Monday, December 19, 2011

Commit, Don't Hesitate -or- How I Rolled an Impala

Confession time:  I used to drive like a freaking maniac down country roads.  My family thinks I'm an impatient driver now?  19 year-old-me would pass 50 year-old-me, and for the brief moment while parallel on the road, I would give me "the look" for having the audacity to be in my way.  

The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year at Purdue, I worked in the McCutcheon Hall kitchen on campus.  While at school, that's where I lived for 2 years (even though the homestead was only 20 minutes away - 15 if you drove like I did), and it was the dorm where a lot of outside groups stayed over the course of the summer.  It was my job to help feed them.  

I worked the lunch shift one hot afternoon and was very eager to get home.  My sister and her family were coming to visit for a few days, and I hadn't seen them in a long time.  I jumped in my parent's 1977 Chevy Impala, rolled down all the windows, and took off.  It was a hefty car.  It looked like this:

The stretch of road between the dorm and the homestead included a curve at the top of a very steep hill.  A gravel crossroad met the road at the very bottom of the hill.  Overgrown weeds and bushes forced a driver to pull up to the very edge of the "T" to check for oncoming traffic. The scene loosely looked like this, with me speeding down the hill in the bright yellow car:

From near the top of the hill, I saw a vehicle at the crossroad (we'll call him Jeep Guy, because of the illustration)  and Dull Yellow Sedan far off in the distance.  Jeep Guy pulled out, supposedly wanting to turn toward me.  Then he must have seen me, barreling down the hill and the guy coming from the other direction, and stopped.  The idiot completely blocked the road.  He was in the process of trying to back up when I slammed on the breaks.  

If Jeep Guy wouldn't have hesitated and followed through with the turn, I wouldn't be writing this now.  To this day, I believe that if you start doing something stupid behind the wheel, follow through.  Well, within reason.  It's likely to have a better outcome than hesitating and trying to correct your actions in the heat of the moment.  

Nothing about 1970's cars were as efficient as they are now.  Breaks tended to lock up when you tried to stop a car traveling down a steep hill at 65 miles an hour.  By the time Jeep Guy got out of my way and Dull Yellow Sedan saw was was happening, I had skidded over to the left side of the road and rolled down the embankment.  

I remember the side-view mirror being torn off and the windshield crunching.  I don't remember being tossed around the cab of the car, but from the bruises that appeared later, it must have been like I was inside a clothes dryer.  (Seat belts?  Cars had seat belts?)  The next thing I knew, I had crawled up the embankment.

Jeep Guy took off.  It's a good thing, because adrenaline can make you do crazy things, and I probably would have choked him or her.  Dull Yellow Sedan came over to see if I was OK, and at some point, went into town to call the police.  Mr. Policeman showed up soon after, and I was ushered to the front seat of his cruiser, shaking like a leaf.  

I take the blame for speeding, but I still say Jeep Guy caused the accident.  I was convinced of that, even though I got the impression Mr. Policeman had formed a different opinion.   He didn't give me a ticket, but I could tell what he thought.  I kept thinking, "Go find 'Jeep Guy'!!  If nothing else, arrest him for being a leaving-the-scene jerk!!  For all he knew, I could have been fatally wounded, and he just left!!"

We sat in the police car, on the gravel crossroad, going over the incident for the third time.  Because of the overgrown foliage, I could see only a small patch of the main road and the weeds that were mowed down on the far side by my car.  Then, of all people, Denny sped by in his gold cargo van.  Without thinking, I said, "Hey!  There goes my brother!"  Mr. Policeman flipped on his siren, hit the gas, and took off after him.  Never mind that I was still shaking, in shock, and again, sans a seat belt.

Denny stopped and we pulled up next to him.  He looked confused as to why a cop was stopping him, then he saw me sitting in the cruiser and was surprised, to say the least.  I explained to Denny (and his dog, Bender, who was riding with him) what happened and where (you couldn't see the car from the road).  He went into town and called Dad.  

Explaining to Dad.  Ugh.  That was worse than telling rude Mr. Policeman for the umpteenth time.  The tow truck came,  drug the car up to the road, and off to a garage.  I can't remember, but it had to have been totaled.  It was in pretty bad shape.

All my dad had to say about the whole thing? "You better thank your lucky stars, Joan Marie.  You better thank your lucky stars."  

And I most certainly did.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Walking Beans

As I typed the title of this post, I realized that anyone who didn't grow up on a farm is probably thinking I'm going to talk about kidney beans with legs.

Sorry, but no.

The definition of "walking beans":  When a person travels on foot between rows of soybeans growing in a field, cutting out weeds with some sort of sharp implement or tool.  When we did it, we had a tool that had a shaft like a golf club, but with a sharp hook on the end.

Talk about slicing the ball!!  HA!  (Sorry.  I couldn't resist a little golf humor there.)

Anyway...  I walked beans with my dad and was paid a whopping $10 per field.  OK granted, that was early 1970's money, but I think I was still fairly cheap labor.  Dad stayed about 10 rows away kept track of our path through the field.  We walked the rows, wrapping our hooks around the bottom stem of any unwanted foliage and tugged.  I used to try to make a nice, quick slice, so that the taller weeds fell like trees in a forest - almost in slow motion.  Doing this all day, you had to find your kicks somehow.

When I was around 12 years old, Dad and I were walking beans on a very hot, summer afternoon.  I was  strolling along, felling mini forests along the way.  I was wearing my white knock-off Chuck Taylor tennis shoes - completely inappropriate footwear for this sort of work.  I pulled my hook back on particularly stubborn weed stem and felt the hook hit my shoe.  No biggie.  But then a few yards down the row, I noticed my right tennis shoe had turned red.

I screamed "DAD!!!" at the top of my lungs, even though he was only a few rows away.  Now, my father was not a small man.  He was approximately 6' tall and was of solid, big-boned German heritage.  But on that day, my dad moved like a svelte track star, hurdling over soybean plants in a matter of seconds, to see what had happened.

The hook had sliced the side of my inappropriate tennis shoe, and obviously cut my foot.  He carried me back to the truck, we went home to get Mom, and took off for the office of doctors Mc Kinney and Stolz.  The cut was on the side of my little toe.

2 stitches.  That's it.  You would have thought I cut my leg off from (a) the amount of blood the wound produced and (b) my crying, whining, sobbing and being an overall baby about it.

I don't know if people still walk beans.  Herbicides are probably much more efficient now than back then.  But I'm thinking that with better footwear, I'd like to walk beans again.  Get my exercise and make $10 doing it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's impossible to stroll down memory lane today.  Here's why-

No. 1 -
We just returned from Costa Rica.  What a beautiful country!  I think we've found where we want to retire!  The best part?  It was free.  We only put out for souvenirs and for someone to stay at our house and watch our dogs.
John used to be a rep for Kumho Tires, and that's who funded our little trip.  Because the Kumho sales people were required to go and schmooze customers, John would have gotten to go - not me.  But because he is now a customer and buys Kumho tires for his new company, I got to tag along.  Picture me smiling!  And because the tire industry is like every other, the faces stay the same and only the business cards change.  I've been on quite a few of these trips and met a lot of the sales people, regardless of where they worked and their spouses.  I got to see some old friends and make some new ones.  We ate a lot of good food, drank a lot of good drinks, and took a boat trip down the Rio Tempisque in the Palo Verde National Park.
And we got more freebies!  A bag of coffee, a bag of gourmet chocolate, a wooden bowl that came with flowers in it (sadly, the flowers had to stay behind), shirts, hats, backpacks and - get this - a Kindle Fire, with a $30 gift card to download books right away.  Score!  So I can't possibly think about my past today.  I'm too busy playing with my new toy and tending to various sunburned and bug bitten body parts.

No. 2 -
My ex-boss is testifying to the US Senate Agriculture Committee about the MF Global bankruptcy debacle.  How can I think of anything else when the guy I used to sit 3 feet away from is on C-SPAN??

So I leave you with these photos.  Happy December.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Little Things, Part III

Even more odd childhood memories!  Will it ever stop?!

We had wooden stairs at the homestead that led up to 4 bedrooms.  There was an exposed nail head in the corner of one stair riser, and the wood around it made it look like an eye.  When I was really little, I thought it watched me going up and down the stairs.  For the 18+ years I lived there, I couldn't help looking at it every single time I climbed the stairs - well, at least during daylight hours.  That was also the stair step you had to skip when you got home after curfew because of a very noisy squeak.

I barely remember my oldest brother living at home.  John graduated high school when I was around 4 years old.  My clearest memory of John being home is this--  Before Mom and Dad installed facilities upstairs, we only had one bathroom off of the kitchen.  On my way downstairs to the bathroom one night, I missed the top step and bounced all the way to the bottom.  I let out a blood curdling cry.  Mom, Dad, Joyce and Denny ran down to see if I had indeed cracked my head open.  Luckily, I just had a lot of bumps and bruises.  The next morning when he got up, Mom told John what happened during the night.  He looked at me, chuckled, and said, "I thought I heard something."

One day, Mom told me that we had to go into town to pick up a "Lazy Susan."  I seriously thought I was getting a little sister.  I ignored the 'lazy' part.  I remember Mom trying to explain to me what was really going to happen, but I would have none of it.  I was too excited about having someone/something new to play with.  I was really disappointed when we came home with something that looked like this:

We lived in a farmhouse, and farmhouses get mice from time to time.  Mom had traps and poison posted in strategic locations (away from where I could get to them).  One night during supper, a deranged mouse scampered out from behind the refrigerator and ran in circles in the middle of the kitchen.  We watched him for a minute until Dad put an end to it by stepping on it - with no shoes on.  Barefoot.  That was one of the few times Mom let me off the hook and didn't make me eat the rest of my dinner.  

Like I mentioned before, Mrs. Thrush was our music and art teacher.  I think I was in 5th grade art class when she instructed us to draw a profile self portrait.  Having glasses, I drew mine like this:

She said it should look like this:

My 10 year old self was correct, but she insisted.  I was very upset by this because for the first time, I realized teachers did not have all the answers and were not always right.  I know, I know...  it's time to let that one go.  

The first thing I remember wanted to be when I grew up?  An archaeologist.  I loved digging around in dirt, and I was fascinated by anything I found.  I was wandering around in a field on the far side of our pond one day and came across the footprint of some sort of long-gone building.  Poking around out there kept me busy for hours.  I found one little piece of metal, probably from some sort of tool.  That's it.  But it was the thrill of the hunt that did it for me.  (Come to think of it, I'm still like that with clearance aisles and garage sales - digging around all day for the one wonderful nugget.)  I think I would have pursued archaeology as a career if it weren't for all the stupid science classes.  Talk about a killjoy.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I've told you about Coonie, the raccoon and Zeke, Denny's beautiful Basset Hound.  But there were plenty of other critters on the farm...

Cats.  As you can see, we always had plenty of cats.

I'm sure they appreciated all the lovin and squeezin I gave them.  I think the one that made the great escape in this photo is Fry-Fry.   Fry-Fry was a big, orange tom-cat, that looked like Morris from the 9 Lives cat food commercials.  He was always fairly aloof.  And how did Fry-Fry get his name?  We got him from a family with the last name of Fry, of course.  

Coonie - the cat - was a fat tabby.  Or maybe she was just always pregnant.  She must have had 200 kittens in her lifetime.  Sometimes I would find the new litters hidden away in the barn, and sometimes I wouldn't.  When I did, the kittens would mysteriously disappear over the course of the next few weeks.  I found out many years later that my dad took it upon himself to keep the cat population in check.  (My sister-in-law, Christy, mentioned to Dad one time that she wanted a mouser for their place and Dad said that he would "save one" for her.)  At some point, Coonie was involved in some sort of accident that left her with only a 3" tail.  Her stubby tail made her look fatter and only added to her cuddle quotient.  

When I was in junior high school, we adopted Missy.  Mom saw a listing for Missy in the paper - a Persian - and thought I would like to have a beautiful, white, long haired cat.  When we picked Missy up, we found that she was not Persian at all.  She was a white, short haired, regular cat that was pregnant.  We took her anyway.  She turned out to be a complete nut case.  She spazzed out on the way home and ran all over the inside of the car - hair flying everywhere.  Even though she was declawed, she managed to catch a lot of mice.  The only thing was that she never actually killed a mouse.  She would present them at the back door and toy with them until Mom came out and finished the job.  Mom hated that cat.  For the short time we had Missy (2 years?) she ruined every pair of nylons my mother had.  A new pair was like a magnet for that cat!  In the time it took Mom to walk from the house to the car, Missy would dart out of nowhere and snare Mom's hose.  How she did that without claws, I have no idea.   She was just that good at being that obnoxious.

Most people wouldn't count pigs as pets.  I considered them something in between a true pet and an all-out farm animal - at least when they were babies.  I obviously sucked my friends into believing the same.  But pigs grow up too fast, and then they become huge, obnoxious and mean.  Sad, but true.

We had orphan calves or calves that needed a little TLC from time to time.  Dad would put calf milk or  formula in a glass Pepsi bottle with a big nipple on the top, and I loved to help feed them.  I named one of these poor things Bennie.  Like the cute little pigs, Bennie grew up too fast and was put back with the rest of the cows (I don't even know if Bennie was a boy).  For years after that, when we would have hamburgers, Denny would ask if we were having "Bennie burgers".  Funny.  Really.

We had sheep too, and it seemed that lambs wanted to be born on the coldest nights of the year.  I was home for break my sophomore year of college, during a real brutal stretch of weather.  Dad brought a sickly newborn lamb to the house one evening and we set up a nursery in a corner of the kitchen.  I held it under a heat lamp, swaddled in blankets.  I remember my boyfriend called and asked what I was up to.  He was a city boy from the Chicago suburbs, and when I answered, "Trying to keep a lamb alive", it took a moment for him to wrap his head around it.  That poor little lamb shivered all night.  It didn't make it, but I like to think I made it's brief time on earth a little nicer.

I had plenty of hamsters and mice.  The little guy I'm showing to my niece, was Squirt.  I think I named him that because of what he tended to do every time he was held for a little too long.  

Lucy was a good hamster, and even survived "the ball" incident.  I used to love putting her in one of those plastic balls, where she could run around on the floor.  She was in her ball one day while I was cleaning out her cage and I wasn't paying attention to where she was.  She rolled down the hallway and bounced down the stairs.  I found her with all 4 limbs stretched out in the ball as if she where saying, "DUDE!  Make it stop!"  

We had animals that visited often too.  This is Christy, Dennis and baby Bender.  

I had a love/hate relationship with Bender.  (Hate is too strong of a word.  It was more like a love/uneasiness thing.)  He's a cute, little, adorable puppy in this photo, but Bender was a Doberman Pinscher. He grew up to be a pretty big one too, and he could be intimidating.  He made it apparent that he didn't particularly care for people with light colored hair.  When you sat in a chair, Bender would sidle up to you, wedge his nose under your hand and flip it up on top of his head - as if to say, "Pet me now, minion."  When I was in college, Den and Chris had to travel, so I stayed at their place to care for Bender.  Bender needed medication for some forgotten ailment, and I was supposed to administer a huge pill to this huge dog every day. He never fell for the hide-the-pill-in-a-clump-of-food trick, so I was instructed to pry his mouth open, throw the pill at the back of his throat, clamp his mouth shut and rub his neck until he swallowed.  Uh-huh.  Sure.   

Looking back, with the fish in the pond, toads and the chickens across the road at my aunt's house, I practically had my own personal zoo.  That's something you don't fully appreciate until you write about it a few decades later. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Little Things, Part II

More odd, little childhood memories...

I don't know if the back of the big box of Crayola crayons still includes a sharpener, but it used to.  I liked my crayons sharp in second grade, thank you very much.  Roger, a kid in my class had an odd way of speaking.  He watched me, turning every color I had in the sharpener.  He shook his head at me and said, "Yous wastin yous crayons."  Yes, Roger.  I was.  And I have no idea why I still remember you saying that to me.

That's about the only thing I remember in second grade, because I faked being sick that year more than any other.  Mrs. Richardson was my teacher that year.  She was nice.  But when she couldn't be at school for whatever reason, (and she was gone a lot that year) her husband Mr. Richardson stood in for her.  Mr. Richardson was a HUGE man - at least to my 7 year old self.  His salt and pepper hair was combed upward somehow - not as extreme as Kramer on Seinfeld, but it was similar.  I swear his hair brushed the top of the doorway when he walked through it.  He was also a preacher.  I never heard him give a sermon, but I imagine it was of the fire and brimstone variety.  He sounded like Foghorn Leghorn without the stutter, and he was LOUD.  He scared me to death.  So I stayed home. They must have taught kids to spell that year, and I blame my severe lack of ability in that area on my fear of Mr. Richardson. Thank you, spell check, for coming to my rescue.

In 4th grade, our art and music teacher, Mrs. Thrush, made the class stand to sing a song one day.  Evidently, standing didn't cramp the diaphragm, allowing one to sing to the best of his or her ability.  I'm sure this made all the difference to a bunch of off-key 9 year olds.  Anyway, we were all standing, singing our little hearts out when all of the sudden, a kid in the back of the room came running up the aisle, his hands over his mouth, with puke spewing everywhere.  It sounded like marbles hitting the floor.  We were stunned.  We all thought, "Wait.  Did that really just happen?" Those of us on either side of the aisle looked down at our desks and seats.  Let's just say I am forever grateful to Mrs. Thrush for making us stand to sing on that particular day.

I loved the Schoolhouse Rock stuff on Saturday mornings.  "I'm just a Bill", "Conjunction Junction", "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here"... Great stuff.  To this day, I can recite - no - sing the Preamble from watching those little videos. (OK, I can recite it, but the song still goes through my head while doing it.)

I used to sleepwalk quite a bit.  I would come downstairs, sit in my favorite chair and watch TV for a few minutes and then Mom and Dad would coax me into returning to my bed.   I would have no recollection of doing it the next day.  Mom told me that I came into their room one night, announced that there was an ape in my room and she needed to come tie him up.  And I used to wake up under my bed more times than I care to admit.

When my oldest brother, John, was in the Army, he was stationed for a time in Washington D.C.  I went with Mom and Dad to visit him there.  Sorry John, but I only remember two things from that trip:
1)  The miniature commemorative tea set that I brought home as a souvenir, and
2) looking down from the Washington Monument and saying to Mom that the cars looked like ants.
That's it.  That's all that stuck.  Out of that whole trip.