So I am Collecting Memories Before They Get Tangled Up
When we made the move north, we brought my mom’s mother, and her two half sisters with us. It was a migration of sorts, mostly to get my teenage aunts out of some trouble they were in, in California, having to do with gangs and such. One of the sisters loved to laugh, and liked little kids, and the other sister was ill-tempered and did not like little kids, so one year my parents decided it would be a good idea to have Ill Tempered Aunt stay with us for a week while they went to a conference, in Colorado.
When I say this aunt didn’t like kids, what I mean is that she specifically didn’t like me. She was only seven when I was born, and I was cute and my parents were making a big deal out of me, so I guess she was jealous. By her teen years, whenever she would babysit us she would say stuff like, “stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “I’m going to slap your head into a peak and then I’m going to slap the peak off”. Well, I tried to get along with her because I didn’t want my peak to go sailing off across the room but one day she’d had enough, skipped slapping my peak, and went straight for my face, instead. My first thought was to get my little brother and sister, and protect them from this monster, by running away from home. Since we lived out in the country, and the nearest house was a dairy farm, I decided we’d wait it out until I could tell my parents everything, which I did when they got home. I think that was the last time Ill-Tempered Aunt ever babysat although she did manage to teach my little brother to curse by Kindergarten age. One night, when he put our family dinner to a dead standstill, by loudly asking someone to “pass the damn potatoes”, he quickly pointed at me when asked where he’d heard that word before. He knew that Ill Tempered Aunt would slap his head into a peak, then slap the peak off, if he ratted her out.
Years later, that same aunt decided she loved Jesus and made her peace with me, by apologizing for picking on me all those years. We actually hung out after that, in her light blue Corvair, driving around to nowhere and stopping at corner grocery stores for her cigarettes, and penny candy for me, and listening to the radio. She taught me to ride a bicycle and asked me to be her maid of honor when she got married a few years later.
That same aunt had feet that were always in trouble. She once tripped and fell down a hill and didn’t break a foot; she broke both feet. Another time, a group of us were shooting off fireworks in the street, and one spinning-wheel firework decided its trajectory should be horizontal instead of vertical, and chased her down the street, bumping against her legs and feet, until it fizzled out. Another time, when we had a chicken butchering party, somebody stretched the neck of a chicken out on a stump, between two nails, lopped its head off with an ax, tossed the head in a bucket, then turned the body loose which decided to run like a drunk man with wings, right toward my aunt, spraying blood out its neck all up and down her leg. Another time we went camping and a scorpion showed up around the fire pit, curled its tail up, and went right for her. By then she’d had it and obliterated the heck out of it with a nearby shoe which was no easy task given it was in sand. There was hardly a carcass left over to examine, which was pretty disappointing to a group of kids, but she’d crushed it , to “save our lives” and all that was left was a black mass of something we knew was very dangerous. Today that aunt is wheelchair bound with feet that swell up, blister, peel, and itch, and nobody knows why.
My parents decided to get into horses, in the 60s, which meant that they signed us kids up at the local 4-H Club where there was some mean girl who would put us on a barebacked horse, who was attached to a lunge line, who would then trot in circles for a half hour at a time, in order to test our ability to stay on. This was supposed to teach us balance and we were only allowed to grab the horse’s mane if we were really about to fall off, which was all the time. The mean girl would yell at us to let go, and to relax, and then she’d switch the direction the horse was trotting in, right when were getting the hang of the other direction. Despite the mean girl, I actually became a pretty good rider so my parents tried to get me to compete in Paint and Appaloosa shows, and in local fairs and the like. I wasn’t at all interested in competing, and thought people who did had an unhealthy desire to win. I never got any formal training for shows, but was once pulled out of the audience, against my wishes, to fill in for a rider who was MIA and the Paint Association didn’t want their rating to go down, although looking back on it I think that was a line of BS, but I got on that horse, whom I’d never met before that moment. I had no clue what to do, and was told to just follow everyone else. About halfway through the competition, I let the reigns out and let my horse race around the ring, passing everyone else, when he was supposed to be collected. Who knew? That was my first and last riding show but at least the Association kept their rating, although I couldn’t give a rat’s ass because we didnt even own a paint. Later I ended up halter showing a little green-broke mare at a local fair and we did pretty good. I understood this was to be my sister’s horse but I ended up working the mare, and the three horses that came after that. One was a bay colored quarter horse that had been so badly broken that it was skittish to the point of being dangerous. One day, as I was riding him down our driveway between two fences, my dad came walking toward us. The horse reared up, then bolted past my dad, throwing me so hard that I slid about ten feet, face first, with my hands down sliding the whole distance in gravel. The horse ran like it had been hit with a cattle prod, right through two strands of barbed wire. My dad picked me up and carried me into the house. I think he meant to go out and shoot that horse but instead he read up on how to fix him, but the horse only slightly improved, so we got rid of him. Ironically, his name was Victor.
After that came a beautiful palomino who had been a barrel racer and who did not know how to stand still while being mounted. Just getting on him involved a certain degree of athleticism and an ability to get a quick grip on the pommel and hang on. The previous owners told us that his name used to be Lightening, but they changed it to Thud, which had something to do with him always trying to get his butt up into the air. I thought his name should have been my dad’s first clue before he raced Thud up a hill, gave him too much reign, then sailed over his head in a glorious, almost slow motion somersault, that I can still see in my head today. Those people were right. When my dad hit the ground, what I distinctly heard was a solid, resounding, thud.
“Dad! You gave him too much reign,” I yelled from my safe vantage point several feet away. It was great advice from a sixth grader.
“I know, I know,” he yelled, already out of breath from chasing Thud. My dad caught up to him, grabbed the reigns, got back on, raced him up the hill again, but kept the reigns collected, and when that horse planted his back feet, attempting to perform his ceremonial launching maneuver again, he couldn’t get his head down enough to get his butt up in the air. After that, Thud knew who was boss, and since my father had so beautifully illustrated what not to do, I knew how to be the boss, too, and I rode Thud about a week later without ever hearing his name pronounced by my body hitting the ground. After we sold him, years later, I heard that a hunter had mistaken him for a deer. The hunter fired, not killing him, because ironically, he shot him in the butt.
I married a city boy which became obvious when I started to tell him chicken, horse, and cow stories the first year we were married. Even now, if we drive by a pasture full of cows, Peter will interrupt our conversation and announce, “Oh, wow! Check that out! Cows!!” He says it that way, every single time, as if he grew up in one of those expensive New York hotels all his life and never saw livestock. His favorite stories are the chicken ones.
My parents decided to raise chickens in the 60’s, right alongside the horses, and I’m not sure how it happened but we ended up with a very large barred rock rooster and a very small Banty hen. If you don’t know what those are, just picture the Incredible Hulk, with Shirely Temple as his girlfriend. It was ugly and even as a kid, I knew that some horrible wrong had been committed when my parents allowed those two to hook up.
The Banty was affectionately named after my mom’s best friend’s mother, Lorene, because she was a short, diminutive woman, and the rooster was named Stanley. I’m not sure why. Lorene quickly figured out that her size, and ability to run fast, were the only things that were going to save her from Stanley. It was quite common to see this little brown hen racing down our driveway, as fast as she could, then darting under something, with Stanley close behind, only to be abruptly cut off by whatever obstacle Lorene had dodged under. I’m not sure if frustration is what turned him into being mean, but he took to chasing everything that came near him after that, including my dad’s prized pair of hunting Beagles. There was a barn located down the driveway with two large doors in it, which had become a circular runway for the Daily Dog and Rooster Show, which we observed from our house every day; in one door and out the other, with Stanley chasing either Lorene, my dad’s beagles, and sometimes even my dad . One day Stanley caught up to the dogs, flew at them with his talons, and I don’t know if there were any injuries or not, but a lot of yelping went on, which was enough for my dad to grab his shotgun and run outside. Stanley sensed that this time was different, and took off running for the barn, only by then dad had figured out that Stanley would do what he always did; run in one door and out the other, so he circled back and waited for him to exit. When Stanley did, he was met with a shotgun blast to the head. Dad managed not to pepper the body with shot and insisted my mom cook him up, so later that night, she threw him in a pressure cooker and I learned that’s what you did with tough birds. I think she served him up with potatoes and gravy, which we usually loved, but when we found out that the main dish was Stanley, we refused to eat him so Stanley got thrown out to the dogs, who didn’t have any trouble eating him at all.
Lorene seemed happier after that, but lonely. We came home from church one Saturday, on a harsh winter day, and saw that she had been frozen up against the house, with her wings spread out as if the wind had pasted her there. We were all sad and thought it was a horrible way to die, especially after all she’d been through. My dad got out of the car and my squatted down to peel her off the house, when her eyes suddenly blinked. Nothing else on that little hen could move but she had managed to send a gallus gallus domesticus S.O.S., and dad got it, I guess because he’d been an Air Force guy. I don’t remember if he poured warm water on her, to get her off the house or not, but she thawed out to live another day. She died that same winter not too long after that, and my brother was the one who was told to go out and bury her in a hole, which we were all witness to because the next time we came home from church, there was Lorene, buried next to the house, in a shallow hole with her feet sticking straight up out of the ground. When you’re only five, digging a shallow hole in frozen ground, is an adequate burial for a banty named Lorene.
…to be continued.