Thursday, April 27, 2017

Daddy's Mash


There were interesting moments on Granny's farm when she was growing up. Feeding time was always interesting to Grammy since she had to help her Mamma set out the food and call the animals, then clean up after them. Feeding the animals wasn't that difficult since they were always ready to eat. The trick was to stay out of the way of the animals as they charged for their food sources.

The menu never sounded that good to Grammy. Slops for the pigs, hay for the horses, corn for the chickens. The cows munched on grass in the meadow. The ducks ate something from the ponds. Mamma cat fed her kittens fresh meat as soon as she caught it. At least that's how Grammy remembered it. She did remember clearly feeding their dog a bowlful of chocolate cake batter one day and her Daddy patiently explaining that dogs should not eat chocolate while they took the poor canine to the vet.

There was something in the barnyard called mash. Grammy doesn't remember what it was for except that it was made from fermented corn and her parents warned her often to not eat or drink that stuff. I guess they never warned the animals because one summer day the animals got into the mash and had a great party that made them more than a bit tipsey. The four cows - Eanie, Meanie, Miney, and Abbigale - staggered across the yard, dragging dresses, sheets, and long flannel underwear from the clothes line. The chickens kept falling off of their perches. Our dogs howled and rolled on their backs across the yard. Henry the pig tried to sit beside the rooster Romeo on the pig pen fence and tried to crow, but fell on top of Piggy Petunia snorting in her mud. The ducks staggered under the porch where Mamma cat was hiding her kittens. Perhaps the only sober animal around, she chased the ducks away.

That night, Mamma cat meowed a sad farewell at her hung-over companions, then carried her kittens to the next farm. Mom said that Mamma cat should have received honorary membership of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Grammy didn't know what that was but she guessed it wasn't as much fun as the animals had with her Daddy's mash.


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chicken Feathers


Grammy was such an obedient and well-behaved child that I don't think she ever had anything to confess. The standard joke about her by her siblings was that their priest probably fell asleep listening to her confessions. Well, there was this one time when she was about eight years old that Father must have paid attention. The story goes like this:

Every afternoon, her father liked to take a nap on the davenport in the parlor and Grammy's mother always told her, "Now be nice and quiet so you don't wake up Daddy."

Usually Grammy played with her doll or colored some pictures she had drawn on the backs of old letter paper. This one afternoon, though, Grammy had nothing to do except wander around the house, playing with a chicken feather she had found on the back porch. She tossed the feather into the air, then watched it glide ever so gracefully back down. As Grammy walked past the davenport, she looked at Daddy lying there on his back and snoring with much energy.

He exhaled - puff, puff, puff - then he inhaled - snore, snore, snore - then he exhaled again.

Grammy suddenly had a great idea. If she put the feather over her father's face, he could make it fly a long time with all that snoring. So she held the feather over his face and let go. Daddy puffed and the feather flew upward; Daddy snored and the feather glided downward. Up and down, up and down, making Grammy giggle. But then, when Daddy was supposed to puff puff, he went, "snert, snort, sniffle, snuhk."

Grammy watched in helpless terror as the feather flopped for a while, then dropped into Daddy's open mouth. Daddy flailed his arms and struggled to sit up while making sounds Grammy had never heard before.

Grammy ran as fast as she could on her little legs through the house and outside to the cornfield. There she hid until Mamma called her and her seven older brothers and four older sisters in for supper.

As Grammy cautiously crawled onto her chair, Daddy looked at her and said, "You know, Francine, the strangest thing happened to me while I was taking my nap today. I dreamed that I was being attacked by a flock of chickens. What would make me have that dream?"

Grammy shook her head and very quietly ate supper. Relieved that she had gotten away with her discretion, she slowly relaxed but when she went to bed, she saw on her pillow, one very tangled chicken feather.

According to Grammy. Their priest had to struggle to keep from laughing when she confessed that she attacked her father with a feather.


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Kitty Cat Work


Our cats stay very busy every day. They work from morning to night. Or is it night to morning? Anyway, here are some photos of them hard at work.

Feeding the Hungry





Yolkie in his younger years loved to eat. And his outdoor cousins love to eat too. When his cousins look for food, they search the yard and garden for frogs and lizards and rodents and even snakes. Sometimes they look for squirrels and birds but it is easier to catch the frogs and lizards.

When Yolkie looks for food, he goes to the refrigerator. He says that's not as hard work as hunting in the garden.

Doing Homework





Even animals must go to school. Their schools are their mothers who teach them how to fight and hunt and make hiding places.

When Little Bit goes to school she goes to our computer. I don't think she learns much from it.





Yolkie helping Little Bit with his homework.

"Hey Little Bit," Yolkie said, "Do you think Saint Francis might help us? I just found a dead mouse in the printer."


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Beaver Becomes A Warrior




When Grammy and Grampy found Beaver, he was just a one pound puppy being swallowed up in a ditch by a six lane highway. Grammy grabbed the tiny bit of white fur and puppy dog eyes and held him carefully while Grampy drove to their vet. Beaver almost died that day but Doc pulled him through and proudly presented the puppy to Grammy and Grampy.

"We can't take him in," Grammy said.

"We have five cats," Grampy said.

"We don't know how to take care of a dog," Grammy said.

"You'll do just fine," Doc said. Just be as good to Beaver as you are to your cats."

Grammy and Grampy brought Beaver home and read a book "THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO RAISING DOGS".

"We have to put Beaver in a crate," Grammy said.

"No way!" Grampy said. "That will traumatize him."

Grammy and Grampy went to the baby section at Wal-Mart and bought a playpen and a fuzzy whale bed for Beaver.

"Now you be a good puppy," Grammy told Beaver, "and play with your new brothers and sister." And Grammy set Beaver on the floor where he was surrounded by five fifteen pound cats expressing their negative opinions of Beaver.





Beaver was scared and let out one long high pitched wail of agony that sent the cats under the couch. After five minutes, Yolkie, the yellow tabby cat, crawled out from under the couch and climbed over the play pen slats to hop into the play pen. He went to Beaver and kicked him. Beaver stopped crying and laid down with Yolkie in his fuzzy whale bed.

From then on, the cats taught Beaver how to be a mighty warrior Gray fur Donny and his little sister Little Bit bathed him every day with their little rough tongues and made sure his ears were clean. Black fur Scooter kept him up every night so he could help them hunt rodents, When Grampy fed the cats their kitty food, Beaver happily ate all of it.

Then Winston taught Beaver how to growl. Winston crunched up his face and howled, "EEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!." Beaver crunched up his face and growled, "yip yip yip yipee!"

Neighbor boys, seeing Beaver's efforts, laughed and pointed at him. Poor Beaver was humiliated.

The boys shouted, "Get the kitties," and ran into the yard and Winston shouted, "MEEEEEEEPPPP" which in human speak is "Every cat for himself. Run! Hide!"

The cats ran up trees. Beaver ran under some bushes.

Grampy came to the yard and yelled at the boys. "Better be careful," he told them. "That dog's gonna eat you up one of these days."

The boys laughed.

Beaver was not happy after that. Even when the cats shared their catnip with him, he just lay still and pouted. The cats helped him exercise and jog around the house. Grampy sneaked him pieces of steak and meat loaf and he felt himself start to grow.

Then one day the magic happened. Beaver's voice changed. No more "yip yip yipee." Beaver made this discovery just as the neighbor boys came to his yard and he ran to them and they laughed and Beaver stood tall with shoulders back, head up, teeth bared, fur trembling, and legs quivering. Then the Mighty Beaver ran toward the boys and he growled and roared and sang out in the joy of battle that said, "Stand back for Beaver is coming through!"

For the next twelve years, Beaver stood guard over his cat community, keeping all naughty boys from teasing the kitties and letting the world know, "Here I stand with my friends. Enter our yard if you must but just be polite."


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Life, Death, and Life Again




One thing that some people don't like about gardens is that, sooner or later, they must deal with death. Often this is a shock to them because they think of gardens only as sources of life.

Of course there is death in a garden. New flowers will not grow until the old ones die and spill their seeds on fertile soil. Food plants grow from the seeds of old food. Even seeds from kitchen scraps tossed onto a compost pile can produce new plants. Death in a garden is the same as in the world; it is a part of life.

Giving up life is never easy. A tree, when cut by the woodsman, remains standing for several seconds before falling to the ground. A bird or an animal facing death, makes a final cry before submitting to the last moment of life. Insects and worms fight to cling to their fragile and short lives, preferring to live in the dust of the earth rather than become part of it. Leaves on branches amputated from trees or bushes continue to stay green for days, even weeks, in denial that their life source is gone. Flowers plucked from their beds retain their form and color long after they've been tossed onto a heap in a neglected corner of the garden.

Sometimes there is a perfume from an undefined source that accompanies death. Some people say it is the sickening sweet scent of decay. People of faith say it is the perfume of Heaven. Whatever the source, it is often accompanied by a one note song, turning the last moment of life into a time of beauty and inspiration.

One spring day, I discovered a badly injured sparrow fledgling lying under some bushes. I picked up the tiny bird and held him in my hand. Unable to do anything to prevent his death, I spoke in soothing words to him while his little chest struggled vainly to continue breathing.

With his last gasp of life, this sparrow sang one long melodious note more beautiful than any song created by humans. In the silence of his death, I cried. His short song of good-bye remains entrenched in my memory to  return in joyful celebration whenever my soul is burdened with sorrow. Several other times I have heard other creatures sing this song at the moment of their deaths.

*****

I bury all the dead creatures that I find in Timothy's garden. There is a large grave where an old opossum rests in peace and six graves for cats and dogs who found death on nearby roads. There are even graves for birds, rats, squirrels, and mice. One grave for a black snake is six feet long and three inches wide.

*****

One thing I learned right away was to be sure that the creature I was preparing for burial was really dead. One day, I found a young opossum lying motionless and apparently not breathing in Timothy's garden. I went to the shed to get a shovel and returned in time to see the opossum scrambling over our fence and into our neighbor's yard.

Another time, I saw Stealth - one of our feral cats - lying in a twisted position, one eye shut, the other eye open and staring blankly at the sky. Grampy and I believed Stealth to have been an old cat since he looked so disheveled with injuries from so many fights. I sighed, and started to get the shovel when Grampy called to me that it was lunch time.

When I came back outside an hour later, Stealth sat up, yawned, stretched, and looked at me with his, "Well, where's my lunch?" expression on his face.

I am never in a hurry to bury lizards or frogs even when they look like nothing more than dried up leather. I place them into shallow pans of water and set the pan in a protected area. More times than not, these little creatures soak up the  water and scamper off.

*****

Death can never be avoided but sometimes it can be delayed. When Winston was fifteen years old, he became very sick. My heart breaking, I sat by Winston lying on the little nest he'd made for his last moments and petted him and talked to him. 
He stared at me, each breath coming slower. He was too weak to meow even one little "Eep."

At last I told Winston, "It's okay. You can die now. We will miss you but we will always remember you."

Winston looked at me as if trying to comprehend what I had said. Then he moved his head to my hand and bit it! Then he jumped down from his nest, ran across the yard, attacked Little Bit, ate all the food in her dish, then sat at his usual spot on the picnic table to survey his kingdom.

That night, I woke up to a horrendous cat fight with Winston bellowing a loud and long EEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!! while chasing some poor terrified creature out of the yard.

Grampy teased me, saying that Winston had chased Death out of our yard. I never disagreed with him since Winston lived for another year and a half until he finally went to his glory.

Jesus prayed in a garden before meeting his death and the angels' words - "He is risen!" - were spoken to Peter and John in a garden's open grave. A garden is nature's gospel of Creation, Salvation, Resurrection, and Eternal Life born in springtime, nurtured through the summer, harvested in autumn, and laid to rest in winter to return again with new life in spring. Let us always rejoice in our gardens, God's special gift to us.


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jimmy




Five year old Jimmy was in his family's back yard, arguing with six of the neighbors' children on this bright summer day. They were taunting each other with the usual epitaphs that seem to survive civilization, progress, world unity, and the space age.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones," Jimmy said, then looked at me. "Hey, the flower lady."

All seven children turned to me and said, "Good morning lady."

All of them called me Lady because they couldn't remember my name but they could remember Lady since this was also their dog's name.

"Good morning," I said to them and waited for what I knew they would next say.

It didn't take more than a few seconds for them to ask me, "Do you have any flowers?"

This was our daily ritual - them asking me for flowers, me giving them little bouquets from my garden. They always ran into their houses, holding out the flowers and shouting, "Mamma, look what we got."

     *****

That day came and went and I watched Jimmy grow up to his fourteenth year when he came to our house and asked if his dad could borrow Grampy's truck for a few hours. Of course I refused because his parents had a not too good reputation for honesty in the neighborhood.

"It's okay," Grampy said. "Let them use the truck."

A week later, when our truck was still missing from our driveway, I drove past Jimmy's house. The yard was empty, the house was closed with windows boarded over. I was angry about not getting our truck back.

"Jimmy was such a pain and he doesn't show much promise of becoming any sort of model citizen for society," my common sense said.

"So when does everyone in this world have to be an icon of perfection?" my heart replied. "Jimmy has his good points. He certainly has optimism and he definitely loves his mother. Maybe he's just a late bloomer. We can't judge a person for an entire lifetime by what we see for a few moments. People change, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better.
I think Jimmy will do just fine. I have faith in him."

I waited, listened for my common sense to rebut these statements. When my common sense did nothing but grumble about infernal female day dreaming, I went to our back yard and peered over the fence. The yard looked bare and desolate in its perfect landscaped lines and well trimmed grass empty of toys and basketball hoops and trampolines. My heart could hear the laughter of those children as they raced to our fence for flowers but it was just my imagination. The yard was childless..

My common sense said, "Oh no, here they come again," and my tears started to fall.

I plucked several cosmos and marigolds and zinnias from my garden and tossed them across the fence. They flew in tiny spirals, caught up by a sudden breeze, before landing on the picture perfect lawn. They looked beautiful lying there in the sunshine. My heart could hear the laughter of the children as they shouted out, "Thank you, Lady." My common sense said, "They're gone and so is your truck.".

It was two years later when I next saw Jimmy. He was working for a landscaping company. Walking around their yard, he recognized me right away.

Smiling, he came to our fence and said, "Hey Lady, do you still have any flowers?"

I gathered up a big bouquet and carried the flowers to him.

"Thanks," he said, then he turned and headed for their house, calling out, "Hey Mamma, look what I got!"

Jimmy disappeared into their house and I walked around to the front yard. There in the driveway was our truck.

"Well, daggone," I said and laughed. Somehow, the day seemed warmer, the sky brighter.

I looked at the truck and thought of a Bible verse - "Am I my brother's keeper?"
 
"Yup," I said.  We are our brother's keepers."


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Three Squirrel Tales




Just as my biology teacher said that handicapped creatures cannot survive long in the wild, my big brother, many years ago, told me that squirrels cannot live without their big fluffy tails. It is true that squirrels need their tails to keep themselves warm on cold nights and also to balance themselves as they scamper from tree to tree and leap remarkably long distances from tree to fence to garden gate and any other objects to reach their feeders without touching the ground.

After the bush in front of our kitchen window died, Grampy put a trellis there so I could still watch the birds at their feeders. He also put up two chairs and tables for squirrel feeders. The squirrels sit on the little chairs by the tables, then rock back and forth while they gobble down the sunflower seeds I've left for them.

Sometimes they get tired of sitting and run to the top of the trellis, then hang upside down by their feet, swinging while eating. Certainly, their tails keep them balanced while performing this mealtime maneuver. Certainly, squirrels need those big fluffy tails.

That was what I thought until one morning I looked out the window and saw a squirrel there without any tail at all! Nothing! I named him Stubby and kept a close eye on him. Just like the mocking bird with one leg, he adapted quite well to living with his handicap. Stubby stayed in Timothy's garden for five years. He had no trouble climbing trees or keeping his balance. Somehow he kept warm during the winters or he never would have lived so long in the wild.

 ***

After Stubby, came Stubby II who survived with only a small portion of a tail. Like his namesake, Stubby II lived a good life in Timothy's garden, flitting over tree branches, racing up and down trees, sometimes hanging upside down by his feet just for fun as he ate at his feeder table. Apparently neither squirrel learned that they had to have tails in order to survive.

 ***

A third squirrel had the opposite handicap of his two relatives. His tail was too long. Most squirrel tails go up their back and then fold over to come halfway back down. This squirrel's tail went up his back, then folded over and came back down to its point of origin and halfway back up again!

His handicap seemed much more frustrating than Stubby and Stubby II's handicaps. His tail was so heavy that he couldn't keep it in place very long when he sat at the feeder table. Slowly, very slowly, his tail unfolded and dangled down, down, down while he ate. With a hump! of disgust, he grabbed his tail, pulled it up, and wrapped it around him two or three times while trying to continue eating.

One day, when he was with his girlfriend, his tail got in the way so much that they both were tangled in it. That squirrel stayed for two years in Timothy's garden, then presumably returned to the woods. Perhaps he got tired of everyone staring at his long tail. Strange things happen with squirrels even when they are handicapped.

 ***

We humans who claim to have dominion over this world should respect life in all forms. We must never underestimate the determination to survive, even by only a squirrel. Life is sacred and cries out in many ways, "Let us live!"


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Timothy's School




Timothy’s mother must have been undernourished when he was born since he seemed to have to struggle to learn anything. While the other kittens in Grammy’s garden romped and played and learned new talents each day, Timothy struggled to analyze everything he saw and touched. While the other kittens looked at a tree and eagerly ran up its trunk, Timothy sat in quiet contemplation of what that thing might be. He had no problem at feeding time, often being the first one to reach the food bowls but if Grammy moved his food dish only a few inches from its normal spot, Timothy had to use intense concentration to find the dish.

The first lesson Grammy taught all new-comer kitties was to give them a name and then teach them to respond to that name. It took only a few days for Scooter to know he was Scooter, Winston to know he was Winston, and Little Bit to know she was Little Bit. But many days with Grammy constantly repeating his name passed before Timothy’s eyes lit up and he seemed to smile and say, “Hey! I’m a Timothy!”

Timothy’s greatest difficulty in learning was also his greatest triumph. To get from the yard into the house, the cats had to go through a maze of three cat doors. The first cat door led the cats from the yard to the porch. The second cat door went from porch to pantry. The third cat door went from pantry to kitchen which opened into the rest of the house. The cats not only had to learn how to go through this maze to get into the house, they also had to learn how to travel through it in reverse to get back outside.

This was no easy task but the cats were good students. Winston had needed only a few seconds to learn how to push on the rubber flap of each cat door to gain entrance into our porch. Little Bit needed an hour or so to learn this. Scooter watched Winston enter the cat door and immediately followed but poor Timothy couldn’t learn how to use the cat door.

While the other cats came and went through the cat door, Timothy sat by it and waited until Grammy helped him by pushing on the flap to open it. Grammy tried once to press Timothy’s head against the door to show him how his feline friends opened the doors but that terrified him and he clawed Grammy’s hand in fear.

The next time Timothy wanted out, he sat as usual by the cat door and looked at Grammy in anticipation. Grammy grabbed the edge of the flap with her index fingernail and pulled it back. Timothy went out through the door. Grammy again grabbed the flap with her fingernail and Timothy came in through the door. Every time  after that, when Timothy wanted to go in or out of the cat door, he refused to budge until Grammy used her fingernail to open the flap.

Day after day, week after week, month after month this went on. Finally, after six long months of watching Grammy open the flap with her fingernail, Timothy paused one day to look the flap over very carefully.

He looked up at Grammy as if saying, “Hey, I know how to do this!” Then he held out his paw, and grabbed the flap with one of his claws. Pulling the flap back, Timothy walked by himself through the cat door!

It took Timothy half a year to learn what his friends had learned in a few days but his success was just as great and he learned the most valuable lesson. Never give up.


Posted by Diana for Margaret

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Interacting with Feral Cats


If you can't find a feral cat, look up, the higher the better chance of seeing one.

No one can say for sure where cats came from. There is no mention of them in the Bible and scientists still disagree on who the cat ancestors were. There are many theories. My favorite theory is that cats descended from space aliens who crash landed in Egypt 5,000 years ago.

All cats are feral, having lost nothing of their wild nature. They are credited with having high intelligence and have learned to play the role of a "domestic" or "tame" animal willing to live in comfortable houses, eating the best food and sleeping on the best furniture. Most cats, however, when given a choice will head for the back yard or neighborhood woods or any other rustic area and live as they were meant to live.

If you meet a feral cat, do not look into the cat's eyes. This human greeting of "Hello" is translated into cat-speak as, "Let's fight!" Just keep on doing what you're doing and act as if you don't see any cats. The cat will probably wander off, relieved that he escaped from your presence.

It is very easy to get a cat to stay with you. Just set some food scraps out. Don't get between him and the food and give him a few days to connect you and the food as one. After about a week, the cat will let you tap his nose or pet his head.

When that happens, congratulations are in order, you and the cat are now on a rocky road to some of the best companionship any human and feline can experience. When you come home all tired and frustrated from your job, your cat will be there to let you pet him. When your cat decides to show his love for you, he'll drop a dead rat on your bed. If you get sick and lie on the couch, moaning in misery, your cat will bathe your feverish face with his scratchy tongue and sleep with you until your fever breaks.

The best tactic when living with a feral cat is to treat him with respect. He might roam at night but he'll be back as soon as he finishes eating breakfast at your neighbor's house where you neighbors think he belongs to them. When you're as lovable and cute as a cat, there's enough of you to belong to several families in the neighborhood. Just be sure to get the cat neutered. You don't want too much of a good thing.


Even feral cats say their prayers.


Posted by Diana for Margaret