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Come Back to the Barnyard

My calendar is marked. F A I R! A line connects the dates Thursday, August 1 thru Saturday, August 10.

            The Putnam County Fair’s theme is “Come Back to the Barnyard….” That takes me to my childhood and my family’s barn hayloft where a girlfriend and I played. Rectangular hay bales tied with grass string were perfect for dividing the loft into rooms.  We stacked bales to make a kitchen table and one bale became a chair or couch.  Two bales side-by-side made a bed.  Barn kittens, wrapped in old towels, were our babies. We played house all morning. 

            I headed to that barn loft when the skies darken and clouds gathered.  I loved hearing the rain hit the tin roof and if I had my book, whatever I was reading, I’d settle into a corner and hope the rain didn’t stop before I’d read the last page.

            I didn’t grow up on a working farm, but even those of us who lived a mile from the Pickett County courthouse had a milk cow, pigs, chickens, and a horse or two.  One sow refused to nurse her newborn babies.  On a cold night while my parents played cards at their friends’ house, my older brother and I put the piglets in a cardboard box and carried them to our house.  The nipple of an animal feeding bottle was too big for the piglets’ tiny mouths, but my doll’s bottle was just the right size.  By the time our parents got home, the piglets were sound asleep and so were my brother and I, on the floor beside the box. (There’s a story about the hardwood floor under the box, but that’s for another day.)

            Grannie raised chickens.  Tiny fluff balls grew into hens and laid eggs.  Grannie could ease her hand under a sitting hen to gather eggs and the hen never moved.  I couldn’t.  I was sure the hen would peck me.

            When my grandfather’s cow birthed twin calves, Mom checked me out of school.  Inside Papa’s barn, one calf stood on wobbly legs.  I’d watched puppies be born, but the birth of more than one calf was rare – worth missing the last hour of school.  Dad, Papa, and the cow worked hard to birth the second calf. 

            The Putnam County Fair offers a glimpse of farm life.  A Petting Zoo: horses, dairy cows, sheep, goats, chickens, geese and more.  And live demonstrations: blacksmithing, broom making, spinning, weaving, soap making, and children’s games. As stated in the Fair booklet, the Come Back to the Fair exhibit will “reach back to our roots and recall and recreate the farm barnyard – the safe place we played as children.”  A safe place to play and learn about life.

            My Grands may never play in a barn loft or marvel at the birth of twin calves or gather eggs, but at the fair they can smell hay and stroke a calf’s nose and see chickens sitting on their nests.  

            Take your family and check out farm life, eat a burger and cotton candy, walk through the exhibits and ride the ferris wheel.  I’ll see you there! ####


Dear Camper

Dear Ruth,

            How I wish I could hide in your suitcase and go to camp with you!  A week in the woods.  I’m happy for you and I know you’ll have a good time.

            Last week you were exited and said, “This will be the first time I’ve ever stayed overnight without some of my family!”  You are brave.  You know only two people at camp – a boy your age and a girl who is a family friend and a counselor in training.  So you get to make new friends.

            When I was your age, 10 years old, I went to 4-H Camp in Crossville.  Recently, I received a Facebook friend request from a woman I met at camp all those years ago.  Many people who I first knew as fellow campers were fellow students at Tennessee Tech years later.  One of the girls in your cabin might become a long time friend.

            What fun I had at camp!  My favorite activity was swimming and it wasn’t just because I got to play in a huge pool.  There was a snack bar at the pool and I discovered something I really liked. Fritos! We sometimes ate potato chips with a sandwich at home, but I hadn’t eaten corn chips.  I could hardly wait to get to the pool and while other campers ran to jump into the water, I headed to the snack bar and bought a small bag of Fritos. I ate those chips one at a time.  First, licking off the salt, then putting a whole chip in my mouth and letting it crumble as it dissolved.  Even now, when I eat Fritos, I think of the 4-H camp swimming pool.

             I really liked the end of a camp day, near sunset.  Everyone stood in lines outside the mess hall (aka dining hall) while the American flag was taken down and folded.  We were quiet and reverent and it was a peaceful time. I hope you sing the same song I sang: Day is done, gone the sun from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest; God is nigh.

             I didn’t like walking at night from my cabin to the bathhouse where the potties were, but I carried a flashlight and a light stayed on in the bathhouse all night. I especially didn’t like a stomachache that made me cry.  That happened because I was homesick.  Years later when your mom was homesick, I knew how she felt.

            I liked target shooting and crafts and square dancing and short hikes in the woods and throwing horseshoes and skit night and cabin pillow fights and most camp food.  (I was glad peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were available for every meal.)  I liked wearing my favorite clothes and my mom wondered why most of the clothes that she packed in my suitcase hadn’t been worn when I got home.

            Have fun at camp!  When you come home, let’s go to lunch so you can tell me all about your week.

            Love forever,             Gran

Colorado’s Natural Playground

For a week, Husband and I explored parts of Colorado with Daughter and Son and their families. “First stop tomorrow is the Poudre River,” Son announced and the Grands giggled. 

     “Did Uncle Eric say pooter?” eight year-old Elaine asked, then she put her hand over her mouth and giggled.

            “Actually, it’s the Cache La Poudre (pronounced pooh-der) River and you’ll like it.  It’s a good place to throw rocks.” After breakfast the next day, six adults and eight children, ages 4-14, loaded into three vehicles.  One carried bicycles on top so Son 2 (aka son-in-law) and the four older kids could ride the Poudre trails and the rest of us prepared for a fifteen-minute walk along a dirt path toward the river.

            Carrying water, snacks, sunscreen, and insect repellant, we adults walked in front and back, and the two youngest cousins, Ann and Jesse, held hands as they walked.  Ann, who has visited the Poudre River many times, said, “We get to walk on the wiggly bridge!”

            Six and eight year-old cousins Neil and Elaine paired up and rocked the wooden suspension bridge from side to side.  “This is more fun than walking!” said Elaine.  She and Neil hopped across the bridge.

            The Poudre ran full and swiftly. Its shoreline was covered with rocks, from small gravels to rocks big enough to sit on.  A large willow tree with exposed roots and low branches grew beside the riverbank.  The Grands immediately threw rocks in the water and challenged each other.  Who could throw the farthest?  Whose rock made the biggest splash? Who could throw five rocks at one time?  And Elaine and Neil often said, “Watch me throw this rock in the Pooter,” and then laughed.

            After a bit, the four kids wandered from each other.  Jesse, age five, found a walking stick and walked the tree roots, nature-made balance beams.  Four-year-old Ann collected the shiniest, tiniest rocks.  Neil and Elaine threw leaves and sticks in the river and then tried to hit them with rocks. 

            Husband and Son skipped rocks and all four Grands counted loudly the number of skips across the water’s surface.  The kids were determined to find perfectly flat rocks and master skipping.  Over and over they slung rocks into the water and when one skipped, even once, all celebrated with applause and cheers.

            Another thirty minutes passed before Daughter and Daughter 2 declared it was time for snacks and water and a second sunscreen rub down.  Afterwards, Jesse used his stick as a shovel to dig softball size rocks from the ground.  The same size rocks lay on top of the ground, but with Ann’s encouragement, Jesse dug several and then together he and Ann made the biggest water splashes or so they claimed.

            A different trail from the river led us through marshland and the Grands stopped and squatted to watch ants scurry around a huge anthill.  Back at the parking lot, we met the bike riders and our eight Grands talked at the same time.  All were sure they’d had the most fun.  They were wrong.  I did, but I didn’t tell them.


Happy Independence Day

“Pop, are you going to get fireworks?” #1 Grandson asked.  I bit my tongue to not speak.  Is the sky blue?  Is the ocean salty?  I’d be disappointed if Husband didn’t buy fireworks and so would our 14-year-old #1 Grand and other Grands.

            I’m talking about backyard fireworks to be safely enjoyed on the evening of the 4th.  After all, fireworks are a tradition.  On July 4, 1777, the firing of cannons and explosives left over from wars were part of our country’s celebration on the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.   

            When I was a kid Dad bought firecrackers and sparklers and Roman candles.  He made sure all cars were parked a safe distance away and our dogs were inside the basement and he stressed safety rules.  No lighting firecrackers from another firecracker.  No throwing firecrackers or pointing sparklers toward anyone.  Keep a bucket of water near by.  And clean up the mess when finished.   

            Mom, Dad, my brother, Roger, and I gathered in our driveway at dark-thirty.  I lit my firecrackers quickly and Roger methodically made the ones allotted to him last a long time.  Dad lit the Roman candles and aimed them away from the house. Those fireballs swooshed high in the air.  I was awed.

            When our kids were young, Husband bought fireworks.  His rules were the same as Dad’s. Son and Daughter helped Husband lay the fireworks out on the driveway and just the bright colored packages created excitement. A few other neighbors contributed fireworks and several families gathered in the street.  The sparkling bright colors, the loud swooshing sounds, the pops – all were fun.  As were smoke bombs that created dark gray smoke and stunk and snakes that lay on the ground and glowed and then shriveled into black worms.  Best were spinners and poppers and bottle rockets and roman candles – fireworks that flashed and flew. 

            A favorite firework was a buzzer. Once Husband lit one on the ground and it buzzed and spun and flashed red and yellow sparks and jumped three feet high.  Usually a couple of bounces and buzzers fizzled out.  As we young mothers sat on the ground, at what we thought was a safe distance, a buzzer jumped and spun our way.  We scrambled to move, but Marilyn was right in the buzzer’s path.  It took a leap and jumped into the armhole of her sleeveless blouse and she screamed.  Marilyn wasn’t seriously injured and a safety lesson followed. 

            Just like I’d done, our kids and others held sparklers and created shapes and designs and letters in the darkness.  And one watched.  When others had burned all their sparklers, that child put on a sparkler show.

            Now it’s the Grands’ turn.  Husband will buy fireworks and at dark-thirty, we’ll celebrate our country’s birthday.  All will ooh and aah and clap and squeal and some will hold fingers in their ears and we’ll end with sparklers.  I wonder who’ll be last and present a solo show.

            Happy Independence Day!

Take a Break from Work

An airport is one of the best places for people watching.  Last week at the Denver airport I chose a seat facing a wall of windows where I could see two Southwest airplanes parked and the ground crew working.

            Those workers were like ants around an anthill.  One drove a baggage tractor that pulled a loaded wagon from the building to an airplane.  Another lifted all the baggage – suitcases of all shapes, colors, and sizes, cardboard boxes secured with orange duck tape, golf bags, and big canvas bags, probably carrying infant car seats – from the wagon to a conveyer belt that moved the baggage into the belly of the airplane.  But before lifting, the worker swiped a device, like a big watch, on his left wrist over the white airline tags attached to the bags and boxes.  That device probably created tracking records in case baggage became lost.

            A worker inside an open cargo door of the plane took bags from the conveyor belt and threw them into a dark cavity out of my sight.  Another worker drove a small jeep under the plane’s wing, stopped, got out, bent low, and looked at the tires.  A man dressed in a pilot uniform carried a clipboard and walked around the plane. 

            As the other airplane moved backwards, four workers walked under the wings and in front of the plane and motioned with huge flashlights to indicate that the pilot should continue to back up.  Putting flashlights aside, they waved with their hands stretched high as the plane turned. 

            Wearing uniform long pants, long sleeve shirts, bright orange vests, and ear noise protectors, the ground crew was a team.  All doing their jobs.

            Then an oversized white van stopped near the parked airplane.  Snownie Ambulance was written on the van’s side.  Was someone hurt?  This didn’t look like an ambulance to take a patient to a hospital.  The driver, dressed in dark shorts and a white-shirt, lifted a metal table with holes from the back of the van.  He set the table on the paved ground and placed gallon jars, filled with brightly colored liquids, upside down in those holes. 

            A couple of the ground crew workers sauntered over to the Snowie Ambulance and were handed snow cones.  One immediately used the lever on an upside down jar to cover the ice with red syrup.  The other squirted several colors on his snow cone. 

            Within a few minutes, more than a dozen strong looking men and women were eating snow cones and talking.  I couldn’t hear them, but their smiles, their shoulder punches, their high-fives conveyed a party atmosphere.  Southwest Airlines celebrated its 48th birthday last week, and I’m guessing the Snowie Ambulance was part of the celebration.                    It’s interesting that something as simple as snow cones brought frivolity and a sense of community to grown men and women who were working just minutes earlier.  My spirits were lifted and I didn’t even get to eat a cherry snow cone.

Will GPS Get You There?

 “This couldn’t be the way to the Citadel,” I said and my friends agreed.  While exploring Charleston, South Carolina, we long-time college girlfriends wanted to see the campus and the buildings of this military college founded in 1842.  June had said to Siri on her phone, “Directions to the Citadel.”  We knew the Citadel was about three miles north of downtown Charleston, but the GPS directed us we through the heart of the city. 

“Let’s follow these directions and see where it takes us,” June said.  “We’re less than a mile away.”  We turned right and then left at the next intersection. Siri announced, “You have arrived at your destination, the City Jail.” 

            Somehow a southern accent and Siri, a personal assistant application, didn’t communicate and the GPS, Global Positioning System, directed us where we didn’t want to go.  And it’s happened to others.

            Monika and her husband followed GPS commands one afternoon on a scenic drive to travel from western Kentucky to Cookeville.  They turned from a four-lane interstate road to a two-lane state road.  Then onto a county road with no centerline.  The landscape was beautiful, pastoral.  White fences, weathered barns, farm crops.  The road became narrower and led to a swamp.  A swamp with no bridge over it.  “If it’d been dark, we might have driven right into that swamp,” Monica said.  “We backtracked and travelled on main highways to get home.”

            Pam and Larry chose a route to avoid traffic when they went to in Sevierville, Tennessee, and were happy to be driving on roads with few cars.  A turn took them into a residential area that had only a few small houses.  They realized their GPS has failed them when they saw a dead end street sign, and they were amused by a hand-lettered sign in the yard of the house at the end of a cul-de-sac.  “Turn around. Your GPS is wrong,” the sign read.

            One time Kathy purposely diverted from the GPS directions and was told, “Make a legal U-turn, then make a legal U-turn.”  Wouldn’t that be back where she started? And Kathy wonders what her GPS would say if she made an illegal U-turn.  Would she be reprimanded?

            Paulette was driving in unfamiliar territory to a friend’s home.  Her GPS said, “Turn left.”  She didn’t.  “Turn left,” was the next command.  Again she didn’t because she was driving on a long tall bridge over water.

            In a rush to get her son to a baseball game so he could play in Georgia, Robbie chose the fastest route according to her GPS.  She raced around curves of county roads and ended in a parking lot in the mountains at the beginning of a hiking trail.  At one time that trail was a county road. 

            I use the GPS on my van, especially when travelling out of town, but I keep my atlas close so I can see where I’ve been and where I’m going. And honestly, it’s stories like these that make me confirm directions on my old-fashioned paper maps that I can hold.



A Matter of Perspective

After reading Jennie Ivey’s column about her discussion with a woman on an airplane who was excited to see Tennessee, I thought of a conversation I had with a Texas woman.  When Son and Daughter 2 lived in Dumas, Texas, Husband and I visited them. 

            Dumas, population 15,000, is located in the Texas panhandle, not far from the Oklahoma border.  In fact, only 52 miles from the border town, Texhoma, Oklahoma, and as my granny would say, ‘pretty much in the middle of nowhere.’

            Son had warned us there wasn’t much to see or do in Dumas and suggested he and Daughter 2 meet us somewhere else for a visit, but I wanted to see where they lived.  This region is mostly flat plains, some grass, and more tumbleweed. The few trees are twenty feet tall and windswept, nothing like our trees in Tennessee.  The dominant color of the terrain around Dumas is brown and in most directions I could see to the horizon. 

            “There’s a museum here and we haven’t been because we thought it’d be a fun place to take you,” Son said.  The Window of the Plains Museum sits on the main road that runs north and south thru Dumas.  As I signed the visitor book, I noticed we were the only visitors for the past several days.  The woman behind the welcome desk nodded her greeting, told us to look around, and she’d answer any questions.

            This free museum offers displays of ranching, farming, industry, and family life from the past two centuries. A huge collection of saddles and bridles filled one area, and original art highlighting the plains hung throughout museum. I struck up a conversation with the woman who worked there.

            She explained that most items were donations from local residents and they often had special exhibits on loan and welcomed artwork from the county’s schools.  I understood her pride. “Where you from?” she asked. 

            “Tennessee. I’ve always lived there,” I said.  She wanted to know why we were in Dumas and I explained.  “Have you always lived here?” I asked.  She had and lived just a few miles from the house where she grew up.

            “So you’ve always lived here.  Have you travelled east of the Mississippi?  The landscape is very different,” I said.

            “I went to Kentucky once,” she said and we determined she was just north of Cookeville.

            “You saw what Tennessee looks like.  Green trees, rolling hills.  Really pretty countryside,” I said.

            She nodded.  “I was told Kentucky was beautiful, but I couldn’t see anything.  Those big trees blocked the view.  Here, we can see for miles.  Now that’s a pretty view.”

            There was nothing for me to say.  I understood the plains were as beautiful to her as green rolling hills and trees are to me.  And often when I travel Tennessee highways and back roads, I think of this Texas woman and that she wouldn’t like the big trees that block the view.             To me, the trees are the view and they are beautiful.