A to Z Family Stories: X as in Excel

Whenever we get to know someone well we usually notice something about them that they do in an excellent way – an area in which they excel. These traits or skills come out in the stories we tell, but this post is a way for me to focus on them, and flesh out some of the characters in our family memories. Someday a new generation will want to know where they got their love of music, or why they long to start their own business, why they are so good at playing Scrabble or knitting. Whether these things are passed along through genes or through good teaching, they link us to the past and they give us something to pour into the future.

I have many pictures like this.  If he sat still, he couldn't stay awake. Hard worker.
I have many pictures like this. If he sat still, he couldn’t stay awake. Hard worker.

My immediate family consists of my parents and four brothers. I will start with my dad, and there is no wondering what he contributed. Dad was and still is, king of the work ethic. I never saw him sitting around with no purpose. In fact he worked so hard and continuously that on the occasions he did sit down he usually fell asleep from exhaustion. Even in play, Dad was active and engaged. He modeled that so well that all of us children value honest, hard work and feel obliged to be producers, not just consumers. And hard work does pay off. Thank you Dad.

Mom worked hard as well, but somehow in the midst of all that was required in raising a family of five, she found time to read. She finished high school by correspondence course, and went on to follow her interests in history, theology, psychology and literature. She still reads more than I do and loves to hear what others are reading. Books and the ideas in them are interesting to her and she has worked hard to pass that along. One of her most memorable challenges to her children and grandchildren was to pay $25 to anyone who finished reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” by Stephen Covey. We are very responsive to bribes and I think nearly everyone read the book.

I was the eldest child and it was probably the perfectionist bent common to the firstborn that made me very competitive academically. I was good at tests and ended up being valedictorian of my class. I loved music and my exposure to church music and piano lessons gave me a medium level of skill in those areas. I was a fair actress and loved being in plays. I was handy at home and can remember being the babysitter when my parents went out. I rushed to get the dishes all washed, the kitchen cleaned up and finished by washing the floor with the dishwater! I read a lot and it was “Cherry Ames, Student Nurse” that made me think that was what I wanted to be.

My brother Ron, the oldest of the boys, was a big thinker and ardent optimist. One of his early goals, which he was sure he could accomplish, was to ride his bike down our hill with five ice cream cones in each hand. Not a very useful goal, but bursting with self-confidence. He was mechanically inclined at an early age, and also loved wood shop in high school. One of his projects was to make a copy of a spinning wheel for my Mom which was beautiful, and probably would have worked if anyone had known how to spin. He has always loved to engage people in conversation. I was always envious of how all the old ladies in the neighborhood thought he was such a charming kid.

Robert was next and he was/is the performer of the family. His ability to let loose, and become a character without inhibition always surprised my Mom. It led to him being emcee of public school functions, a singer and a drum major for the school band. He was a DJ for the local radio station while in high school and went on to establish a mobile DJ service for dances and weddings. To the family he is Bobino, or chef Jean Clauded Pierre (I might have that wrong, but it’s some Frenchy name) who shows up at family gatherings with all the ingredients for fabulous muffins and a great time in the kitchen.

My absolute favorite pic of my middle two brothers.  So cute I could hug them.  And I did.
My absolute favorite pic of my middle two brothers. So cute I could hug them. And I did.

Gary, boy number three, was the sensitive, helper type. He would do anything for anyone in need and had no trouble finding projects. All the boys were athletically inclined and great at sports in high school, but Gary especially was a basketball star, starting on the varsity team as a freshman. Being a good helper meant he was good at picking up skills and today he does all kinds of carpentry and has a custom tile business.

All of my brothers work for themselves in their own businesses, but it was Dennis the youngest, who really exhibited entrepreneurial skills early in life. He was a cute kid and could talk people into buying ridiculous things from him. He set up a roadside stand and was always selling something – seashells that we picked from the beach in Florida, huge, yellowing cucumbers from the late garden, and of course lemonade. He was the organizer of the neighborhood, always planning things for himself and his friends to do. Sometimes Mom would tell him he couldn’t do something, but never one to worry, he would just tweak the plan until he could get it to work.

So, for the record, these are some of the ways my family has excelled. I love to name and celebrate their exceptional qualities. I can also see these traits being picked up by the next generation as they get educated, start to work, and raise families of their own. I am grateful for my family and the blessings that God has given us.

Yeah, we were pretty cute. Just sayin'...
Yeah, we were pretty cute. Just sayin’…

What exceptional qualities do you recognize in those closest to you? How could you affirm/bless by acknowledging them?

A to Z Family Stories: W for Wisconsin Winters

W

I am under my usual three or four blankets, listening to the transistor radio I bought with money from my first real job. It is too early to be up, still pitch black and I can tell it’s cold. I am hoping to hear that school is canceled – for the whole day, which it will be if the temperature gets below -30 degrees F. Somehow, someone figured it would be okay for kids to stand out waiting for the bus if it was only -29 degrees. It’s not that the cold bothers me that much either, I just don’t want to go to school. Finally, the weather guy says it is -32 and starts listing the area schools and organizations that will not be asking people to come out. My school is among them. I am glad.

Cold. Long. Cold and long. And very cold for a long time, six months almost. On mornings like the one above, most smart people stayed home and concentrated on staying warm. Those who had to go to work would put their cars in a garage or have a contraption attached to their oil pan that could be plugged in to keep the oil warm enough to circulate. Antifreeze was a given. Tires would be frozen with a flat side. Those who hadn’t prepared might find their water pipes frozen. I remember having to remove ice from the cows watering cups in the barn, and often the large water tanks would have an electric heater attached. Weather like this was hard on the animals but if they were in the barn, their bodies supplied enough heat to keep them safe. Cold nights meant we got to take a quart canning jar filled with hot, hot water up to put at the foot of our bed under the covers.

And the snow. Some years there was snow in November. Some years it never melted until spring and the banks along the roads were higher than the cars making intersections dangerous. We never had to hire someone to plow our driveway at the farm because Dad always had either a tractor with a bucket or a bulldozer to do the job. He would push the snow back as far as he could knowing the piles would get larger and larger as winter moved on. They were snow mountains to us kids and a never ending source of fun. Winter forts could take hours to build. We would cut blocks of snow or roll snow balls if the weather made the snow sticky. Our forts not only had walls, but they had tunnels as well. We would hollow out holes big enough for several of us to crawl inside.

Winter clothes, everyone had them. Mothers knit scarves and for the younger kids, mittens connected with a long string threaded through the sleeves of our coats. Mittens were always getting lost, and soggy wet. Babies had snowsuits and as they outgrew them the “hand me down” would go to the next younger one. Boots were worn over shoes and thick socks. Our house had an unheated hallway where all of this winter gear hung on a row of hooks – sometimes the wet things froze and were icy the next time we got into them. There was panic on mornings when we saw the school bus coming before we had everything on.

One of my favorite winter coats was beautiful tan wool with a soft raccoon fur collar. I remember it because one night our dog cornered a skunk by the house and it saturated everything we had with it’s odor, including our sense of smell. I wore it to school that morning and it wasn’t until everyone started asking where the skunk was that I figured out it was me. I had to call mom to take me home. The wool and the fur in the coat held that smell for a long time.

Keeping warm was and is still a science in progress. My earliest memories are of an oil burning stove in our living room. It sat on a protective mat of some kind (??) and had a stove pipe going up into a chimney. Mom or Dad would turn open a valve on the oil line and we would wait a minute until there was oil in the chamber, then light a match and drop it in. We spent a lot of time close to the stove. Windows that were away from the heat would get ice on the inside from humidity and our curtains would get frozen into the glass.

We also had a wood cook stove to warm the kitchen. The wood pile was most often outside under the snow. We would pile sticks of wood on our sleds and carry it up to dry next to the stove. It was not our favorite chore.

There is a lot more that could be said about Wisconsin winters and much of it is good and beautiful. I wish everyone could experience the felt safety and awe of watching a white-out blizzard from a warm, snug house. I wish I could adequately describe the way new snow glistens on the morning after, or the way light and shadows look completely different when the sun is low in the sky all day long. Snow really does crunch underfoot. The woods are really quiet when there are no leaves rustling and all the animals (almost all) are asleep. But it is cold, and extreme, and white, and beautiful in it’s own way for a very long time, and there are some who choose it for exactly those reasons (and some who tolerate it in spite of, just sayin’…)

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A to Z Family Stories: V for Vera

My  mother wanted this wonderful lady included in our family stories to make sure we remembered her contributions. She didn’t come into the family until most of us children were past the age of spending a lot of time with a grandparent.  We knew her a little from seeing her at church and hearing about her at school – although none of us had her as a teacher.  She did so much for my grandfather and helped him in a difficult time of life when he suffered from Parkinson’s. She was there when he died. 

V for Vera

The Olsons were a Swedish family with nine girls (I know !!) – Esther, Hilda, Agnes, Ellen, Sigrid, Hilma, Bertha, Elvira, and Nina. Elvira Constance Olson or Vera, as she was known, was the next to the youngest of the nine. As the family got older and the girls married, the town became full of related families, the Petersons, the Johnsons, the Goruds, a regular Scandinavian mash-up. Swedish people always had the coffee pot on whenever guests arrived and probably even when there weren’t guests. Coffee at 10 and 2, like high tea, included bread, cheese, donuts, cookies, pickles… a real spread. It was hospitality and just what proper people did. It’s one of the pleasant things we remember about Vera.

Vera and John Boone at a family reunion around 1975.
Vera and John Boone at a family reunion around 1975.

Vera was 59 and Grandpa was 69 when they married. She was his third wife. Vera had been single until then, perhaps because she was the one who had been “elected” to care for the parents until they died. She was a teacher in an outlying country school until education was consolidated in town. She taught second grade for many years. She was a successful, independent woman who had her own house, her own car and her own money. Grandpa moved in with her at her house in town after their marriage. Even though farming was not her usual aspiration, she did go out to the farm with Grandpa and helped take care of that house too as it was being maintained by a bachelor who needed help of that kind.

Grandpa and Vera were well matched socially. They loved being with others and often got together for rousing games (crazy eights, ha ha). Grandpa loved to participate in fun and Vera’s family seemed to enjoy him. Vera was a fisher woman and it was also something others in her family did so Grandpa learned to add himself to the boat.

My memories of Vera were often in the setting of church. She was one of those ladies who dressed smartly and wore hats well. Mom helped to distribute the household after both Grandpa and Vera died. She was given one of Vera’s hats.

a
a “smart” looking hat, although years in the attic have made their mark.

She also remembers finding a small cedar chest full of doilies, tablecloths and linens of all kinds, again accompaniments to the coffee klutch way of life. I grew up knowing that term, coffee klatch, but was never sure where it came from or what it meant until researching this post. I found it had a German derivation having something to do with gossip, which I would alter somewhat in this case. Swedish hospitality, especially for Vera and her family was just sharing life and knowing each other, as all close families should.

A to Z Family Stories: U for Upset and Unhappy

One of my aunts made a comment about me when I was young, about 5 years old. It was something on the order of “she is like a little old lady” – trying to describe a rather unchildlike, serious nature. I could have let that scar me for life, could have spent my days trying to prove her wrong but I decided I would keep on being myself and just grow into my nature. I have however, gone back into my childhood pictures looking for clues as to why someone would say something like that about me. What I’ve found is that I’ve been the victim of a conspiracy to present me, pictorially, in nothing by upset and unhappy moods. I’m still working on the motive…

They send me out to the barn to do chores... IN A DRESS... and are expecting me not to look upset?!
They send me out to the barn to do chores… IN A DRESS… and are expecting me not to look upset?!
Whatever it is, I don't want to hear it. I'll stand here but you can't make me smile.
Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it. I’ll stand here but you can’t make me smile.
What? Am I supposed to be happy? I'm a year older, a year closer to the grave.  But I will face it bravely....
What? Am I supposed to be happy? I’m a year older, a year closer to the grave. But I will face it bravely….
Oh please, another birthday? Can't you take a picture of me when I feel like smiling? Nice cake though.
Oh please, another birthday? Can’t you take a picture of me when I feel like smiling? Nice cake though.

All this proves is that pictures capture very brief moments when we don’t even realize how we look.  You would not know from what you’ve seen that I am a overwhelmingly optimistic person, to the point of probably irritating some people with my “Pollyanna” viewpoint. Ok, I complain once in a while too but I try not to let my picture be taken when I’m doing it…  just sayin’, it makes for bad press.

A to Z Family Stories: T for Tractor

The symbol of power and efficiency on the farm – the tractor. We grew up watching our dad and the hired hands use farm machinery, and probably even more time watching them fix farm machinery, so it was natural that we longed for the day when we’d get to drive the tractor. Driving the tractor meant you were old enough to really help out. A mixed bag, according to my brother Ron (Stubby, at that time) since after he learned to drive the tractor, he had to drive the tractor, even when everyone else was doing things that were more fun.

One of our chores, before the days when hay was baled and shot into a wagon by the baler, was to go out in the field and turn the bales. They were round bales and if the grass was a bit green when baled, or if it had been rained on, the turning allowed more exposure to the sun for drying. Our first tractor driving lessons were always in the open field, pulling a wagon while “big people” walked alongside and hoisted the dry bales up in stacks. All we had to know how to do was push in the clutch and steer, and pay attention. Dad usually put it in the right gear until we learned how to shift. Since that season required all hands on deck, I got to help make hay. Other seasons, like plowing, planting and cultivating didn’t involve as many people so I didn’t get much of those experiences, but my brothers did.

I like all colors of tractors.
I like all colors of tractors.

I probably inherited a partial tractor gene from birth. Dad had it for sure. His idea of shopping, according to my mom (who would know) was spending several hours in an implement yard looking at machinery. At first it was tractors, but as he got into the excavating business it was bulldozers, front end loaders and dump trucks. Unlike Dad, my version of tractor love involves less grease and gasoline smell. I appreciate the lifestyle behind the tractor, and the clean, solid feel of a well engineered toy. Don’t get me near a John Deere store. (Yes, I collect.)

Ready to gas up...
Ready to gas up…

Even now, I am in awe of the work that can be done by a man on a tractor, whether it be plowing a garden or pulling a car out of the ditch. And every time the Smith men get together there will probably be some talk of “the Alice”, or the old “Massey-Ferguson” or the “A” or whatever letter-name tractor they liked best. Me, I stick to coffee table books, just sayin’…

My idea of a coffee table book. Call me "farm girl".
My idea of a coffee table book. Call me “farm girl”.

A to Z Family Stories: S for Summer Swims

Summer is very short in Wisconsin, but often there are a few day of blistering heat and few are prepared with air conditioning. The only good way we had to cool off was to go swimming and our summer life was defined almost as much by the swimming and the lake as it was by the farm. Because of the beautiful area lakes there was an active tourist trade. Summer meant the resorts were full, there were summer jobs of cleaning cabins and babysitting to be had, interesting people to meet, water skiing challenges, and weekend picnics at the beach with friends.

We claimed Round Lake as our own playground. The sandy beach called the Narrows was within walking distance and when we were young it was unregulated and frequented mostly by us locals. Situated on the narrowest part of a peninsula, there was water on both sides of the road, one side being better for swimming and the other side a little more rocky was mostly for boating. The water filling this fairly large lake was clean enough to drink, and very cold. It was our goal to try to go swimming or skiing by Memorial Day but most years, it required a wet suit to be comfortable.

a crude drawing of The Narrows and our Peninsula
a crude drawing of The Narrows and our Peninsula

Our usual swimming time during the busiest part of summer was evening, right after the last bale of hay went up into the loft – when everyone was still hot, sweaty and dying to get cooled off. Everyone would get into their suits quickly, often neighbor families would stop in on their way, we would load up inner tubes and truck ourselves down to the beach. Ritual dictated that each person run into the water until it got too deep and then dive in quickly. There was no other way to get used to the icy chill. After being in the water a few minutes we all seemed to “get used to” it and didn’t mind. As it got dark, the crayfish in the water and the mosquitoes in the air would get thicker until common sense dictated that we all go home.

There were always a few weeks when visiting relatives were around. My aunt, uncle and cousins from the city would bring their boat up and those were great times when we got to spend hours at the beach with them. My uncle would pull us water skiing behind the boat, always trying to scare us by going over big waves or turning tight circles. We all learned to ski slalom and some of the brothers even went on to kick off the skis and go barefoot. We all have stories about falling, losing our swimsuits as we tumbled in the water, or being dragged and nearly drowned as we tried to “get up”. Skiing is not for the faint of heart.

We would often follow the road to the end of the peninsula, where it curves around and almost forms a complete circle around a small bay. At “the point” as we called it, we would walk the sandbar and swim the channel to the other side. The trees on “the point” have initials carved in them and many memories were made there. I especially remember sitting there looking out at the lake and talking to my mom as we planned my wedding. I wanted to be married at the lake (however it was in January and there was NO SWIMMING.)

Years later my parents moved to a house on the lake. My brothers and I were able to take our families there often and my children have developed their own attachment to Round Lake. That house has been sold again several times but whenever I visit home we take a ride out Peninsula Road and dad makes me drive in to it so he can walk around and look out at the lake (don’t tell the owners please).

Oh yeah, lots of fun at the lake
Oh yeah, lots of fun at the lake
My girls and their dad enjoying a moment on the dock after a swim.
My girls and their dad enjoying a moment on the dock after a swim.

Everyone in our family has been to some fantastic beaches in the years since childhood but I think we all put Round Lake and our memories of summer swims right up at the top of the list of special places. We all go back and visit, and remember, and maybe you should too. Just sayin’…

The beach at The Narrows,
The beach at The Narrows, “our swimming hole”

A to Z Family Stories: Q for Quiet of a Different Kind

Everyone thinks of the country as such a quiet, peaceful place especially when compared to the sounds of a city with traffic, construction, sirens, and other man made noises. But the quiet in the country is not really the absence of noise at all. The noises are different but they are there, and they are often surrounded by softness, and quiet space that makes them stand out with a clarity that burns them into one’s memory. I want to tell you about some of my favorite noises and the quiet that makes them special.

I start with spring because all things kind of start there. There has been only one year when I actually witnessed a very brief moment – it happens every year but so quickly that one can never predict and catch it. I happened to be on the bank looking out on the ice covering Round Lake. There had been warm days already and the ice was rotten, weak and shot through with melting holes. There was open water around the edges of the lake. A breeze came up and the most marvelous sound began as the ice moved and began to disintegrate. It was a musical, tinkling sound like many small pieces of glass hitting each other and swirling in the water. Shards of ice piled up on the shore and the rest sank into the lake until nothing but open water remained. I watched and listened for about five minutes and it was over. I was in awe.

The earliest bird sound in northern Wisconsin is made by the Red-winged Blackbird as it returns to its nesting area in the marshes. We had several small marshy ponds near our driveway where we would wait each morning for the school bus. The blackbirds would sit on the power lines, and the cattails and sing. They have a rather long and complicated call that is unmistakeable and ends in a high trill. It was always the hallmark of spring for me. About the same time the marshes also became alive with small frogs, spring peepers we called them. There were times when the combination of thousands of high pitched voices would drown out most other noises. This is April and I have just returned from visiting my hometown. We drove around in the country and every time we passed a wet hollow we heard the swell of sound from the peepers.

A couple of years we tapped maple trees in the nearby woods and there were times the sap ran so fast you could hear it dripping into the pails. And of course, there was always the snow melt in the fields. Streams would appear where none were other times of the year and water would rush down the hillsides into the pond. The driveway would become a maze of mud and rivulets to be avoided.

Summer brings sounds of bees buzzing, lazy flies, and breezes through the poplar trees. There is the sound of the waves slapping the rocks on the shores of the spring fed lakes and rivers, and a few man made noises as boats and jet skis skim the waters. On a windy day the woods are full of sounds of leaves turning and branches rubbing. There is a biblical reference to the trees of the field clapping hands and I always thought that was exactly what seemed to be happening.

Autumn sounds are so distinct – lonely sounds. The dry leaves are falling and crunching underfoot. The wind sounds different when it blows through the bare branches. Sometimes corn in the field that didn’t get cut is also brown and dry, rustling in the wind. Geese in large V’s honk their way south, and the crows call to each other.

And finally winter comes. The first heavy snowfall seems to suck up every noise in the woods, and the whole white world becomes insulated. There is a quietness that is tangible, it can be felt. Stepping out on the frozen lake can sometimes create loud booming sounds as the ice cracks. It doesn’t break but the long lines in the ice are dangerous when skates get stuck in them. Many times I remember the sound of the wind during the drama of blizzards – a time when it is a blessing to have shelter and warmth from which to view the storm.

it gets very quiet when snow blankets everything
it gets very quiet when snow blankets everything

These are the sounds that I remember from life in the country – the peaceful, quiet country.

A to Z Family Stories: C for Cat Tamers

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. 

Young ones growing up on a farm had an important job. It was taming the kittens.

Cats are an essential element on a farm. Barns and other farm buildings are like hotels for mice if there are no cats around to keep them in check. Most of our cats were not the pampered, brushed and combed, vaccinated and neutered kind that are fed fancy food. Barn cats were and are excellent hunters who feed on small rodents almost exclusively and travel around the farm at will. And even if some cats were neutered or spayed, there was no guaranateeing that the neighbors cats were, therefore … kittens abounded.

You found them in the hayloft. You knew to look because a cat who had been looking kind of hefty for a while was suddenly skinny. We loved going into the loft to look for kittens because it was the ultimate scavenger hunt. You could follow mama cat if you were wiley enough to not let her know, otherwise you just had to start searching the crevices between the bales and hope you got lucky. The prize was finding that sleeping pile of gorgeous kitten fur, four or five of them most of the time. They were often a variety of colors and patterns, tiger stripe, calico, orange tiger, black and white, or maybe even solid black. It was best to find them when they were very young and let them see you often as they grew, but sometimes the mother would be skeptical of motives and move the family to a new hiding place. So the hunt would resume.

Older kittens were more difficult to deal with. They would instinctively hide and bite and scratch, but if they weren’t tamed they would grow up wild and too many wild ones would result in a cat population growing way out of bounds. Our job as children was to find, tame and help the kittens be people friendly so they could possibly go to a new home.

One time, my brother Stubby (we don’t call him that anymore) had been working on an older kitten and was making some headway when he heard of a family in need of a cat. He very much wanted them to take this kitten and was able, with difficulty, to get it into a box. With glowing reports of how pretty this kitty was he took them to the barn to see their new pet. Unfortunately, every time the box was touched it exploded into a shaking, jumping, growling, banshee shrieking package that was not very inviting. Amazingly, they took it.

As a young mom, I was able to live once again on the farm where I grew up. My own children learned the art of cat taming just like I had. They carried kittens in their arms, dressed them up in doll clothes, put them to sleep in dresser drawers (which was the first place we looked when one was missing) and in general subjected them to all sorts of handling. They were gentle and bomb proof by the time they were grown. Caring for them provided many lessons and so much fun for my own two cat tamers.

Esther and White Necklace (they always had descriptive names)
Esther and White Necklace (they always had descriptive names)
Julia and Rebel, asleep for the moment.
Julia and Rebel, asleep for the moment.

A to Z Family Stories: B for the Basement

Cool. Dark. Smelling of wet earth and cobwebs.

It was the basement, or more commonly, “the cellar”. It was the place mom went to fetch a jar of green beans, or dad went to see if a fuse had blown, or something had gone wrong with the pump for the well. It was the place in my dreams, and sometimes for real, where we went when funnel clouds were feared and things started flying around in the wind outside. I had watched “The Wizard of Oz” religiously for years and knew the cellar was the place to be.

It was a dangerous place for children, or so we were told (until we were old enough to work at cleaning it). It was the cellar steps that scared our parents the most. The only access to the basement was outside – a cement staircase, worn and a bit jagged, descending down into the ground under our house. Retaining walls on either side were probably meant to hold a door that would keep little children from falling into the abyss, but I don’t remember when our doors disappeared or if they were ever there. I remember playing on the steps. It was a cool retreat in the summer. It was my pretend home where I “cooked” mud pies decorated with dandelions and put my dolls to sleep.

At the bottom of the staircase, was a heavy, ill-fitting door with an unusual latch. I remember worrying about opening it, and then worrying again about being able to get it closed. A door left open might be a nocturnal invitation to a skunk, or something bigger. Who knew? And of course, a small child, mistakenly left behind in the cellar might not be discovered for some time

The floor inside was dirt, uneven with cement scraps and piles of “stuff” that kids couldn’t identify. In one corner was old wooden shelving that held dusty jars of produce, canned and stored from previous years gardens. The other corner housed a pump on a cement block. It dripped water and the dampness and faint smell of mold permeated the room. We knew our water came from somewhere under the pump and whether or not it was working was always of great concern to our parents.

Stories of the cellar would not be complete without mentioning it’s most numerous occupants – the family Arachnidae opiliones, Harvestman, or as we called them “daddy long legs”. Somehow we didn’t fear them as we would a spider. Their long spindley legs made them look too clumsy to be vicious. They were interesting and I watched them often. Others were not content to watch and I’m sure some torture occurred during moments of childhood boredom.

I’m just sayin’, I remember the cellar. It was part of our world, our house. Not many of them left.

Our “daddy long legs” looked like this friendly guy

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.