at the end of each one.

I ran inside and scrounged for a green shirt, threw it on atop of the others and charged outside, hollering something about important, be right back, before my mother could give me a list of chores to complete. I went down the hill to the barn where my brothers were waiting, with their green shirts on. “Ready?” they asked and I gave a nod of my head.

“Then off to Sherwood!” they shouted and we began to tramp past the barn and across the pastures to our little wood. Had we been toting our swords and the shields of King Arthur’s nights we would have battled the dragon at the edge of the forest. On tree rose far higher than the rest and the top of it was curled and bent into the shape of a dragon. It was appropriately named the dragon tree and on some nights, when it was silhouetted against the red sky as the sunset, it would almost come alive. But that was not our destination this day. We were headed into the heart of the wood to a tree we had dubbed the “Monkey Tree.”

It was twisted and gnarled and charred near the top, having been struck by lightning some time in the past. It was the perfect tree for play and climbing with branches leading out in all different directions and sloping up or down. Someone had made a tree house at one point, for there was a ladder nailed to the tree. Dad had made that the stopping point. We couldn’t climb higher than the bottom slat of the ladder. We understood and didn’t mind, we still had most of the tree to swing from and climb and eat apples in its recesses.

We hushed our riotous laughter as we neared Sherwood and swung our bows from off our backs. We each knocked an arrow into place. Snap! I whirled around searching for the unseen enemy. Kimball whispered what we all knew, “Sherwood has been discovered! There is a spy among us!” Our arrows flew sure and true striking the enemy and taking many of them down. But there were too many and we found ourselves pressed back to back against the tree. “Climb! We’ve got to climb, it’s our only escape!”

We frantically began to make our way up the tree until we were well above their heads, showering arrows down upon them. We were standing on a branch. Kimball pointed to our only escape route, a branch just a ways above and in front of us. My eyes alight with fire I nodded to show I understood. I slung my bow on my back and we prepared to jump. “One! Two! THREE!” We leapt across the gap and grabbed hold of the branch, soldiers shouting below us warning of our escape. We swung once, twice . . .CRACK! The sickening sound filled our ears as we fell through time and space until we crashed to the forest floor. Kimball landing upon my head, or at least something of his colliding with my head. The world exploded into a myriad of color. Groaning I tried to sit up. “J, you dead?” I heard him mumble as Paul came running up to us laughing.

“If I’m not dead yet, I will be soon. We’re surrounded and my bow is broken.” I held up my pitiful bow the two ends hanging limply from the once taught string. My brothers shook their heads and laughed as we staggered back to the house.

Some years later our adventures were ended permanently when the tree was struck again by lightening and it went down in a blaze, scorching a good portion of our little wood along with it. Sometimes I yearn to see the places we played and imagined as children, but then I am afraid I would find it so altered by time and nature that I would only see the ghosts of memories racing through the trees.

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The Ballerina

It sits upon a shelf. I grasp it delicately to lift down lodging dust free that tickles my nose and teases a sneeze. It is old, once a gift to my mother from my father. The cracks are still visible from many breaks caused by little chubby fingers unable to resist its enchantment. A fine porcelain music box, “The Ballerina” as we always called her. Arms arching gracefully her head tilted, delicate, refined. She is on Pointe and wants to draw me to my toes. Her white tutu is speckled with gold and seems to shimmer as she dances across the pond. A swan sits by her feet as she skirts the floating lily, the flower now all but gone. Etched in white waves circle the base. I twist it ever so gently, one, two, three times, and then a few more. As I release the girl, captive in my fingers, she begins her dance in a stationary circle as the haunting melody of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” fills the room. It washes over me carrying me back to days of pigtails and my own red tutu. My feet wish to take flight, but not knowing the steps I step back to enjoy the ballet before me of a little girl’s dreams.

I never took ballet, though I believe my sisters did at one point. They, mainly Heidi, took it upon themselves to teach me, and even their unwilling brothers some of the steps. I liked the leaps. I would leap across the room as my sister in exasperated tone, would chide me, “Not, now Julia, why must you forever be leaping. This is the part where the princess must swoon.”

“I am not the princess, but the prince, leaping to save her from the knights!” and I leap across the room once more falling into battle with my brothers as the clashing of invisible swords fills the air with chaos and laughter.

“You must be the princess, you are the smallest and easiest to lift. Now, Kimball pick her up and spin her this way.” She demonstrated a delicate turn as Kimball grasps my hand and begins to spin me wildly around the room, our laughter infectious. My arm flung wide, faster and faster, until my hand connects with a million sharp needlepoints of pain. My eyes grow round and wide, my mouth forming an “O”. Lisa gasps an “oh dear!” and Heidi an all knowing, “Well, you’ve done it now.” Paul begins to laugh as worry creases Kimball’s brow.

“I’ll pull them all out, J. You won’t tell mom and dad on me will you?”

It had been an accident. I wouldn’t tell, though I cringed for the better part of an hour while Kimball pulled cactus spine after cactus spine out of my hand with a teeny pair of tweezers.

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Amendment (an attempt to clear my name of it’s dubious behavior, somewhat)

Weekly Anamnesis #16

It has been ages since I have done one of my farm stories, so here we go. Now, lest you all believe that I was the main center of mischief in our family I am submitting this amendment (correction) to my blog confessing my siblings’ follies. (I know it is a stretch for the topic at hand, but it is all I could come up with) I hope they will forgive me, but after all, I wasn’t an only child and they did many crazy things just like me, and as I witnessed most of them well . . .

We’ll start with Heidi. She was the oldest and I don’t know that I remember too much, other than the boys and I harassing her when she was babysitting to her wits end. I do remember a certain yellow plate rocket launched into space though. Paul, Kimball, and I were being especially obnoxious, sitting across the back of the kitchen table, and she got really, really mad. Before we knew it we had an UFO aimed right for our heads. “Beam me up Scotty!!” It missed us and shattered on the wall right above our heads. Were we scared, terrified, sorry? Of course not, we started laughing and said, “you are so lucky you didn’t break the window with that thing!” Hmmm. Ooh, and then there was the time when she was going to bake something in the oven and turned it on with out looking inside it first. I’m not sure why it was in there, but pretty soon there was an awful smell, flames, and lots of smoke! After about of gallon of baking soda was dumped everywhere she pulled out a very melted plastic cake/jello pan. See, I’m not the only pyro in my family!

Now Lisa, I cannot claim to ever having witnessed her particular claim to glory. Though I might have been watching it all from above as I was not born yet. I have heard the story a million times. I believe it was a beautiful day and they were someplace visiting someone and there was a pond. My sister was prone to delusions of grandeur, and on this particular day was delusioning about super woman. Maybe she was showing her older sister how it was supposed to be done, I can’t really say, I wasn’t there. Perhaps she was just under the impression that if she got a long running start down the hill she could take flight and soar across the pond. So down she went proclaim at the top of her lungs, “SUPER WOMAN!” I’m afraid there was no grand flight, or soaring into the sky. There was a loud splat though as she hit the mud at the edge of the pond. Heh. I sure wish I could have seen that one! 🙂

I was reminded of Kimball’s moment as I watched Looney Toons with my children the other day. I looked at my mom, pointed, and exclaimed, “Hey! That’s Kimball!” I’m sure there are many, this just happens to be the one I remember, and I hope he doesn’t shoot me if he reads this. 😉 My brothers had BB guns and one fine day Kimball was carrying his BB gun about. I’m sure he thought the safety was on. His finger was placed strategically over the barrel (to keep that silly BB from rolling out, heh). Apparently the safety wasn’t on and he got a nice little BB sized hole going through his finger. So the moment on the Looney Toons you ask? I believe it was Elmer Fudd putting his finger in the barrel a number of times to keep it from going of and his finger kept popping out and then in again. You might comment that maybe he watched too much TV and especially Looney Toons when he was a kid, but that argument won’t work; we didn’t have a TV. 🙂

Paul’s story involves BB guns too, and I was there to witness the whole thing! My family just heard the resulting crash. We were standing in our front yard looking out towards the slightly distant road. At the end of the yard just before the front pasture started there was a cement block. On the block in the yard at the beginning of the pasture sat a Robin. Now, my brothers were permitted to shoot pesky birds to keep them out of the garden and such, but Robins were not on the ok to shoot list. And as my brother took aim I reminded him of this. He shrugged, pesky sisters didn’t know what they were talking about. Then I informed him that if he missed the bird that he would hit the block and it would ricochet. “I won’t miss.” he said taking careful aim and squeezing the trigger. There was a pop, a whiz, a ping, a zing, and then a mighty crash. The Robin flew off and Paul stood in utter horror. I kindly did the little sister jig and said, “Oooohhh! You’re gonna get it now!” And promptly disappeared to hide in the barn so as not to be included in the mad-cap caper. What was the crash you ask? The large side van window. Heh.

So, you see, I was not the only contributor of trouble. I am just amazed that my poor mother managed to survive us all! How we do love her so!

(by the way I was interested to find as I looked at definitions of “amendment” that it also means ” a material (as compost or sand) that aids plant growth indirectly by improving the condition of the soil”. For a good story on the many uses of such an amendment read this. So now hopefully, this post won’t be such a stretch of the topic.)

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Messages

Weekly Anamnesis #14

1980 something

I didn’t know what it was called, I still don’t; I just remember it was fun to play with. You inserted a narrow plastic tape of sorts, with a peel off backing so it would stick on something, and turn the dial to different letters. By squeezing the handle (or a button?) it would leave the imprint of the letter. We had black, blue, and red tapes and the letters would look white when they were embossed on them. I wrote a message to my mom one time and stuck it on her sewing machine. It said, “Mom, you are the best!” It is still there, though her sewing machine has changed since then.

1980 something else

We took a day trip over the border (we lived in Pennsylvania) to West Virginia to visit Coopers Rock Sate Park. It is an amazing place with mammoth boulders scattered through the woods. Pillars to squeeze between, caves to explore, and sloping boulders to hide under. If Robin Hood had been in the United States I am sure this would have been his hide out. The trails wound around and through them and hours were spent climbing. We went back on numerous occasions I believe. I spent a lot of time with my mom as the older kids went on longer hikes with my father. My mom and I would find a hiding place to camp out, and then leave hidden messages and clues on the paths to our location. We would make arrows out of sticks on the path pointing the way or place sticks in an “x” or an “o” for a hug and kiss. Sometimes mom would hide from me and I would follow her messages to be greeted with a heart when I found her.

1998

When Paul and I were married we received a very simple gift which has been a favorite all these years. It was a small mirror with an oak frame and two hooks beneath it; nothing grand or spectacular. The giver had cut two hearts out of cardboard and labeled them with our names and hung one from each hook. The note attached to the mirror face said, “It is my hope that you will leave love messages and notes to each other on this mirror in the years to come.” We did, and we still do, though maybe not with quite the frequency as when we were first married. On many occasions I will enter the bedroom and as my eyes drift to the mirror hanging on the wall there will be a note or card tucked under the wood edge on my side. A message of love, caring, thoughtfulness and gratitude; a reminder of messages throughout the years.

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Mush, Septic Tanks, and Grand Canyons

Tired and stumbling I wiped the sleep out of my eyes as I staggered up the stairs into the warm glowing kitchen. In some instances I was greeted by the delicious smell of pancakes, eggs, or on special occasions scones. More often than not my senses were assaulted by the scent of hot cereal. It wasn’t my mother’s cooking, she did her best to make it yummy and appetizing, but my very being would revolt at the slightest hint of any kind of mush. Oatmeal was even affectionately named “mush and bugs” as brown sugar and raisins were added in an effort to make it more enticing. I was stoic in my distaste, and it wasn’t just oatmeal. I couldn’t stand cream of wheat, or cracked wheat, and cornmeal. Oh, cornmeal was the worst. I would wile away the hours knowing that the arrival of the bus would be my only salvation.

I’m not sure how much mush our poor dog lapped down in my efforts to escape the kitchen table, and I know some of it slipped into the base board heaters along the back of the table. Those poor heaters sure took a beating.

There came a time in my childhood when the septic tank needed to be emptied. Though it would be funny to say that it was chocked full of mush, the truth of the matter was that when they began to dig in the appointed location it wasn’t there! No where to be found. I guess septic tanks can be quite elusive as no one would voluntarily care to find one. So they began to dig . . . and dig . . . and dig . . . and dig some more until we had a huge colossal sized trench stretching all the way from our house down the hill and almost to the duck pond before they finally found it. We always said as kids that we had the Grand Canyon in our back yard. My brothers and I would waste (hee hee) away the hours running up and down the sides of the trench singing songs about oatmeal and cornmeal and their proper place in the septic tank.

My dislike for hot cereal, or all things mushy as I like to say, is so bad that I refuse to put milk on certain cold cereals, and even then I have to eat quick because when it starts to get soggy it reminds me too much of mush and I can’t stomach it. (I suppose this just proves how weird I really am, heh) I finally learned to stomach oatmeal, as long as it is those flavored packets and in small doses, but that was only last year, and I don’t think any of the other mushes will ever find favor with me. 🙂

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Rafter Tag

I clung to the wire side of the corncrib as my foot slipped out the square hole and felt my body weight pull on my hands as my feet dangled. I didn’t screech or cry out, I was used to this; it was exciting. I loved to feel the wind whip around me as I climbed up the open sides of the corncrib. My foot found another hole and I continued to scale the wire wall until I reached the rafters above.

The corncrib was really just a frame of a building with wire in place of walls. It had a full roof over the rafters, and down on the ground the rabbit hutches were housed. Some one a long time before had hauled some boards up to the rafters forming a makeshift platform. It was a great hangout, high above the ground and with no walls the view was beautiful, if a bit cool and drafty.

I could sit on the platforms and look out over the duck pond at the barn. I scanned over blueberry bushes and fields, woods and marsh. I could daydream for hours up there in quiet solitude. There were days though, when my brothers and I would find ourselves up there growing bored. One day we developed a new game, and rightly named it rafter tag.

In our hours on the platforms we slowly began to venture out onto the rafters themselves. We discovered that while standing on a rafter we could reach our hands up above our heads and cling onto the beams in the roof. Using the beam above us for balance we would shuffle along the rafters. Slowly this evolved into games of tag.

Paul tapped me on my shoulder, “you’re it!” and off he shuffled. I took in the position of my two brothers and quickly shuffled after Kimball. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, nab.
“Hah! Gotcha!”
“Whoa! Watch it, don’t tag to hard,” as I shuffled off in the opposite direction. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive to tell the story, I know my mom never would have let us up there if she knew what we were up to. So, do you know what your kids are up to? Heh. 🙂

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Curse of the Brussell Sprout (or Mystery of the Pea)

We had a huge garden growing up, an acre maybe? I just remember it being huge. When we would talk about having a rock party, it wasn’t the kind with wild blasting music, dancing, and strobe light. It was derocking the garden. Walking through with wagons and pails plucking rocks out of the dirt in the early spring so Dad could till it and get it ready for planting. And oh the weeding. Mounds and mounds of weeds were pulled. I would ride in the wagon on top of the mounds of weeds out to the compost pile where we dumped them. Dad grew a number of things in the garden. I loved walking between the rows of corn that seemed to reach way into the sky. Unfortunately the one thing that he could get to grow the best apparently was brussell sprouts. Now, I hope I don’t offend any of you brussell sprout lovers (I am so sorry for you, hee hee), but my dad did not have a sense of smell or taste and thus did not realize how truly terrible these things were. Even my mother couldn’t handle them.

I remember my dad getting upset because his garden just wasn’t producing all the vegetables he thought it should be. The peas were the worst, the plants were always bare! He could never explain it. It didn’t look like animals were getting at them, the plants were virtually untouched, just no pods. But the brussel sprouts always did well and produced like crazy.

One day dad was in the hayloft and stuffed behind some bales of hay he found two paper bags. They were chocked full, up to the brim, with empty pea pods.

We didn’t have nearly as many brussel sprouts after that and the pea plants mysteriously began to produce again . . .

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