Category Archives: Family

Write It Down!

Standard
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.

Family Update

Standard

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.

image

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.

image

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!

image

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!

image

Good Neighbors

Standard

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!

Six Busy Months

Standard

Spring and summer have flown by this year. I’ve started a few posts without finishing any, and somehow half a year has passed since I posted anything at all.

The Baby is no longer a baby. Instead, he has morphed into an eighteen-month-old blur of energy, mischief, and fun requiring far more supervision than his brother ever has. Every obstacle must be climbed and every food must be tasted. Any cat sighting (window, television, pet store…) results in repeated and very realistic meowing. For whatever reason, his greatest ambition is to throw himself over the back of the sofa, something which I’ve managed to prevent so far. He loves to read books and wants to be just like his big brother.

image

The Boy, meanwhile, started kindergarten last week. I’m homeschooling him, and he’s absolutely eating it up. Most days he does twice as many pages as projected and would keep going if I didn’t stop him. His favorite thing is cutting and pasting, and he’s very careful and conscientious with his work. He still keeps us in stitches most of the time with the crazy things he says. He loves “inventing” things, and he can build just about anything with either Legos or PVC pipes. And he is a serious people person — not always the easiest thing for this introverted mama to deal with, but I’m glad he’s so outgoing.

image

And as busy as these two keep us, we’re expecting a third in March! The Boy says that it is “definitely” going to be a girl — while he adores his little brother, he also desperately wants a sister. This pregnancy is very different from my others, so maybe that means he’s right.

On the homesteading front, we built four raised beds and had a decent garden this year, but a serious lack of pollinators. The cold winter killed off a lot of honeybees around here. So our tomatoes, beans, crookneck squash, and butternut and acorn squash did pretty well, but the peppers and zucchini did nothing, and out of dozens of blossoms, my pumpkin vine only managed to set one fruit.

image

The chicks we hatched are thriving and fully grown now. We lost two within two days of hatching to mushy chick disease, where the navel fails to close properly after the yolk sac is absorbed. It’s usually caused by too much humidity during the hatch or bacteria encountered in the incubator. I didn’t have a hygrometer to measure the humidity, but as far as bacteria goes, by the end of the hatch that incubator was pretty manky. Not really sure how to avoid that.

Anyway, as soon as I realized why the first one died, I immediately started applying iodine to the navels of all the rest to dry them up. One was already too sick to pull through, but the others with iffy-looking abdomens all healed up cleanly. After that, we lost one to suffocation when all of its siblings decided to pile up on it, but the rest grew up beautifully.

The only downside to hatching our own chicks was that some of the prettiest ones turned out to be cockerels, including Trouble, my funny little owl-looking baby who used to jump into my hand as soon as I reached into the brooder. My little chocolate fluffball, Godiva, did end up being a pullet, but the one that looked like its Cuckoo Marans mama and that I had hoped might lay olive eggs ended up becoming a gorgeous roo. Most of the extra cockerels will probably end up in the freezer. It’s just another way of providing for our family, of course, but you know, I couldn’t help hoping we would have a miraculous, 100% pullet hatch. ☺

We added several new rabbits: a California buck and a trio of pedigreed American Chinchillas. The oldest AmChins won’t be old enough to breed until October, but I love these rabbits! They’re huge, beautiful, and so sweet. They’re a critically endangered heritage breed, so there aren’t many of them around here.

image

Add a few days in Charleston, a quick weekend trip for one of Ben’s younger brothers to get married on Pensacola Beach, several more home improvement projects, and a whole lot of laundry, and you’ve got a decent, if abbreviated, glimpse of our last six months. Hopefully it won’t be another six before I get a chance to write again!

Goat Tales

Standard

Goats are becoming increasingly popular as a good livestock choice for small-scale homesteaders. Depending on the breed, they can provide milk, meat, or fiber, and since they reproduce relatively quickly and often have two, three, or even four kids at a time, they’re pretty cost-effective. They’re also hilarious. And annoying. And I miss them.

Goats are escape artists. They like to help prune trees and weed gardens, but unfortunately, they don’t know when to stop. They love nothing better than getting themselves into impossible situations and then standing there and screaming until someone arrives to rescue them. Then they repeat the process multiple times. Basically, they’re troublesome and infuriating. Do not get goats. Ever.

Or, go get a goat. Or two. Because they’re fantastic. I’m serious.

One of our nanny goats and her baby grazing happily down near the stream.

One of our nanny goats and her baby grazing happily down near the stream.

We bought our first goats around the time I was in fifth grade. I thought they were beautiful: a big, brown, Nubian nanny with white dapples and ragged horns, and a rough-coated, calico, crazy-eyed billy. Josephine and Napolean.

I remember that I got to skip part of a school day for the arrival of the imperial couple. The note my mom wrote for me said that I needed to be home to receive some livestock, and I remember feeling very grown up when I handed that note in at the school office. That’s right, ladies, I’m a genuine farmer, and I have livestock to receive.

We wanted the goats to clean out an area of woods at the back of the property, and they were definitely up for the challenge. Within a couple of weeks, the place looked like a park. They started with the poison ivy, which is apparently like candy to them, and then they moved on to the privet, ivy, and who knows what else.

Their willingness to eat just about anything can backfire, of course, sometimes with serious consequences. Josephine found a tiny shrub of mountain laurel which had apparently washed down from the state park upstream and taken root in a cleft of the creek bank. It can be deadly, but being a goat, she scarfed some of it down.

She then spent the next week convalescing in a cozy nest of blankets in our basement, being fed hot oatmeal and hay. I’m pretty sure that she was actually feeling better several days before she showed it.

Her first kid (in her life with us, at least) was born on a Sunday afternoon, in the yard between the pool and the creek. We were having a picnic on the pool deck, so we had front row seats for the delivery, the efforts at standing, and the first, faltering steps. We promptly named the baby Billy the Kid and took about as many photos of him as normal people take of human babies.

There were other goats and other kids over the years, of course. Some were easy keepers, and some seemed determined to wreak as much havoc as possible. Some of the nannies were good mothers, but several weren’t, which meant that we ended up bottle-raising their kids in diapers in the house. There was nothing funnier than the look on a visitor’s face when a diaper-clad baby goat moseyed into the kitchen.

This little pygmy lived indoors for a while B.B.B. (Back Before Babies) And yes, he's standing on top of a computer which is sitting on top of a dresser. And no, we didn't put him there.

This little pygmy lived indoors for a while B.B.B. (Back Before Babies) And yes, he’s standing on top of a computer which is sitting on top of a dresser. And no, we didn’t put him there.

You cannot watch a baby goat (or better yet, a pair of baby goats) frisking around in the grass and not smile. It’s biologically impossible. They run and leap and twist and bounce and climb and play king of the mountain and are just generally adorable. And then, exhausted, they tuck themselves in close beside their mama and sleep. This probably explains why the tops of their heads smell like sunshine and fresh grass.

We sold our last two goats a few years ago after months of trying and failing to keep them in the pasture. They went over, under, or through every fence we put in front of them, and they usually ended up in the garden. They went to a great home with a man we’ve known for years. and at the time, we were relieved to be rid of them. But now somehow we find ourselves talking about when we can get more.

Gluttons for punishment? Maybe. Better than being gluttons for mountain laurel.

Just watching a little TV. What's so strange about that?

Just watching a little TV. What’s so strange about that?