Sunday, June 19, 2011

Here are a couple of writings about my dad in memory of him today, Father's Day.


Their names were Dolly and Bill,
But Dad called his team of farm horses DollarBill
Just to make us laugh.
To my childhood eyes, they looked immense
As they stood patiently in their stalls,
Waiting for their harnesses and the day’s work.
Their rich roan color set off the soft blond
Of their manes and tails.
Dad’s pride in them was evident in the way
He showed respect for them.
He always spoke softly when he approached their stall
And made sure they had enough oats in their manger box.
He curried them to keep their coats shining and comfortable, Especially after a day of pulling the hayrack in the hot summer sun
While Dad filled it overflowing with shocks of golden ripe oats.
Each day before he left the barn,
He checked their heavy hoofs
To be sure no rocks brought pain to their steps.
He kept them around even after tractors
Took over jobs they used to do so well,
But the day came when he had to sell them.
He didn’t talk much that day.
I doubt he ever stopped missing them.

Dad’s First Dog

We had many dogs on the farm as I grew up, but the one I remember best was the first one my father owned. I don’t remember when Dad got him; he was there before I was born. But I remember how much Dad loved him.

Dad called him “Maddo.” I’m not sure where he got that name. My brother thinks it came from a twist on the name “Mehrer,” a pastor Dad knew. 
Maddo was a big strong dog with long wavy brown and black fur. He wasn’t any special breed, more likely a combination of many. His short ears stood up straight, and his big brown eyes showed an intelligence that was obvious in his behavior.

He was a great cattle dog. He brought the cows home safely from the pasture at milking time without running or head chasing them. 

Maddo tolerated us four children with love and patience. He never nipped at us if we played with him too vigorously. He was good with other dogs Dad brought onto the farm when Maddo began to get too old to do his usual tasks.

Maddo hated snakes. I think he saw them as a threat to the family he loved. He’d go right after them, grabbing them with his teeth and shaking them until they were dead.

I don’t remember seeing Dad pet Maddo or play with him, but I can still picture Dad walking around the farm yard, busy with his daily chores, Maddo always a step behind him. You could tell they had a special bond that didn’t need words or actions to affirm it.

When Maddo was about thirteen years old, he began to suffer from stiff joints. Walking became more and more difficult. Finally, he spent his days lying in the shade of the shelterbelt. Then he stopped eating. It was evident he needed to be put out of his misery.

Dad just couldn’t bring himself to do what was necessary. He asked his cousin, who lived on a farm nearby, to come over late one evening after we were all in bed and do the job.

I didn’t see Dad bid his old friend good-by, but I can imagine him stroking that broad, soft forehead one more time, not able - not needing - to say anything. I can imagine Maddo looking up at Dad with love and trust in his eyes, knowing his master would take care of him, even to the end.

The next morning, Dad told us Maddo was gone. Dad was unusually quiet for a few days after that. 

We had more dogs as time went on. I remember Sport, always ready for a romp; Beauty, a timid black and white dog as graceful as her name; and Spike, a muscular dog with coloring of a collie who loved wrestling with my brother. But they never took the place in my Dad’s heart that always belonged to his first dog, good old Maddo.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Summer Fun

School is out, and even if the weather has been more spring-like than usual, we’re all in the mood for everything that’s special about summer. 

I remember summer fun when I was young. We’d play “house” for hours in the shade of the shelter belt trees. Sometimes, after a rain shower, we’d wade in the ditches and pick up snails. We called them “sea shells”. Mom hated finding them in our pockets when she was about to throw our coveralls into the wash machine.

I once asked my mom what she did in summer when she was a girl. It turns out she played “house” much the same as I did. Her mother made the dolls she played with. She sewed body and head shapes from muslin and embroidered yarn faces on them.

Mom and her sisters used old broken plates and cups and empty sardine cans for their “dishes,” much as we did. And we both remember making lots of mud pies. My sisters and I were pretty good at decorating them with bits of grass and leaves. 

Another thing we had in common was our love of ice cream as a summer treat. However, obtaining it was much different in her day compared to my childhood.

For one thing, her family didn’t have an ice cream freezer with a handy crank. They started with a five gallon tub for the ice and salt. 

The ice cream mixture was poured into an empty gallon syrup can with the lid replaced securely. Then they pushed the syrup can down into the tub of ice and, using the handle on the can, turned the pail back and forth half turns.

Every once in a while, they had to remove the can, take off the lid, and scrape the frozen ice cream mixture off the sides of the can and into the middle. Then they’d replace the lid and repeat the turning process. It must have taken a lot of time and muscle to enjoy ice cream those days

The ice they used came from their ice house, a building I remember seeing when I was a very little girl. It was originally the sod house my great-grandparents built when they homesteaded on their farm. After they built a wooden house for themselves, they dug out the floor of the sod house to a depth of five or six feet. 

During the winter, the men cut blocks of ice from ponds and stacked them into the sod house with layers of straw between and a thick layer over the top. Mom said they usually had ice until well into June.

I guess I’m glad I live in a day when ice cream is as handy as a trip to the store, summer or winter. But I wonder if we appreciate it now as much as my mom did when it came with a whole lot more work and, certainly, anticipation.