Write It Down!

Write It Down!

Almost exactly a year ago, my father had a series of strokes that left him physically incapacitated and confined to a hospital bed at home. He had been hard of hearing for years as the result of multiple ear infections and lanced eardrums when he was a child in the 1930s. He lost his sense of taste and smell a few years ago as the result of a virus (at least, that was the doctor’s best guess), and his vision, which had never been fantastic, had deteriorated over the last year or two and worsened rapidly after the strokes. 

In spite of all that, though, his mind was still sharp and remained that way until just before he died last November. He had always been able to answer any question I asked about his family and his childhood, and with his older brother and sister both long dead, it’s only now sinking in that there isn’t anyone left who remembers those stories anymore. I still have so many questions! I wish I’d been able to go sit with Dad sometime in his last few months and just listen to him talk, but that opportunity and all of those memories are gone.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Ancestry.com over the past few years tracing our family history. I’ve learned a lot, like the fact that we had ancestors on every side of the Salem Witch Trials — one great-grandfather (Deacon Edward Putnam) examined and testified to the persecution of his niece, Ann Putnam, and the other girls; another (Benjamin Abbott) accused his neighbor, Martha Carrier, of witchcraft (and saw her hanged); and one great-grandmother (Mary Ireson) was accused herself and found guilty (partially on the testimony of Edward Putnam!), but fortunately her conviction happened so late in the trials that she wasn’t executed before the whole thing was finally brought to a halt.

The “interesting” ancestors are always the ones that exist as more than a name and set of dates in the family tree. They’re the ones who have stories recorded and passed down, whether in the history books or in their own hand. We have a four-page letter written by my great-great-grandfather, Joshua, from Denver back to his son in Maine in 1891. No one knows what Joshua, a sailmaker by trade, was doing in Denver, but he writes about missing his wife and children, about all the happenings out there (where a boy had recently fallen off the roof of a seven-story building and landed on a horse, breaking his leg and fatally injuring the horse), about his opinion of “Western women” (which boils down to the fact that you wouldn’t want to be seen with one of them in polite New England society!), and a tantalizing bit about his resentment towards his cousin, Albert, whose treatment of Joshua was somehow responsible for his move to the West. Joshua wasn’t famous by any standard — I haven’t even been able to find out when he died or if he’s buried in Maine or Denver — but just having that glimpse into his life and personality makes him so fascinating.

So here’s the point: write things down! Write about how you met your spouse. Write about your memories from childhood. Write about your college years and what you most enjoyed studying. Write about funny things your children say and do. Write about your pets and their quirks. Write about your family traditions and your vacations. Write about weddings and funerals and maybe a scandal or two. Write about stories your parents and grandparents told you. If they’re still alive, sit down with them and ask them to tell you all of these things about their own lives, including the stories their grandparents told them! Capture as much as you can in the most permanent form possible. And please, if Cousin Albert does you wrong and permanently alters your life story, for the love of all that’s high and holy, write it down!

My mom remembers riding on a horse-drawn sleigh with her grandfather to retrieve sap buckets from his maple trees in 1940s rural Pennsylvania. My oldest son, meanwhile, can’t conceive of a world in which phones were permanently connected to the wall and Netflix didn’t exist. He’s convinced I’m pulling his leg when I tell him that I didn’t have my first cell phone until I was in college, and that when I did get one, all I could do with it was make phone calls. So much has changed in only two generations.

My paternal grandfather was born in 1893 and died in 1986 when I was five years old. I know that he served in France in World War I, I know he had a sister named Marjory who died young, and I know I inherited my freckles and the reddish tint in my hair from him, but for the most part, his life is a mystery. Again, two generations, and think of how different his world was from mine!

My grandparents and their children. My father is the little boy in the middle.

Two generations from now, life will probably have radically changed again. A few generations after that, you and I could be just another set of flat, impersonal names and dates to our descendants. But there will still be people like me who want to know where they’ve come from and who some of the thousands of people were who had a part in creating them. You could be one of the ones who comes to life for them.

Write things down. They’ll thank you for it.

Homesteading Update


Well, let’s get the confession over with first. There is no garden this year. There was a garden, but through a program of careful neglect, we managed to ignore it till it went away.

I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle taking care of my children and getting things done outside. Obviously my great-great-grandmothers managed it somehow. It can be done. I just haven’t figured out how they did it yet. Babywearing is great, but it’s not particularly practical for working outside in a South Carolina July.

Anyway, as a result, I’ve been on a bare-bones maintenance program around here, and the garden paid the price. We had such a hot, dry summer, though, that even the gardens people actually remembered to tend around here yielded very little.

So, no vegetables, but we do have a few home-grown chicks. I’ve had multiple broody hens over the years, but none have ever stuck it out long enough to hatch the eggs. This year, though, two girls teamed up, sitting on the nest together most of the time and taking turns at eating and drinking. They managed to hatch out a total of eleven chicks, nine of which survived and are doing wonderfully.


The only thing we’ve expanded in the last few months is the rabbitry. We still have (and love) our American Chinchilla trio plus their eight current offspring, but now we also have standard Rex. If you’ve never felt Rex fur before, there is no way to describe its softness.


This is Julep, a young castor doe. We also have Moon Pie, her castor half-sister; Blackberry, a young black otter doe; Cassie, a mature castor doe who gave us six beautiful kits a few weeks ago; and Creole, a young silver marten buck. Later this month we’re picking up a little opal buck as well. Rabbit math. It’s worth than chicken math. Seriously.


There is something really therapeutic about caring for them, though. They’re soft, quiet, and friendly, and I find the routine of filling water bowls and doling out pellets and hay very pleasant. Not that I linger over the process — I’m usually either grabbing a few minutes while the baby sleeps and the boys watch a video or else I’m waiting till Ben gets home and trying to get everyone taken care of between supper and darkness.


One of Cassie's kits.

But I do stop to snuggle the occasional baby bunny. Wouldn’t you?


Seriously cute.

Family Update


Life is good. Life is also busy. My baby girl is six months old today, her older brother turned two-and-a-half two days ago, and her oldest brother is almost halfway through being six. It’s all flying by much too quickly!

So, The Boy and I started first grade a few weeks ago. It is a whole different kettle of fish from the kindergarten program that we did last year, but we’re starting to find a rhythm and have fun. He especially loves science — we’re studying insects right now, so what six-year-old boy wouldn’t love it? He already liked to throw around statements like, “Well, that’s my hypothesis,” so his love of science comes as no surprise.


The Slightly Smaller Boy hurtles through life like he’s been issued a personal challenge to Carpe this Diem with all he’s got. He keeps us on our toes in a way that his brother never has, but he also makes us laugh like crazy, so it works out. He’s scary-smart like his brother, too, and any day now I’m expecting him to start piping up with the answers when I’m quizzing The Boy in school.


And now this baby girl. Smitten doesn’t begin to describe it. She is the happiest, most roly-poly little creature you’ve ever seen. She’s also the spitting image of my mom as a baby, and at six months, she’s tipping the scales at almost 21 pounds. And of course, she has everyone in the house wrapped around her pudgy little fingers!


So, these three keep me busy from morning till night, but there are about 45 or 50 animals counting on us for their survival as well. I’ll post an update on the homesteading part of our lives in a day or two!


Good Neighbors


Miss Dorothy is somewhere in her late eighties. She’s tiny, adorable, and charmingly eccentric. She’s got a Southern accent as thick as molasses in January and a love for knit caps and men’s heavy duty work shirts, which always look like they’re swallowing her whole.

Dorothy and her husband, Norman, bought their land about 60 years ago, when there was nothing in the area. She can remember when they would sit on the front porch looking down towards the road, and if two cars went by in an hour, you knew it was a busy day. They kept chickens and bees and had the biggest woodpile I’ve ever seen.

Whenever we had a major snowfall (which only happened a few times during my childhood), we would walk across the street to “check on them.” It was a joke, really, because they were better prepared than anyone in the neighborhood. They had a wood-burning stove in their living room, and the big outdoor thermometer on the wall usually read well over 90 degrees. By the time we were done visiting, it was a relief to get back out into the snow!

Once, when I was very small, Dorothy called my mom and said, “Get that child in the house! Norman just saw a puff adder down by the mailbox!” My mom promptly went and looked up puff adders in the encyclopedia (Remember when we used to look things up in encyclopedias? Me, too. I miss that.) and discovered that they were native to Africa and the Middle East. Turns out, though, that around here, people refer to the harmless hognose snake as a puff adder because of its habit of flattening out its head like a cobra when threatened. Many people also assume that they’re deadly. And then those people worry about their neighbor’s toddler playing outside with such a beast at large.

In the 1980s, several large subdivisions went in around them, and developers came to their door more than once with a blank check, wanting to buy their property. Norman always declined, saying that he had bought that land intending to have his bones carried off of it. And about fifteen years ago, that’s exactly what happened.

Miss Dorothy stayed in their cozy little house, though, and their daughter more or less lives there with her now. She calls her mama “Little Mother” because that’s what Norman used to call her. They are two of the sweetest, cutest, and most independent women imaginable. I honestly cannot imagine either one of them saying a mean word about another person. It just isn’t in them.

Until just a few years ago, they were splitting all of their own wood to heat the house — two large trees per winter. Now they’ve switched to a propane heating system, and they no longer have the chickens or the bees, which practically makes them ladies of leisure.

I only see them once or twice a year now. We take the kids trick-or-treating there on Halloween, and sometimes the two of them come to my parents’ Christmas party. I always mean to visit more often, because I would love for my kids to have memories of Miss Dorothy. I’m resolving once again to do that before it’s too late.

That’s the thing about country neighbors. You don’t accidentally run into them while you’re unloading groceries from the car or trimming the hedges. You have to go calling, pay a visit, make time to seek them out. Good fences might make good neighbors, but good neighbors make great friends.

Miss Dorothy and The Boy when he was tiny. He was still almost as big as she is!

Miss Dorothy and The Boy when he was tiny. He was still almost as big as she is!

Prelude to Winter and Hens that Refuse to Lay


Well, we didn’t get seven feet of snow here this week, but there are flakes on the forecast for Wednesday. For a place that’s usually sunny and seventy degrees on Thanksgiving Day, that’s pretty crazy. In fact, on the first of November, there were several inches of snow to the north and south of us, although my personal snow-free zone still seems to be fully functional.

I haven’t confessed to The Boy yet that it’s probably my fault he doesn’t get to go sledding when kids four miles away are building snowmen. For now, I’m just hoping that this snow-repelling power isn’t some sort of voodoo that I’ve passed down to him and his brother!

One thing I love about cold weather is how much more pleasant it makes the daily chores. I absolutely hate being out in the smothering humidity of our South Carolina summers, but on cold days, I can bundle up. My heavy Wall’s 12/8 jacket is big enough to zip over my growing baby belly, my Muck Boots keep my feet warm and dry, and with some work gloves, I get everyone fed and watered so much more comfortably than in the summer heat.

I’ve run into a strange problem this year. The pullets I hatched out on February 9 and the ones I bought the next day (in case I had hatched out nothing but roosters!) have never started to lay. They’re 41 weeks old, and I’ve never caught one of them in a nest or seen any evidence of eggs being laid and eaten. I’m really at a loss, but at this point, I’m seriously considering culling the whole bunch of them and starting fresh next spring. They’re eating laying pellets like there’s no tomorrow and we’re not seeing any return on all that feed. So we’re going to change brands and see if it makes a difference, and in a few weeks, we’ll make a decision. This is a first for me, so it’s hard to know what to do.

The rabbits continue to be wonderful. I just love them. I bred Anne, one of the California does, to the AmChin buck (George) last month in hopes of getting a better growout rate in the kits. She was due two days ago and hasn’t nested yet, but she’s made a little tunnel in the nestbox bedding and tends to put off pulling fur till the last minute. Based on her crankiness these past few weeks, I’m pretty confident she’s pregnant. Should be interesting to compare her litter (provided she has one) with whatever we get from the larger AmChin doe, Martha, who’s due on December 4. I’ll post photos as soon as I can.

Hope everyone has safe travels this week and a wonderful Thanksgiving!