Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chewing Tobaco or Sliced Onions with those Stings?

I love being outdoors. We didn't have a TV when I was young, not many people did and if they did, not many stations interested me.

I think I told you my Uncle Bill lived next door to my grandmother, with my cousins who were also my best friends, at least best friends until I discovered boys in Junior High. My grandfather was a craftsman of spectacular skill. That day he was in his workshop/cure shed working on some project. Because he was busy there, my grandmother was busy cooking something or cleaning, so to get rid of me, she gave me permission to cut the grass.

This was reserved for boys in the 1950's, so I was excited, so excited, I cut my grandparents yard and my uncle's yard as well. If you have ever used a non powered push mower that has the rotating blades, you know that if even a twig or small limb gets caught, the mower will stop like a break switch was thrown. So I actully ran with the mower so it would snap the twigs and sticks. Papaw kept it very sharp and tended to all his tools so they were in perfect working order.

Not many homes had chilled air in those days either, much like cars, we just kept windows open or used attic fans. For folks who could afford them, most homes used window units that cooled one or two rooms. My Mamaw had a couple and would hang quilts to keep the cool air from going into the rooms without doors, the combo kitchen and hall way.

My Uncle had one that chilled his living room but the back side of it was covered by large hedges. I had trouble cutting between the hedges where grass tended to grow taller, I guess due to the shade. I wasn't going to let something like a stubborn hedge keep me from doing as good a job, if not better, than a boy at cutting grass so I shoved that mower deep into the hedge, rocking the whole bush and smacking the back of Uncle Bill's air conditioner. My Uncle started cussing. He cussed like a sailor. Words I never heard my father utter in my entire life. I wonder if it was because he had been a sailor? But I was determined to get that one spot in the back I could barely see but knew would defeat me if I did not pull back, dig in my feet then get a running start.

That mower hit the bush and it slammed into the air cooler, with a string of curse words, my Uncle got off his couch and came outside to make sure I was hearing him correctly. He stood with long pants but no shirt and yelled, "Get away from the G-D air conditioner!"

I stood and looked at him in shock, his words stung. They had never stung before, we were all used to Uncle Bill's cussing, it was just a part of who he was, no filter no matter the age of the person at his home. His words stung my arms, my legs, my neck, my face, my belly, my back and suddenly I realized, he was running toward me, from standing to a dead run. He scooped me into his arms and kept running, yelling for Papaw and Mamaw. All I could feel was red hot pain and my ears started ringing. My body felt like it was on fire.

I could feel tears on my face and felt some fear, tried to stop them, no one in my family had time or tolerated tears, but I could not stop the flood that followed. Uncle Bill ran right into my Mamaw's house throught the opened back door, Mamaw had a dish towel in on her shoulder as she held the screen door for him. He was shouting but not cussing. My Papaw was running right behind us. His feet seemed to have left the ground as he was in the back yard then suddenly at my side. It was then I realized they were trying to pull my shirt off and my grandmother was using her dishrag to swat my head, shorts and legs. Was I in that much trouble? My grandfather started stomping and had a fly swatter working overtime.

I often played outside without a shirt, it was no big deal when so young so the tugging at my shirt was not a shock, just puzzle, but why was my body still on fire and why was my Uncle saying he was sorry, then he started cussing again. Why was my Papaw stomp dancing while swinging a fly swatter? This time, Uncle Bill was cussing about the G-D wasp nest at his air conditioner, "must be for the water" he cursed again as he kicked the screen door and left, face as red as a tomato and fists clinched.

It was then I realized I was being smacked by the dish rag to get wasps out of my hair, off my pants and my shirt had been loaded with red wasps. Papaw's dance was killing wasps under his feet as he tried to knock them to the floor with the fly swatter.

I took a bewildered look at my arms, legs, chest and belly. Large welts were growing angry red and tiny wells in the center, like volcanos. Unlike honey bees, wasps can sting over and over again. My Mamaw gave me cold wash cloth for my head as my grandfather began to put huge plugs of tobacco in his mouth. Mamaw began to slice fresh onions. Then the argument began. My grandfather told her it was a waste of time to treat stings with onion, never worked, I needed chewing tobacco. Mamaw told him it always worked when she was a girl. Papaw told her it was because no one was smart enough to use chew. They argued on as each applied their cure to my many wounds and we listened to Uncle Bill continue his symphony of curse words outside about the wasps.

I watched my Papaw pull chewing tobacco from his mouth and place small bits it on the left side of my body over the stings. Mamaw had a bowl of thin sliced onions and put them on the right side of my body. I hurt so badly I didn't care what they used. I was used to home remedies but this was new, even to me. They continued their argument about the benefits of their methods and why they worked. I think I began to feel better because of the care and concern each of them expressed for my well being, that was the best medicine. Thank goodness they didn't ask which worked best!

I had to sit indoors and be watched as my Mamaw told me some folks had "spells" from so many stings. My body was covered with damp pieces of rags holding slices of onion and bits of wet chewed tobacco on the stings that covered my body. NOw I know those "spells" my Mamaw talked about was actually anaphylactic shock, but I was a tough little girl. Not too tough that I refused the bowl of ice cream offered in mid day before dinner. Not too tough that I realized my family rallied at the speed of light around me when I was in need.

Although I stunk to high heaven, I still have no idea which remedy worked best, or at all. For me, the best medicine was the love I felt from my family. Even gruff Uncle Bill who scared everyone so much we avoided interaction unless it couldn't be avoided. After that day, I was never afraid of him again, no matter how much he cussed and fussed.

Isn't love the best medicine any person can hope to be administered? I wouldn't hit wasp nest again to get that much love and attention all at once, but once was all that was needed to last a life time. The memory still feels warm. Thank you to my Mamaw, Papaw and Uncle Bill, who have all passed on but the memory of when they worked together like a pit crew in a NASCAR race to take such good care of me that day will live on as long as I live. It is my wish that everyone feels this much love at least once in their life. It will last a lifetime.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Between a Rock and a Car Door!

I got trapped today. I was in the parking lot of a grocery store. When I pulled in, I knew it was going to be a tight squeeze. Not a great location for someone who has suffered from claustrophobia.

As a child, I almost drown. This did not stop my adventures of going into dark caves that did not have tour guides, although lying on my back to wiggle through a tight spot pressed on my chest, it was a bit like being too deep in the water, unable to fill my lungs. While diving too deep could result in lungs full of water, the tight tunnel carved by the earths shift pressed on my chest, I breathed shallow until out I popped.

When my parents would fight, I would seek comfort in the dirty cloths hamper, buried deep to muffle arguments. It was like gliding deep under water or in the damp musky smelling hole in the earth.

But today, decades later, my oversized body was stuck. My feet were firmly planted on asphalt but I could not lift my knees to climb back in my car nor could I force my behind to shove the car door open past the small silver sedan that succeeded in holding me captive. It was not a comforting feeling nor a sporting event, it was simply embarrassing!

Knowing I was being watched by folks passing into and out of the store, it didn't occur to me at that time that they were embarrassed for me as well, so much so, no one offered help. It was a lot like diving too deep or sliding too slow due to slipping in the mud, feeling some panic, but not the thrill.

Finally, I dug deep, grabbed one pant leg at my knee and pulled as hard as I could. It lifted my foot high enough to get into the car and twist my body. Success! I squirmed back inti my car, took a deep breath and cursed the ice cream I had last night.

Tight spots are not new to me. Finding ways out of tight spots, literally as in caving, or emotionally as we have all found ourselves, can be done if I dig deep, take a breath and assess my situation.

Being stuck today spoke to me on a primal level but I'm not sure what it said or what I was suppose to learn. I am open to any thoughts or ideas you may be able to shed on this event. One lesson clearly learned, go for the larger parking place every time. No more rush into the first spot I see. I will take my time and "look before I leap". Somewhat of a new behavior but not the first time I promised myself I would look AND think before I leap. Guess not everyone learns from mistakes. So, what do you think could be the lesson, besides don't get seconds and switch from ice-cream to fruit?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rambling Mind, Rambling Reading

I know this blog thing is strung together with a common thread on each writers entries. Since I am not a writer, I really don't much care about run on or fragmented sentences. God Bless America and spell check or every other word would be a frustration to cipher.

I say this because I actually read one of my entries, on my brother. That last part made no sense and outside spell check I can't figure out how to fix it. It's frustrating and I actually know what it says!

That's my mind these days. This morning I made coffee after I let out a cat that was dumped on me years ago. I now lay claim to him and at least feed and keep him inside when it's cold outside. Okay, that's not entirly true. I stand by the door at night waiting for his Highness to make up his mind. If he sits and looks at the door, I stand and keep holding the door open like the loyal servant I have become. If he turns and leaps on the back of the couch, in he stays.

After he was out, I got my dirty coffee cup from yesterday, swisher water in it and dried withna paper towel. My grand parents lived through the depression, guilt hits when I use disposable items but convience wins. I'm still in my jammies as I head down the hall. I stop, look at my empty halfway cleaned cup and think, where was I going? Oh yeah, cream. I start to shuffle again and stop. The refrigerator is not in the bedrooms down the hall!

I turn around with a sigh and chuckle, being old is funny. I find humor in this aging process everyday. Trying to find the word for cheesecake when once it was easily plucked from a sharp mind, it is buried or hidden. This is what happens instead as you try to explain a planned evening dessert.

"it's like a cake but isn't. It's round and called a cake but it's really a custard. You know, we've had it a million times, it's John Thomas's favorite." here there is typically some stomping of feet, clinched fists, and growls as I try to recall a simple word used a billion times, I cant locate the elusive name so the elderly's method of verbal recall continues. "It's not a custard but like a custard....oh my gosh, WHAT IS IT CALLED! Oh Yeah, cheesecake!"

Not everyone my age goes through this, yet. I believe, like learning to walk, talk, and ride bikes, it comes to each old person at different times in our life cycle. Some fear this process, some don't notice. Me? I find it greatly entertaining.

So my two faithful readers, forgive no review of sentences that make no sense and no spellcheck this this chilly morning as I listen to woodpeckers, doves and cuddle with my coffee, I laugh again at losing my fridge. Because it is so much funnier to lose a side by side fridge than losing my mind!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I have an older brother, Jimbo. He goes by James these days.  When we were very young, he was expected to keep me safe if no adults were around. One of my earliest memories of his care was riding bikes to school together. He is three years older than me so his bike and legs were bigger and faster. I recall losing sight of him, even though I knew my way home, panic would rise in my body as the screams tore from my throat.  Then I would see the school and calm down. His leaving me was forgotten and forgiven instantly. When we got older, I realized other kids either looked up to him or feared him. They also would either forgive his behavior or hide from him. He was gifted at sports, became a local football hero, was in magizens that touted his skills at bowling and football. This may have helped his self esteem and soften the blow about being a ready made baby sitter. Jimbo has always said what was on his mind. He seemed to be born without a filter. I admire this quality while fearing it at the same time as I have always weighed everything I say. An example for you. A friend of his, very good looking and knew it, said one day he felt he was never actually seen due to everyone always judged him by his looks. In a very matter of fact maner, my brother said, "If if bothers you so much, shave your head."  A very typical Jimbo comment said with complete honesty and maybe a twinkle in his eye.

Somehow, my brother either had trasportataion or knew someone who did and as I entered my teen years, I became less of an embarrasement to him. This resulted in our spending a little more time together, voluntarily. I want to share one of the first times I got to hang out with Jimbo and a few of his friends.

He let me tag along to the gravel pit for a swim. If you don't know what I am talking about, google gravel pits.  At the time, I didn't know it was an illegal past time but as we pulled up to the gate and fences, I saw the pit was surrounded by warning signs. With my brother there, I was fearless and scampered over the fence with my brother and his friends.

After we hiked to the edge of the pit, my brother and his friends began to dare each other to jump first. We grew up next to many lakes and no one hesitated about jumping in first. But this was.....illegal, forbidden, and much more exciting. I called them babies and lept off the edge at a dead run, as my brother told me I had to avoid the jagged rocks poking from the sids of the pit.

Looking back, I recall the thrill of flying through the air until I hit the cold water. I seemed to sink into the water that became darker the deeper I went, then it felt hours before I broke the surface to fill my burning lungs and rushed to avoid being hit by the next person to jump.

Now I know the fence was there for protection. Swimming there was forbidden due to the deadly lack of knowledge of the depth of the water, the bacteria, filth and disease lurking as well as the risky climb up the side of the deep hole to jump again.

If you are reading this, James, this is one of my fondest memories with you. Thank you for including me with your friends, even if it was just to get me to take the first leap. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Roll Me Another

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dancing Frogs on a Hot Skillet

When I think about my weekly menu at home these days, counting calories (as if), trying to keep it interesting for the grandson, and trying to follow the latest FDA food pyramid, buying a lot of frozen foods and veggies in bags ready to toss in the microwave, done in 15 minutes, I always travel back to when I was a kid and some of the adventures I had in  helping with meals. For some reason, frog legs have been on my mind. When I think of this meal, I can't help but see how those legs would kick once they were dropped on a hot skillet. 

Picture an old fashioned wagon wheel, one with a large wooden center and huge spokes like on Western movies. Now picture a neighborhood of homes built in the same pattern, all two bedroom, one bath, small concrete front porch and maybe 800 square feet, side by side on this spoke and circle pattern. I lived on one of the spokes. My grandparents lived on a wheel through these spokes. My Uncle Bill, Aunt Tiny, and cousins lived next door to my grandparents. My cousins were also my best friends, Joyce and Tony. It would take five minutes to walk to my grandparents. I was allowed to walk there as young as six years old so I spent a lot of time at my grandparents. They never locked the door, as most of us didn't back then, and I could just go right in if they weren't home. I also ate a lot of my meals there. I guess you could say my eating pattern was established by my grandparent's side.

One amazing day, while it was still pitch black outside, I had the rare privilege to go with my grandfather "frog gigging". I got to wear a helmet that had a light that actually had to be lit with a match and burned with a sulfur smell, wear huge waders and carry a spear. This wasn't just any spear carved from bamboo. This was a real spear with metal spikes that could also clamp like a tiny bear trap once the spikes hit a toad and tripped the clamp, like a mouse trap spring. Other spears had spikes that didn't clamp, but I got the bear trap kind, maybe because it was my first time to hunt toads.

The most exciting part of this may have been that I was a kid with a weapon in the dark! We loaded in the truck and drove for what seemed like hours! I was too excited to fall asleep again, trying to practice my stabbing motion and listening to the millions of rules I had to follow. I thought, "Yeah, sure. Let's get to the frogs."  Then I heard the word, snakes and paid closer attention to the rules. Snakes would be in the marsh but could not bite through the waders, don't move too fast, they will swim away, and don't let water get into the waders, a snake could slitter in with the water. I wasn't really afraid of snakes, I was the snake catcher and tosser if us kids ran across any while we played in the woods. They didn't bother me at all and I didn't think much about why they scared my friends, except my big brother. I always wondered why he was afraid of snakes, he wasn't afraid of anything! But I heard my Papaw say something about poison and trapped in waders, so I listened to all the rules again.

Finally, we were at the marsh. My Papaw parked his truck, pulled out that old potato sack that he used for squirrels and hung it on his back as he grabbed our gear. It was still very dark, muggy and the marsh reeds were illuminated by the moon. Mosquitoes attacked as soon as I stepped out the truck but the pests were quickly forgotten as I was handed my weapon and waders tightened. Papaw lit my helmet light and warned me to keep it on my head and to stay close. He went over the rules for hunting toads again; listen for the croak of the toads, move as slowly as possible, don't throw my gigging spear, I had to hang onto it, even though it had a rope around my wrist from a hole he had bore into the top of the handle. He said it was kinder to the frogs to stab hard and have a clean kill, "Don't want to have to kill 'em twice Terri Lynn," he cautioned me.

My waders were tied over my shoulders, borrowed from a person unknown to me or an extra from my Papaw, but they kept the swamp, and snakes, away from my cloths. There were more than the just the two of us. We traveled in a tight pack but had our spears pointed in different directions. I heard the others stabbing the water, but no whoops of joy if they hit their mark, we were trying not to spook the toads. It was like wall to wall toads, there were so many it was impossible to not gig a toad.

When I hit a toad and my spear clamped the fat green critter in the jaws of death, I passed my spear wordlessly to my Papaw who took it and dropped it in his bag, without any eye contact, we kept moving. Very serious business, this frog gigging.

We were in the swamp for what seemed like a very short time before our bags were full and I could see the tree line, invisible when we arrived. Once we started back to the truck, we didn't need to stay quiet and moved more swiftly. The marsh only hit my Papaw's knees, it was up to my waist, also invisible until now. The sun was peeking over the pines and I looked back to where we had been hunting. It was beautiful. There were tight patterns of lilly pads, some with flowers barely opened, surrounded by the reeds. Smells even seemed to change with the rising sun. We loaded our gear in the truck beds, dumped the toads in ice chests then headed home.

By late afternoon, the frogs were cleaned and legs prepared for cooking, I stood on a kitchen chair next to the stove. My Mamaw had to walk around me, complaining the whole time but she  never told me to move. I watched her pour the bacon fat from the metal pot that looked like a smaller version of my grandfather's coffee percolator, into the hot cast iron skillet. She waited a second then sprinkled in a little flour, it sizzled and she told me to move my chair back, sometimes those frog legs would jump right outta the pan. I thought she was making a joke until she gave me that look of "move it now!" I moved back my chair but quickly climbed back up and leaned forward. I had never really been interested in watching her cook frog legs until I took part in the hunt.

As she placed the breaded frog legs into the pan, I shouted, "Oh MY Gosh!!" It was all I could do to not put my hands in the hot fat and rescue the things I thought I killed earlier that day. I yelled, "the toads are still alive! I was panicked and didn't understand my Mamaw's calm. Those legs were alive! They were dancing around the skillet, kicking each other, fighting to escape. I called out to Mamaw again, "You gotta kill 'em before you cook 'em!" She no patience for what she saw as nonsense. She told me in her stern voice but never looked up, never stopped poking at the legs, scooting them around in the pan, "Hush now, Terri Lynn! That's just what frog legs do when they get cooked. They are not alive and will stop moving soon."  I got quiet, knowing the consequence if I didn't and watched a bit longer. She was right, they stopped, the aroma of fresh fried frog legs filled the room. I went from feeling terror to feeling extremely hungry.

My Aunt Tiny walked in the front door with Joyce. She brought over some covered side dish. I lost interest in the frying, hopped down and ran out back to an open field, destined to become more homes, with Joyce to look for crawdads in mud puddles. I tried to tell her about frog gigging but she made me stop, saying it made her sick. She said she just wanted to watch me poke around in the mud for pinch bugs. I don't think Joyce ever touched them. I didn't think she was afraid of them them, she was just.... well, prissy. I couldn't ever picture myself as prissy as she was but envied how pretty she always looked in nice dresses, always clean and her hair always brushed. I guess I could see why she would never gig a frog or get her hands dirty in mud playing with crawdads. As we searched the mud puddles, I told her about how the frogs danced in the skillet and tried to convince her they stood up and actually danced like a chorus line. She called me a liar. She was a couple years older than me but I could see she wasn't sure if I was lying.  I told her Mamaw had the frogs dance in the hot cast iron skillet before being cooked. She didn't like to argue so I always won. To this day, I don't know if she believed me. I would call her and ask but she died almost a decade ago. I want to think I fooled her as I described the graceful dance of the frog legs which actually just jerked around. 

When dinner was on, I was first in line to grab a bunch of fat frog legs and recalled my long day with anyone who would listen to me talk about such a gross subject while eating. I think they tasted like shrimp. I never ate frog legs again after we stopped going to the marches.  I have heard folks say they taste like chicken. These are folks that pay for them in restaurants. Maybe farmed toads are fed differently than toads from the swamps in the 1950's. I can't imagine any frog legs on any menu of any four star restaurant in the world that tasted better that those legs gigged in the foothills of the Ozarks that early morning.