A to Z Family Stories: L for Lamb

These stories are part of who we are and I want them recorded. Not all of them are pretty, but that is ok.  This is a collection of family stories that are told repeatedly anytime the Smith clan congregates during a vacation or a holiday.  I’m sure some of them are told more from my perspective than others but I welcome added insight from those involved.

“The farm”, those words will always mean one place to me and my brothers. It was a 320 acre plot in Sawyer County, Wisconsin about 8 miles from the small town of Hayward. My parents moved there shortly after they were married and my father started trying to make a living being a farmer. He tried numerous types of agri-business while we children were young, before he finally gave it up to become an excavator. The northwoods isn’t conducive to most kinds of farming.

One of the first attempts was the raising of sheep. I was too young to remember much of the actual work and this era probably didn’t last very long. What I do remember and what we sometimes talk about is our pet lamb.

There were times when an ewe (mother sheep for you city dwellers) would either die when giving birth or perhaps she would have twins and reject one of them, which would leave a lamb in need of rescue. The lambs were born in spring or early summer – and you know, lambs are really cute when they are little, really cute. I mean really cute. I won’t say that my brother and I were given this lamb, because we were too young to be responsible for it, but we were regularly allowed to feed it. We regarded it as ours. We named it Lambey Dammey. I know, but we were kids and it rhymed.

Our lamb, let’s just call him LD, was so cute (I did mention that they were cute, right?) and so much fun for us. When it was time to feed we would be given a bottle of warm milk with a special nipple and told to go find LD. We would call him loudly as we walked around the barn. I know people say sheep are dumb animals, but he would always come running. I think the promise of food makes anyone smart smarter. I was the oldest so I would hold the bottle, at least that’s what the pictures suggest. Much of my early memories are fed by the pictures I’ve seen over and over, and the stories I’ve heard. Here is a picture of me, my brother Ron and LD, the cutest lamb ever. Just sayin’…

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A to Z Family Stories: H for Home Road

These stories are part of who we are and I want them recorded. Not all of them are pretty, but that is ok.  This is a collection of family stories that are told repeatedly anytime the Smith clan congregates during a vacation or a holiday.  I’m sure some of them are told more from my perspective than others but I welcome added insight from those involved.

Northern Wisconsin is pretty much the heart of nowhere. The small town I grew up near was over three hours from a major airport and two hours from any significant shopping, unless Farm and Fleet was your go-to store – it was only an hour away. When the girls were young we made weekly trips to the city of Duluth, Minnesota to meet with friends for a church service. It was an all day journey, often leaving in the dark early hours of winter, with our thermos of cocoa and breakfast food and not getting back until it was dark again. There were rituals of where to stop for lunch (Pizza Hut, cheese pizza with a pitcher of Mountain Dew} and what to listen to on the radio (Prairie Home Companion all the way home…). The two youngsters would often fall asleep in the back, strapped into their car seats.

But there was always a point at which the road began to sound different. There was a slowing, braking and a particular curve to the road. It was almost like the tires knew that there was no longer a white center line, no longer much traffic. It was “home road”. A voice in the back would start the chant, accompanied by rhythmic bouncing in the car seat. Soon they would both be singing the song, “ho-ome road, ho-ome road” in sleepy voices that got stronger over the last couple of miles. It was the song that signaled one more safe trip nearly ended, with the expectation of being done with that long stretch of forced inactivity. It meant homecoming.

On visits home, I never travel that stretch of country road without hearing that little mantra playing through my mind. We don’t live there anymore. It’s not a road that leads to home. But the funny thing is that the song itself has come to be applied to other places that I’ve called home. The same feelings of welcome and relief from travel are felt as I turn into my present long driveway, and in my mind I hear small voices singing the “home road” song. I’m just sayin’ it is a sweet thing to remember.


A to Z Family Stories: A for the Apple Tree

This is a collection of family stories that are told repeatedly anytime the Smith clan congregates during a vacation or a holiday.  I’m sure some of them are told more from my perspective than others but I welcome added insight from those involved. These stories are part of who we are and I want them recorded. Not all of them are pretty, but that is ok. 




It was a friendly tree for small people, having branches down low and plenty of climbing space. When the leaves were on you could hide in it, and that happened from time to time. We had to cross a small distance of back yard, squeeze between the barbed wire and the lower part of a fence, run up hill through a narrow field and at the edge of a woodlot of hardwoods was the smaller, evenly proportioned crab apple. All of us learned to get there quickly. It was far enough away to be secretive yet close enough that everything on our small farm was within sight and hearing.

There would be a time each spring when we would suddenly notice the tree getting white with blossoms. It was an obligatory ritual to get a bouquet of branches for the house and we would always go up to the tree with excitement and then remember the bees. Lots of bees, and there would always be some on the branches that we wanted to pick. But the smell of apple blossoms was strong and wonderful, filling the air. We would be brave, grab our prize branches and run back to the house, imaginary insects chasing us down the hill.

The time would come when the ground beneath the tree would be white because the petals had fallen off, like snow floating on the breeze. Instead of being white the tree would get faintly green, then darker as the leaves grew bigger. The little green apples would appear where the blossoms had been. It was safe for climbing then. The bark was often marked with woodpecker holes – I don’t know why I remember that so clearly. You could read a book in that tree. Or play all kinds of pretend situations. I had dolls, but more often it was kittens that got dressed up as babies and put to sleep in a box under the tree while I went to forage for food in the woods. The tall grass of the field would be the walls of our house and the tree was the second story.

The apples didn’t need long to ripen. I think sometime in July we would see them start to redden. They were too sour for anything except apple butter that had sugar to sweeten it up. But it was these little apples that made their way into the story that my family tells when we are together thinking about our childhood. My four younger brothers were a tribe of wild ones and I was occasionally put “in charge” or so I thought, when our parents were away briefly. One time we had an inept babysitter who was doing very little to shepherd the flock and a disagreement arose. It quickly escalated and the rebellious leader of the wild ones, who knew better than to throw rocks, decided crab apples would be suitable. The hard little bullets were easy to throw. I ran to the house and locked them out which made them even more angry.

I got bigger. The tree seemed smaller. I don’t remember when it started dying and losing branches. Years later I visited the farm and the tree wasn’t there any more. I was sad, but it seems that is the way with all things that live, and then they don’t. Except in our memories, for a while.

Sign Me Up, Please

I was only two steps ahead of a giant lizard who had gained entry into the dorm and was sucking up hapless students as they tried to figure out what was going on. That one had Jurassic Park written all over it.

Last night I dreamed.  I probably dream every night but I rarely remember any of them. For some odd reason I remember two dreams from last night. I willed the Jurassic Park one to go away and not come back.  It worked and I slept again. But the second dream was different and I hung on to it in wonder.

We, myself, my two girls and my mother, were in a large medical building waiting to be called for appointments.  My youngest was only about three and I was carrying her.  I was feeling kind of like a mother who has been denied custody of her children and is suddenly reunited.  I asked if she wanted to get down and run around but she said no and we hugged closer and smiled at each other.  We sat down since the wait was interminable, but we were still content.  My oldest daughter leaning against my knee and the youngest snuggled close on the chair beside me.  It was the most pleasurable situation and I remarked “this is the way it should be”.

The strangeness of the dream is that we do not have a broken home and I have never been denied custody. My children are grown and live far enough away that I do not see them often but they have moved on in very natural ways. I wanted them to grow up and have lives of their own. They have done that successfully.

It was like a little gift – to have that time back again so vividly – when arms were wrapped around my neck and a small head rested on my shoulder. I’m just sayin’ that I would like a regular subscription to that dream. 5-Reasons-Why-Pregnant-Moms-Ignore-Advice-Lift

The Hill

There is a hill.  On a farm in Wisconsin.

At one time there was only one tree on the hill, an old white pine that stood guard alongside a lane that connected the fields. It was tall and imposing, standing out on the landscape as one looked north from the farmhouse to the horizon. I grew up looking at that tree, running to it for thinking time, listening to the constant, soft brush of wind through the pine needles. I would have liked to have climbed up in it but there were no branches I could reach.  It was a refuge.

One year there were cows in the field. My father had sold his milk cows but had a herd of young cattle that was like a band of unruly teenagers.  They would run the fence line looking for a place to go under, over or through the barbed wire. They had a great deal of energy and, something that most people don’t realize about cows, they had a crazy curiosity. Anything unusual within their sight would start them on an approach path, faster and faster until they were running in a stampede, a kind of mob mentality as I remember it.

I was visiting the tree one day when the cows were in that field.  They saw me on the hill and came rushing up to investigate.  Cows in a large group are intimidating. They’re big, heavy animals and they mill around, eyes wide and hot, moist breath sniffing at the object of their curiosity, all the time ready to bolt if startled.  I flattened myself against it’s trunk and the tree and I were engulfed in the herd.

It turned into a magical moment. As long as I was still the cows took turns pointing their wet noses at me and milling back into the group. I was the vulnerable one with only the tree at my back for protection. They were the free and dominant ones.  Eventually they were satisfied and trotted off in a different direction.  I still felt the awe and wonder of it as I watched them take off. I feel it again as I remember.

The tree was hit by lightning a few years later during a storm. Its twisted, split and broken frame lay on the hill for several years before it rotted away.

Now, there is just a hill.