Category Archives: Family

OUTFOXING THE FOX

Wolves and foxes are figuring prominently in my life these days, due to my three-year-old grandson’s obsession with “The Three Little Pigs.” He’s not afraid of the wolf. He loves the wolf. We build block towers over and over, which he designates as houses built of straw, sticks or bricks, and then proceeds to huff and puff until he blows them down. Even the brick ones, which strictly speaking are supposed to withstand the wolf’s huffing and puffing. The blowing is supplemented by head-butting in order to get the job done.

Wolves are akin to foxes, those handsome animals that are forever prowling about looking for poultry to devour. In picture books, the fox often gets outfoxed in humorous ways. A favorite of ours is “The Rooster and the Fox,” (Helen Ward) in which the proud and arrogant rooster Chanticleer is seized by the neck by the equally proud and arrogant fox. Chanticleer does some clever thinking, tricking the fox into opening his mouth to declare his own cleverness. When the fox’s mouth opens, Chanticleer escapes. Another fox story is “That is Not a Good Idea!” (Mo Willems), in which the fox concocts a plan to seduce a fat goose into coming to his house to help him make soup. The fox intends for the goose to be the main ingredient, but in a delightful twist ends up in the soup himself.

But I have another tale in mind, a story about actual foxes and chickens on the farm of my childhood.

Each spring my mom ordered one hundred fluffy yellow chicks. They were delivered to town on the train, brought home, and kept warm in the house for several days under brooder lamps. Our kitchen was temporary home to a delightful mass of peeping cuteness. We kids knew the chicks were meant to be eaten eventually, and it didn’t bother us. That’s life on the farm. After a few days they were relocated to the chicken coop, and thus began the long season of raising them to juicy adulthood. They were allowed to run loose around the farm yard during the day, scratching and pecking for bugs and worms. At dusk the door to the coop was left open, and they all went home to roost.

The summer I was nine or so, there were several hungry foxes lurking in the tree rows at the edge of the yard. Dad would report seeing them in the fields when he was cultivating or spraying for weeds. As the summer wore on, one or two of them made the bold move of taking a midday foray into the yard and snatching a chicken. Unusual, because this is normally a nocturnal activity. Which is why the chickens were safely ensconced in the coop at night.

It was a night in late August, a week before the planned chicken butchering party, an annual event for my mom and her sisters. That night my parents attended a different annual event – the grain elevator meeting and dinner. This was a huge social gathering as well, not to be missed. A sweet, grandmotherly neighbor lady arrived to babysit my brothers and me. Careful instructions were given to her to remember to let the chickens into the coop before we all went to bed, and off Mom and Dad went.

I don’t remember anything about what ensued, except for what I was told later. My parents returned from their partying well after midnight. As they drove into the yard, they discovered a sea of plump, feathered bodies littering the yard. Can you see it? White feathers glinting under the full moon, the bodies still warm from the kill (I have no idea if the moon was full or not. But it makes a better story). An entire summer’s worth of chicken-raising in anticipation of an entire year’s worth of chicken and dumplings, gone. And the fact that the chickens would have been plucked, gutted and in the freezer in just a few days made the whole affair so much worse.

There was nothing to do but leave the corpses lying in state until morning. Except that by morning every chicken had vanished, dragged off by the foxes. The exception was one traumatized hen who’d flown into a tree during the massacre. She refused to come down for three days.

Our poor grandmotherly neighbor was horrified at what she’d forgotten to do. But honestly, herding around four kids must have taken all her concentration. Plus, she was almost deaf (I remember, because her hearing aids were always whistling), and didn’t hear the chickens’ frantic screams for help. So I don’t see it as her fault, and neither did my parents. Somehow we got through that winter without chicken. And during spring plowing, Dad unearthed piles of chicken bones.

In real life we don’t always outfox the fox. But life goes on anyway. There will be another spring, bringing a new batch of fluffy yellow chicks. But in the world of stories my grandson and I celebrate either the demise of foxes and wolves, or their victory, depending on what mood he’s in. Which is exactly how it should be when you’re three.

PICTURE THIS

Because I have so little to do, I’ve been spending time scanning thirty-five years worth of snapshots onto my hard drive.

No, that’s not true. I’m scanning, but the reason is that I want those snapshots, which catalog the history of my marriage and most of our parenting years, safely backed up electronically, where neither moth nor rust nor mold nor fire can corrupt. That’s preferable to their current home in shoe boxes under the bed.

This project began four years ago when I pulled all the snapshots out of albums, in an attempt to clear shelf space, and carefully put them in order in all those shoe boxes I’d been saving. The plan was to begin scanning immediately, but life and laziness interrupted, and I’m finally getting around to it.

As my life flies by in photo after photo, I have some observations, moving from the shallow to the meaningful:

1. I wish I weighed now what I weighed twenty years ago when I thought I was fat.

2. I had some weird hairdos. This is particularly true of the 90’s, when I had chin-length hair with very short, poufy bangs. The bangs went far back on my head, which made me look like a poodle. There are ten years of poodlehood. I was in good company, however. All the women in the 90’s photos are sporting variations of poodle hairdos. What were we thinking?

3. I tend to keep clothing forever, and the photos are proof. A case in point is that the dress I wore to my brother’s wedding in 1994 shows up at Easter 1996, and again for Mother’s Day in 1998. But you know, it was a great dress, classic and tailored (unlike the horrors being foisted upon us by clothing manufacturers in 2018), and I wish I’d kept it. But see #1 above.

4. There are photos of me with full makeup, and a few with no makeup. If you are going to take a picture of me, and I ask you to wait a minute while I put on some lipstick, please oblige. Trust me, it’s for the greater good.

5. In photos of the 80’s and 90’s, when we were raising kids, my husband and I look entirely too young to be parents. How is it that the adults in charge of the world allowed us to take these innocent babies home from the hospital? Weren’t they worried that in all likelihood we had no idea what we were doing?

6. No matter our inexperience and parenting mistakes, we took a lot of trips, did a lot of things, and had a lot of fun. It’s good to remember these successful family times, because, let’s face it, every family has plenty of memories of things that weren’t so great. The camera chronicled our annual pilgrimage to North Dakota to visit grandparents, siblings and cousins. Also camping trips at the Oregon beach, and Yellowstone, a trip to Vegas (after which we all said’ “All right, we’ve seen it. No need to ever return”), a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C., and a trip to Israel, compliments of my in-laws. Having these photos helps balance out fears, as we look back, that maybe we weren’t good enough parents.

7. I love the photos of the everyday stuff, too. We have the usual but precious pictures of birthdays, first bike rides and missing teeth. We recorded home school field trips and projects, including our model of a digestive system, constructed of cardboard, cake pans, tubes and hoses, that covered the entire dining room table. As I recall, our son was disappointed that it didn’t actually work. He apparently thought we were building a real one. There’s a photo of each and every Christmas tree, every one the same and yet different. Through it all, our succession of three cats are lurking everywhere, literally sticking their noses into everything we did, or else doing goofy things all on their own.

8. Every photo unlocks a flood of unrecorded memories surrounding it. I’ve relived huge swathes of my life, and as I near the end (of the photos, not my life), I’m thankful for the memories and the people, regretful about a few things, and mostly astounded at what my family has been given to enjoy.

These electronic images will endure forever. Maybe. The photo-filled shoe boxes are insurance, and will remain under the bed. Or maybe on shelves in the catch-all closet. That closet is my next project.

Bricks and Power Tools

Nothing is as constant as change. Sometimes change is forced on us, but sometimes it’s fun to change things just because. Especially around the house.

The popping seams and failing glue of our kitchen laminate recently forced us to replace the counters. We ended up with beautiful Corian in light gray. The color is perfect with our white cabinets and the cobalt blue accessories I’ve collected over the years. New counters necessitated a new window valence, and a new utensil caddy to replace the red one that no longer looked right. Searching for these items led me to cutting up long curtain panels to make short valences, and to the garden department of Lowe’s, where I scored a cobalt blue flower pot to hold the utensils. How delightful! I believe this is called repurposing.

Even when my current belongings aren’t falling apart or becoming unglued, I like to change things every so often. My living room is beginning to show its age. The couch and loveseat are begging to be slipcovered. The coffee table is a battered relic, having survived almost forty years of kids, cats, and feet resting on it. The walls are so . . . white.

I don’t think of my house as ever finished. Like life itself, little changes are always presenting themselves. The scarred, water-ringed buffet with beautiful bones looks like a good candidate for painting. The person who shares my home, however, is horrified at the thought of painting furniture. Wood is sacred, not to be tampered with.

To demonstrate how stunning painted furniture can be, I transformed a dilapidated oak dining room chair, a $5 garage sale find, with a beautiful shade of turquoise paint and installed it in the bedroom (which is also due for a makeover). I think it’s the cutest thing, draped with a colorful scarf. He tolerates it. But that’s marriage, you know.

Another project I’ve been dying to do for several years is to paint the fireplace. The reddish brick is conflicting with my color scheme. It actually screams “Here I am! A red fireplace!” We’ve been discussing this project for several years. The conversation goes like this: Me – “Can I paint the fireplace?” Him – “No.” Because fireplaces are also sacred.

Don’t read that last sentence as sarcasm. His feelings are as valid as mine. We’re partners in this house. But I think we’ve negotiated a compromise. I’m going to whitewash the fireplace, or maybe graywash it, which isn’t as drastic as a heavy coat of paint, and allows some of the brick to show through. I can’t wait. He’s a little nervous. That, too, is marriage.

I see our house as a painter sees a canvas. An opportunity to be creative with color and design. I believe it’s one of God’s good gifts, and that he appreciates a well-designed room more than I do. Just look at his magnificent world, with its gorgeous colors and variety of landscapes. God is an artist, and he lets me be an artist by decorating, and redecorating, the space I call home.

Which leads to a secret desire of mine. It would be on my bucket list, if I had one. I want to learn to use power tools, so I can build a gazebo in the back yard. But I’m not sure a five-foot person has the physical strength to handle power tools. I don’t know if I have the presence of mind to not perform an accidental amputation. The other day I held the end of a 2 x 4 so my husband could cut off the other end with the table saw. When I realized the proximity of his hands to the merciless, whirring blade as he guided the board through, I trembled.

Power tools may not be in my future, but I can dream. If I ever actually learn to use them, I’ll need to be supervised. Maybe a gazebo kit is a better idea. All the pieces would be precut. I’d need a power drill, which would be fun, and possibly the most powerful power tool I could be trusted with.

When I mention new projects for the house, my husband, who loves to give me a hard time, will say, “The furniture. The curtains. The walls. The fireplace. Am I next?” Apparently he feels he’s in danger of being updated. Or replaced.

To which I sweetly reply, “Of course not. But let me paint the living room and get it out of my system.”