Friday, September 22, 2017

More Than a Thorn

As I mulled writing about devil’s claw plants for this week’s column, my thoughts skittered across a dozen bunny trails. So, hang with me. Folks who grow up on the plains frequently repurpose seemingly unrelated items into functional uses. Stephen Ambrose noted this ability in his book Band of Brothers. He praised the ingenuity of American farm boys who welded metal to fronts and undercarriages of tanks and other military vehicles, permitting them to plow open centuries-old hedgerows. Their problem-solving saved lives and permitted the U.S. front to advance across Europe. Though nowhere as dramatic as Ambrose’s story, I’ve watched friends and relatives turn what seems unusable into functional objects.

Consider those nasty stickers that thrive at the edges of corn and milo fields. Once they dry, they split into two wicked hooks that attack intruding humans and beasts. Like Norman hedgerows, this natural armament prevents hunters and farmers from getting where they want to go easily. When one embeds itself in the calf, ankle, or foot of you, your hunting dog, or livestock, it’s difficult to imagine them as anything but excruciating torture.

This did not hold true for Grandmother’s creative friend. Southwest Kansas has as many of these evil thorns as we have in Northwest Kansas, so this woman transformed them into art. She’d wander borders of fields carefully collecting them. Somehow, I never thought to ask how often they tore holes in her flesh. She’d dry them further and shake out their seeds so they didn’t expand territory before she turned them into magical creatures.

Following the summer molt, this artisan explored near the artesian well and other springs where a large flock of Meade Lake peacocks quenched their thirst. The noisy, pretty males dropped iridescent tail feathers. Instead of collecting them in a pretty container, Grandma’s friend recognized their potential for combining with her collection of devil’s claws to create tiny replicas of exotic birds.

Somehow, this craftsperson stabilized each massive thorn so it stood on its own. Then she trimmed blue, turquoise, and green feather eyes to fit inside the now dry claws. Satisfied with their fit, she glued each one in place. I know she spent time on this because they survived each of us grandkids’ close and frequent inspection. I’m guessing more than one adult handled them as well. When she finished, she had folk art renditions of courtly birds who dance prettily with fanned tails.

I looked forward to visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s each year for many reasons, but one was to see the new little peacocks lined up on Lottie’s shelf. Granddad had already introduced the grands to his favorite birds and entertained them with his imitation of the males’ obnoxious call. This combination made it easy to fall under such a beautiful creature’s spell.

The carefully crafted peafowl imitations in Gram’s house changed my perspective about thorns. A local artist’s imagination and skill increased my appreciation for beleaguered farm boys’ ability to adapt equipment and win WW 2. Funny how something as simple as creating folk whimsies out of what most consider trash connects dots across time. Head down the hole, bunny. Don’t come out until next week!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Good for Body and Soul

As daylight wanes and nights grow longer, neighborhood kids return to classrooms. While much of these kiddoes’ work involves the three Rs combined with social studies, science, technology, art, and music, don’t forget all-important recess. Seeing little ones walking to school made me wonder if youngsters still love to jump rope as much as I did when I headed to school, pig-tails bouncing and dressed in plaid dirndls and black and white saddle oxfords. While I loved learning to read and figure math problems, I adored breaks where we took turns turning the rope for one another and jumping in time to catchy rhymes.

As a youngster, I never considered the history of my favorite playground activity, but after some research, I discovered it’s been around more than a while. That’s not surprising when you think ancestors had to deal with vines, fallen trees, big rocks, and deep ditches. The ability to leap high and far made a difference between eating and being eaten our DNA contributors.  I’m guessing this aptitude is programmed into bone and muscle, even if we haven’t consciously developed it.

Somewhere over centuries, folks learned to weave lengths of cord and then turned that object into skill training for boys. By the 1600s, painters captured scenes of children jumping rope on Europe’s cobblestone streets. Soon afterward, Dutch immigrants brought the game to America, where English settlers titled one activity Double Dutch. I bet that rings a bell with older readers.

Yes, those of us who attended elementary school from the 40s through 60s recall gathering a minimum of three participants—two to turn long ropes in opposite directions and one to jump into the spinning midst while also reciting a memorized verse. If you were lucky, friends spun those lanky cotton twists at a speed you could manage without hurting yourself.

Once you’d developed stamina and agility, the chants required the performance of tricks while simultaneously leaping over cement-slapping cordage. My favorites included, “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around, Teddy Bear Teddy Bear touch the ground…” and “Not last night but the night before 24 robbers came knocking at my door. I asked them what they wanted, and this is what they said: Spanish Dancer do the splits, Spanish Dancer do the twist, Spanish Dancer turn around, Spanish Dancer touch the ground, Spanish Dancer go out back, Spanish Dancer please come back, Spanish Dancer read a book, Spanish Dancer 1, 2, 3, …” and continued till the jumper missed or got tired. Girls interested in romance could skip rope while counting the number of Cinderella’s fella’s kisses.

What good memories! We thought we were just playing while, in reality, we refined coordination and agility and practiced counting skills, verse memorization, and turn taking. It didn’t take new kids long to learn that they had to play nice if they wanted to be included.

I know modern youngsters participate in Jump for the Heart and other physical education class challenges. I hope my little grandchildren have the chance I had to join friends on the playground and take turns either spinning ropes or jumping in the middle of crazy egg beaters. It does them good physically and socially. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Biggest Party of the Century


By the time this column hits the paper, the much prepared for, long awaited solar eclipse will be history. Most who traveled distances to share the moons total blockage of the sun  will either be home or well on their way to sleeping in their own beds. Folks living in the path of totality will be cleaning up after their guests and evaluating the success of their preparations for the big event. Some will simply enjoy returning to a sense of normalcy.

Many communities in the 14 state path of totality, meaning the moon completely obscures the sun, have spent the past two years planning for an influx of visitors who will require food and shelter as well as specialty eye glasses to protect their vision while gazing at this astronomical extravaganza. Shrewd business people have relished a marketing opportunity never seen before in their lives. Lodging sites and restaurants have advertised their services for the past 12 months. Despite increased rates, many are booked with waiting lists. Creative types are selling specialty t-shirts, jewelry, funny photos (the Marysville Black Squirrel in eclipse glasses), and other ephemera to local and tourists who join their celebrations.

Though the song says, “Dance like no one is watching,” this historic occasion is a time to move like everyone is watching. In some cases, that will be true. Many media outlets, including National Geographic, plan to film the actual eclipse as well as local activities that include everything from kid karnivals to car shows to concerts. For some tiny towns, this is a chance to focus the eyeball of the world on what makes them special.

This unique opportunity offers professional and citizen scientists a chance to study everything from cosmic data to animal responses to the eclipse. One meteorologist in Colorado provided a link so those interested could share their observations.

Speaking of observing, one friend headed to Oregon where she’d be one of the first to view the eclipse on American soil. Several others intend to double their pleasure while savoring more than two minutes of Totality near Grand Teton National Park. They sandwiched this once in a lifetime experience between stunning sunrises over some of the most majestic mountains on the planet.

Another lady told me she was heading to Marysville, KS, where she’ll enjoy a shorter sun blockage but  with the famous black squirrels. A fellow history buff is aligning past and present by viewing the eclipse from an ancient Pawnee campground in Nebraska. What a way to embrace two interesting experiences.

As for me, I now live smack in the path of totality. I’ve got my eclipse glasses along with extra water and toilet paper, just in case tourist numbers exceed expectations. It’s crazy to think so many people are willing to plan vacations around an eclipse, but then again, it’ll never occur again in our lifetimes.

I’ll enjoy nature’s big production. When it’s over, I’ll relish life returning to normal—whatever that is.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hard Times, Strong People

Right now, Kansans who live anywhere near Wakeeney can only shake heads and wring hands. As they survey profound destruction wreaked upon homes and farms by gust-driven ice missiles the size of baseballs, they reveal the tenacity of prairie residents. They don’t lament, “Woe is me.” Instead, they count their blessings.

More than one battered resident has remarked that they lost property, but no one died. Even in instances where people lost livestock or pets, they express gratitude that family members are well. I can relate. I was relieved to hear my own mom’s voice telling me she was okay after that monster storm battered her house and yard.

Via radar, I watched that white mass layered in purples, pinks, and reds as it cut a swath across Western Kansas. I called Mom to be sure she knew it was coming. She didn’t need me to tell her. Her Nex Tech device alerted her to danger so she was heading for shelter.

Knowing she was protected inside her home comforted me.  At Brownie Scout camp decades before, we faced an evacuation through golf-ball size hail. I recalled welts and bruises ice balls rising on young campers and couldn’t imagine facing even larger wind-driven projectiles. After I saw storm-damaged vehicles, windows, and roofs, it was clear anything alive and outside suffered trauma during that assault.

A friend posted the storm in real time on Facebook so I imagined everyone experiencing that icy barrage felt like they were entombed in a continuously battered barrel. It had to be the closest to war that citizens who’d never served in the military experienced. Mom confirmed this when I contacted her following the storm.

Afterwards, the real ordeal began. As people inventoried damages, they found shattered windows, punctured roofs, damaged siding and fences, destroyed lawn furniture, naked trees, and vehicles pocked with more dents than a golf ball has. Some even discovered that the knife-like wind flipped trailer s, trucks, and grain bins topsy-turvy. It stripped fields of ripening grain to toothpick-like stalks.

While those viewing devastating photos bemoaned their friends and loved ones’ fates, I saw so many grateful responses. Caveats such as “Others had it much worse,” or “It can all be cleaned up,” echoed through social media.

A friend with his own troubles helped Mom patch her broken windows. A cousin with carpentry experience drove over two hours the next morning to seal a roof so punctured it could function as a colander. He found a reliable repair company to restore her property. His guidance is a blessing because he has insights the rest of us don’t.

My friend on the farm who noted that others had things much worse than she did brightened lives when she posted a story about her Great Pyrenees pup that found a storm-battered dove and carried it to her. She protected it and watched to see if it would mend enough to fly away. Distant and close friends smiled when she reported it flew off despite significant feather loss.

Right now, it’s hard to think about normal for folks living in this battered region. But like that dove, life will take off. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Great Plains and Small Town Hearts

Over a decade ago, I attended a National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar titled The Great Plains: Texas to Saskatchewan. For five weeks, Tom Isern guided 20 teachers as they read and analyzed literary and historical texts, discussed conclusions, and visited iconic sites to better understand what it means to live on the plains.

One identifying characteristic of this land is its vast horizon with few vertical interruptions such as trees or skyscrapers. That distinction found its way into pioneer diaries and journals as early travelers moved from coves and hollows where tree groves cupped around them, making them feel secure as a babe in its mother’s arms. That sense of sanctuary vanished for those entering the Great Plains as my mom who worked at the Meade County Courthouse in the 60s discovered in early immigrant records. Many were institutionalized when they couldn’t cope with open space and frequent wind.

Fellow seminarians from other regions shared that the plains’ vistas disquieted them as well. Their responses reminded me of a Japanese exchange student I took to Oklahoma City. On our journey, she exclaimed repeatedly, “Why don’t you build cities in this land? Why don’t people live here? You should use this space.”

For those accustomed to much sky and little upright interference, outsiders’ viewpoints challenge us to consider where we live and what it means to be a plains person. Recently, I’ve traveled western Kansas’s isolated highways, stopping to explore almost-ghost towns like Densmore, Ogallah, Clayton, and Levant that once boasted thriving communities.
 Those isolated miles of asphalt stretching infinitely over hills and valleys bring a smile as I think how these trails confuse those who believe all Kansas is flat. Frequent high spots permit travelers to see across entire counties. Imagine Indians and early explorers standing on these ascents to view scores of buffalo, deer, elk, turkey, and antelope. In all directions, they saw a rich land that could feed everyone who crossed it.

Crumbling remains of once well-built churches, multi-story brick or stone schools, plaster and lathe homes that housed growing families, as well as peaceful hilltop cemeteries remind us that hopeful hearts believed in this abundance. These little hamlets every 15 to 20 miles across the prairie remind us of Jeffersonian Democracy in action. Here families worked soil, tended businesses, worshipped God, and educated children to create better lives.

When folks gravitated from these self-sufficient villages to cities, they lost something. These hamlets tied people to the land that fed them, schools required students to participate in declamations, plays, music, and sports; churches cared for not only spirits but also for physical needs of residents. These communities developed well-rounded citizens who united to survive. 

In forested regions, close-growing trees hold one another upright when the wind blows. In mountainous landscapes, one rock supports another. Nature doesn’t offer such protection in the open plains, so humans must sustain one another. Neighbors become one another’s rock, cove, hollow, and grove.

When I recollect that seminar and a place I call home, I acknowledge lifestyles change. Not everyone can live in self-sufficient villages, but every Kansan can celebrate open space that reminds us this rich land sustains many and offers space enough to teach us to look out for one another.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Tomato Twister II

Growing vegetables and flowers on the high plains of Western Kansas requires eternal hope much like a child’s expectant, devoted belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Because we trust, we will harvest succulent, homegrown vegetables and fruits. Each spring gardeners across this region sift through garden magazines and seed catalogues or visit local garden shops with a gambler’s hope that this will be the year.

Eleven years after moving to our limestone hilltop, payday arrived. Yes, Virginia, that garden will produce a bonanza harvest. 

Due to a combination of timely rains and chicken poop, we had a dream tomato harvest--this despite hail that totaled our roof and left tender tomato plants shattered and broken. Despite the setback, vines began producing at the end of July, only a bit later than they might have without Mother Nature’s challenges. Produce was an understatement. The plants burgeoned with softball-sized fruits that tasted like captured sunbeams and covered chins and necks with flavorful juice.

That led to a dilemma. We had a small, raise-bed plot due to our topsoil- challenged circumstances. Based on past plantings, I’d left plenty of room between seedlings so they could stretch, grow, and still leave space to harvest ripe tomatoes.

That year’s timely, ample rains and the perfect addition of cured chicken droppings inspired legendary vine growth. The intertwining plants were over three and half high by three and a half feet wide. That’s a minimal estimation since it’s hard to tell how tall the plants might be if they weren’t weighed down by humongous orbs. I couldn’t get through that green jungle without playing a contortionist game.

My visiting mother explored the maze and discovered scores of ready- to-pick tomatoes. Other than the fun of digging hills of potatoes, I don’t think there’s much my mom likes better than finding every ripe tomato on eight very crowded, over-grown plants. She turned into a tomato General Patton as she stood outside the fenced garden and directed the placement of my feet and hands so I could pluck every mature fruit she’d spied. 
“More to the left, down a few more inches, don’t step too hard with your right foot, stretch, can’t you see it, oh look, there’s a great big one on  the other side of that plant, watch out, you’re bending that branch, oh can you get all four of those and pass them to me….”

I decided I was playing garden “Twister.” My limbs knotted so I barely kept my balance. However, in the real Hasbro game, you don’t have to worry about destroying producing tomato plants. The worst you can do is bruise a fellow player or black an eye.

By the time I followed all Mom’s directions, we’d filled a five-gallon bucket two days in a row. Taking our harvested trophies into the house, we rinsed, blanched, peeled, and quartered them until I had six  large freezer bags of ready-to-turn-into-salsa frozen tomatoes. I had to recover from that spine-twisting garden game before I could lift the jar-filled canner from the hot stove.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pests Everywhere You Go

It’s the time when heat and pests aggravate the best of gardeners. It’s hard to keep tomatoes setting fruit when days and nights break record temperatures. To compound matters, grasshoppers and tomato hornworms appear and gnaw tender fruits, leaves, and stems to little nubbins. Plains green thumbs frequently face daunting challenges. So do horticulturists everywhere, I’ve learned.

Trying something new, I experimented with a high altitude garden in the Rockies. Of course, that means inhaling thinner air, but cool mornings and nights compensate for short breath. Despite planting later and facing shorter harvest dates, I sweat less and face fewer pests. Or so I thought.

 No one told me about picket pins, Wyoming rodents that love cruciferous veggies. Since this is an experiment, I rented a community garden plot. I figured I’d learn from locals used to the altitude and temperatures. My 8 x 4 foot raised bed came filled with fertile soil just waiting for me to show up with trowel and seeds. In no time, tidy rows of kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, radishes and onions absorbed soil nutrients, spring rains, and sunshine. I patted myself on the back, thinking my mountain garden would escape difficulties I’d faced back home.

Once sun warmed the earth in this raised bed, greens grew thick and plentifully. In no time, we enjoyed fresh spinach and lettuce, crisp radishes, and crunchy onions. It was lovely to harvest veggies that didn’t have a single beetle or grasshopper bite taken out of them. My pleasure didn’t last long.

Within days, something had nibbled away at kale and kohlrabi planted near the garden’s edge. I looked for insect droppings but found none. A high fence around the garden prevented trespassing deer so I couldn’t imagine what devoured my dream harvest. It was certainly healthy because it consumed entire rows of healthful greens.

Finally, I caught the thieves. Bigger than chipmunks but smaller than prairie dogs, they were speedy rodents. I learned they’re ground squirrels that natives call picket pins because of their tendency to stand up straight outside their holes , looking like stakes that keep a horse from straying. They also really like cruciferous vegetables.

A fellow gardener lost her cabbage plants to the hungry hordes. Yes, hordes. These creatures reproduce like rabbits so scores of them call the hillside near our fenced plot home. While deer can’t leap over the ten-foot fence, these intruders have no trouble sneaking between posts or under gates. I caught one perched on the wooden edge framing my rented garden. He unhurriedly nibbled what was left of my last kohlrabi plant before scampering out of reach. I swear he winked when he left.

Unconcerned with his human visitor, he didn’t run until I swung a canvas garden bag his direction. Ironically, this guy and his buddies have done far more damage than any grasshoppers or hornworms that visited my Kansas gardens. The verdict is still out about exchanging high plains planting for mountain tilling. What I have figured out is that no matter where vegetables grow, there’s a pest waiting to snatch them from my plate.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Weaving Past and Present

Articles and activities celebrating the 150 anniversary of Hancock’s War and the development of both Ft. Hays and Hays City have dominated the media. Those living in temperature controlled homes and driving vehicles down paved roads and highways easily forget what this region was like 1800 months ago. If you want to peek at prairie life then, read letters Dr. Theophilus H. Turner sent from Fort Wallace in 1867. To do so, link to Kenneth Almy’s journal article, Autumn 1987 Kansas History

Dr. Turner was an easterner who served as a medical doctor during the Civil War. After mustering out in 1865, Theophilus re-enlisted in the army and found himself stationed on the frontier at Ft. Wallace, which is near Kansas/Colorado border. Little except the cemetery of that fort still exists, but pictures and drawings reveal a hospital, officers’ quarters, stables, supply, and administrative buildings. It was likely the most developed community on the plains between Fort Hays and Denver.

Dr. Turner, or Thof as family and friends knew him, relished life on the prairie. He enjoyed hunting and wrote that he’d hunted buffalo, ducks, and geese soon after his arrival. His early education prepared him to observe life beyond civilization. He remarks on the differences between white and native hunting practices. He remarks on the white’s wastefulness. In a letter to his brother, he explains three Indians spent the night with him and other officers in their quarters. He notes his guests were mystified by photographs, especially of people staying in the barracks with them. He commented, “a photography establishment among them would be a paying institution.”

Not only did he enjoy hunting and studying native culture, local geology intrigued him. Despite bad weather and Indian danger, Thof and Scout William Comstock rode over the country, noting landscape features and discovering marine fossils. One of these finds near nearby McCallaster Butte in what is now Logan County later fueled heated public disagreements between famed paleontologists. E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh.

Dr. Cope determined that Thof’s dragon, the 40-foot sea creature Turner and Comstock recovered, was an Elasmosaurus platyurus. When he assembled bones Turner found north of Ft. Wallace and sent to him, he mistakenly determined this was a long-tailed, short-necked creature. Marsh, his competitive colleague, corrected him, which led to the virulent disputes that constituted the infamous Bone Wars.

Unfortunately, Theophilus’s life ended soon after he retrieved and shared his ancient sea creature. He died at Ft. Wallace of acute gastritis in 1869. Before his death, he and Dr. Cope corresponded frequently. Fortunately, someone discovered those long missing letters as well as the ones Turner wrote to his family in time to enhance the Academy of Natural Sciences 1986 Discovering Dinosaurs Exhibit.

Currently, a group of local historians is filming a documentary about Dr. Turner and his life at Fort Wallace. Interested readers can keep up with their progress on the Facebook page, Thof’s Dragon. It weaves history and science from the past into the present, forming part of the tapestry we call Kansas.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Toad Buddies--More than Meets the Eye

While my sixth grade classmates loved listening to our teacher read Wind in the Willows, I found it silly. Toads talking and acting like people, no way. This attitude toward anthropomorphic creatures was a childhood peeve. I wanted critters au natural.

To this day, I find stories about talking animals silly. Despite my curmudgeonly attitude toward this popular genre, I like toads. Fortunately, summer provides daily opportunities to observe toads residing in patio planters and garden beds.

Looking at a toad, you wouldn’t think it overly bright, but one summer, two caught my attention because they were so clever and entertaining.

Before the solstice officially arrived, these fellows demonstrated their smarts. Our section of prairie made growing anything a challenge. Instead of investing in a big flowerbed, I decided a few well-chosen pots with bright blooms would make it seem summery without demanding water necessary to grow a lush flower garden. These neighboring green gents quickly determined which pots stayed cool and damp longest and moved in. Initially, they lived separately, one in my mixed bloom bucket and the other in a geranium pot. 

As May days lengthened and warmed, the geranium toad must’ve investigated the mixed bloom pot because next thing I knew, two amphibians rose, gasping for air, out of the same toad hole when I watered. They dug their cavern deep enough one could rest on the other’s head while leaving the top toad covered to his bulging eyeballs in potting soil.

For a while, they found their bliss in the mixed bloom pot, but as summer grew hotter and drier, both toads abandoned it for my herb garden. That soil must’ve stayed cooler, maybe due to the insulating brick border. Watering time became an adventure. I never knew where I’d find my garden buddies.

In addition to requiring cool, damp living conditions, these guys exhibited hearty appetites. As a result, their bodies grew wider and longer than my palm--a result of their canny hunting skills. 

While other toads in our yard gathered nightly under the yard light, these discovered the much closer patio light drew insects equally well and didn’t burn nearly as many calories making the journey. Patiently, they waited until evening temperatures dipped before emerging one green amphibian limb at a time from moist earth. Then they let the beam from the porch work its magic. 

One night, I interrupted their fashionably late supper to see why they were so plump. Both warty lads had rooted themselves directly under yellow lamp rays, gobbling beetle after beetle as freshly toasted insects sizzled and plopped to the patio. While I watched, these big boys didn’t move more than a couple of inches as they went through the equivalent of a twelve-course meal. I wish I'd stayed long enough to see them lug distended, white bellies back into the flower pot  where I found them the next morning.

As much fun as I had watching those toads, I may give Wind in the Willows another chance. Obviously, there’s more to that story than I realized in sixth grade.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Ol’ Swimming Hole

When the calendar flips to June, small town youngsters know it’s time to spend days at the local pool. Decades ago, this wasn’t a water park with a variety of fountains, burblers, and lazy rivers. It was a shallow baby pool and the BIG pool where water depth varied from three to twelve feet. It meant gutters to cling to when you first learned to swim in the deep end. It meant belly busters that made those tanning on the hot, cement deck groan in unison with divers who didn’t get quite into position to slice painlessly into the water. Talk to any adult who lived near a pool in western Kansas and watch their eyes light at the memories. This was the place to be whether you were three or sixteen.

To this day, I still see that cinder block bathhouse and smell bleach-scented locker rooms where we showered before entering Meade’s summer hot spot, the public pool. Lifeguards collected fees at a sun-warmed metal counter. From that point, males turned left and gals right into dressing rooms. Then everyone hotfooted across a sizzling cement deck where moms in sunhats watched youngsters, teens mooned over one another, and school age kids dare one another to jump first into frigid water. Accompanying shrieks of glee echo in my mind.

As kids, the blind hollering game Marco Polo was our chosen activity if we weren’t challenging one another to swim across and back without surfacing for air. The person designated IT, closed his or her eyes and maneuvered about using sound to locate and tag other players. A few minutes as the pursuer made you wish you had dolphin-like sonar.

Tiring of the chase, we tested our lungs. I still feel the sensation of mine screaming for me to surface. I ignored it and kicked even harder to reach the concrete ledge. Once there, gasping survivors clung to the rough concrete lip and refilled aching air sacs.

Accomplished underwater swimmers who’d crossed the pool and returned without taking a breath next challenged one another to climb the high board ladder and dive into the deep end. More than one youngster discovered the ascent wasn’t as scary as the board’s end, where they gazed into crystal blue water 10 feet below. Those who steeled themselves to face that plummet hoped they entered hands first. A minor shift meant excruciating pain. You knew you were okay when you saw smiling lifeguards still perched on their stands. Lucky divers swiftly surfaced, sputtering in front of laughing friends.

While the pool challenged adventuresome young swimmers and teen boys, it provided a stage for maturing females to display their charms. They sucked in stomachs and applied baby oil mixed with iodine over skin to enhance tans. Those with perfectly teased doos made sure their hair didn’t muss despite others’ efforts to splash them. Despite wishing they could join taunting males grabbing knees to create massive cannonball waves, they posed prettily on beach towels, cheering on favorite performers.

During summer, the pool was the town social magnet. Scents of chlorine and suntan lotion drew even the faint-hearted. Memories and legends waited to be made. Drive by your local watering hole and note that some things never change.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Visiting Grandma’s Meant a Dalton Gang Hideout Adventure

Most families keep their black sheep a deep, dark secret. Following this unwritten code in the late 1880s and early 90s, Eva Whipple, sister of the notorious Daltons,  didn’t announce to fellow residents of Meade, Kansas that her brothers robbed banks for a living. However, a hidden tunnel between her house and nearby barn supports the theory her outlaw relations secretly visited her. Apparently, citizens of this little Southwest Kansas town on Highway 54 didn’t know about the connection with these infamous characters until the Whipples moved and the home’s new occupant discovered a hand dug, three-foot diameter secret passage, just big enough for grown men to crawl through. It conveniently linked  house and barn.

During the Works Progress Administration, an administrative entrepreneur-at-heart arranged to stabilize and expand this shaft, so paying tourists could walk where the Dalton Gang once crawled. It worked. My cousins, brother, I, and every other kid visiting Meade finagled a dime,  quarter, or dollar (depending on the decade) in order to tour the small Victorian era home with gingerbread trim, heavy drapes, and carved furniture. The best part came when visitors trailed their fingers over damp, dimly lighted stone walls through the improved tunnel to the old barn. Renovators had turned the floor above the ancient horse stalls into a museum showcasing pioneer era Meade. Sounds of awe and delight announced that kids had discovered the stuffed two-headed, newborn calf display.

 Even today, my relatives and I fondly recall good times on the south side of town. It was close enough to Grandma’s we could walk. She  directed us to behave ourselves or she’d hear about it. I’d visited often enough  to know this rural community kept no secrets after revealing the Dalton’s hidden passage. Keeping my hands to myself, I walked on the sidewalk where possible and didn’t smart mouth anyone along the way. I paid my fee and responded politely to a local, retired woman dressed in a long pioneer dress to set the mood.

Recently, I reviewed Meade, Kansas on Trip Advisor. Not surprisingly, Highway 54 travelers still visit The Dalton Gang Hideout. Most report excellent or very good ratings. It’s wonderful to know adults and children still find their way to that little house with a big yard. It’s fussy furnishings counterbalance that trip into the tunnel where every sense goes on alert.

Nostrils still quiver at earthy scents as shoulders brush rough, stone walls. Tall people must duck to complete their journey. Naturally, imaginations picture outlaws with bandanna covered faces and whinnying horses waiting to speed their escape at the end of the passage . 

If the Dalton brothers actually used this tunnel when it was merely three feet high and carved dirt, I suspect they worried more about a cave in than getting caught visiting their sis. Nowadays, a ticket to see that two headed calf lightens wallets considerably more than it did when I was a youngster. Today’s visitors shell out a whopping 5 bucks to navigate the tunnel and examine that oddly formed calf. I bet the Dalton boys wish they’d raked in that kind of loot.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Repeating Cycles

Since humans first walked this planet, cycles have connected their pasts, presents, and futures to intrigue and inspire them. All cultures have revered rotations of days, months, and seasons as well as life through death progressions. Those sequences fascinate Homo sapiens enough to make them search for them in odd places. Folks who track history and have internet access report that modern marketers are repeating old traditions.

A decade ago, I edited an uncle’s biography. His story caught my interest when I discovered grocery stores operated very differently than they did during my early adulthood. During his early life, customers delivered lists to a clerk who then moved up and down shelves to fill orders. Choices were limited to what was available. No one wandered aisles searching for an exact combination of cough syrup ingredients or Green Giant approved no-salt green beans.

For those who find themselves obsessively reading labels as they cruise canned good, pharmacy, and baking aisles, my uncle’s example of shopping appears ridiculously simple. There’s no way that would work today when consumers determine whether they want organic vegetables or one of the nine types of flour. Heavens, aspirin selections alone can drive shoppers batty. They have to know whether they prefer enteric or regular, high or low dosage, generic or name brand, or . . . the list goes on. Once they reach the wine aisle, matters go downhill.

In the old days, choices were simple. Flour and sugar came from barrels. The only choice involved ordering a specific quantity, and finances often dictated that. Even after stores sacked such staples, space limited brand preferences for canned fruits and vegetables. Consumers bought what was available since my uncle’s store was the only one around in those horse and buggy days.

The little town I lived in as a newlywed still had its old store with high ceilings and wood plank floors. Over time, the owner updated it to include rows of shelving arranged along narrow aisles so customers could carry a basket and collect their own products. Lack of space limited selection so shopping was simple. At a back counter, a fine butcher cut meat to order. Folks could call in their order or drop off a list if they desired. Though it’s only memory, it remains my favorite market.

Recently, a newscast reported major internet vendors sell groceries online. Shoppers log onto sites, review options, select product, pay electronically, and either pick up their items or have them shipped to home addresses. Apparently, robots can fill orders and drones make deliveries. Despite the Jetson-like cartoon angle, this practice follows my relative’s old grocery store shopping model. You wonder if the brainchild behind this had an uncle who collected orders for old-time mercantile patrons.

Mull the possibilities. Will this innovation simplify consumers’ lives? They order what they want and skip competing choice or will someone devise a companion site to reveal exact ingredients and cheapest sources? Will algorithms unveil exactly what shoppers desire before mathematical functions suggest substitutes? Despite its high-tech twists, this shopping technique strikingly resembles my uncle’s first job in a small town grocery store. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mentioning Unmentionables

Talk to most women today, and they don’t remember not wearing pants or slacks to work or school. Visit with ladies past a certain age, and they’ll tell about a time when schools required little girls to wear dresses or skirts to class and employers mandated females do the same at work. Moms even cleaned house in a dress. Most mothers didn’t go so far as TV stars who wore pearls and heels to vacuum, but they made certain they could answer the door without causing the neighbors to gossip about manly apparel. Granted, such fashions weren’t the cumbersome Mother Hubbard gowns or flowing long skirts pioneers wore, but they complicated daily life unnecessarily.

Some would say mid-century housewives and schoolgirls didn’t have it so bad. Unlike travelers across emigrant trails, they didn’t have to worry about their hems catching fire while they cooked outdoors or tripping on them, crossing uneven surfaces. Gals of the 30s - 60s revealed ankles and calves and enjoyed freedom of movement their grandmas never knew. 

What folks don’t think about is getting to work or school during frigid temperatures and snowstorms. Some families solved the problem the way pedestrians in large cities do today. Individuals wore slacks under or over their dresses on the way to their destination and changed after arriving.  

What no one took into account was the playground dilemma little girls faced. As public schools added more recess equipment that involved climbing and twirling, females struggled to prevent others from seeing their bloomers and singing risqué songs involving London, France, and underpants. Learning to read, write, and do arithmetic was hard enough without worrying about peers knowing the color and condition of personal garments.

Keep in mind, these were days either before or soon after WW II when most families couldn’t afford a week’s supply of lacy undies for their daughters. Frequently, one sibling handed clean but pre-worn clothing to the next in line, causing more than one playground confrontation resulting in a bloody nose or black eye.
With the advent of monkey bars, girls who wanted go head to head in acrobatic challenges wore summer shorts under dresses. This added to mom’s laundry, but youngsters trying to perform a flip while tucking hems under or between knees meant re-stitching seams or patching fabric on a daily basis or worse, a broken arm. It was easier to wash extra clothing.

Certainly, women who grew up wearing dresses learned decorum regarding sitting with knees and ankles pressed together. Today’s females frequently discover the necessity of such postures the first time they publicly wear a short dress. More than one teacher or boss has observed lack of awareness concerning this detail.

No doubt, about it, females and pants go together from infancy to old age. Who needs to worry about a skirt rising in a breeze or during a cartwheel, offering a peek at undergarments. Too bad pioneer women never got to find out how much easier their lives would have been if they had worn trousers.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Laundry on the Trail

I love to read historical accounts about settling the West. After finishing a book or primary source, I can’t wait to see visit the locale mentioned. Recently, I’ve driven an eighth of the approximately 2100 mile Oregon Trail where it winds along the Platte in Nebraska and Wyoming. During an overnight stop along the way, I read a pamphlet explaining that settlers camping along the river near modern day Guernsey, Wyoming, named that site Emigrant Washtubs. I easily imagined dust-coated women eagerly awaiting a chance to scrub dirty laundry.

Modern travelers quickly learn that a day in a car where windows magnifying sunrays and fine prairie dust sifts through cracks and crevices leads to funky odors and gritty skin. Imagine folks walking long hours under summer sun as they trailed wagons that raised a perpetual Pig Pen-style dust cloud. The resulting scents and filth had to have been atrocious. To make it worse, those nomads didn’t have multiple changes of clean clothing to start their days. Babes in diapers had it even worse.

 Lillian Schlissel’s Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey helped me understand these pioneer journeys. The diarists’ words and Schlissel’s commentary bring their travels to life. The author explains women couldn’t maintain regularly scheduled washdays. Instead, they laundered when they camped for more than a day near a substantial body of water. If they were lucky, they’d find enough fuel to heat water. If not, they settled for cold. Without clotheslines, bushes or rocks served to dry wet clothing. One writer mentioned they wore their clothing as it dried.

One diarist, a Rebecca Ketchum, bemoans her skin condition prior to and after laundry day. “Our hands are blacker than a farmer’s and I do not see there is any way of preventing it, for everything has to be done in the wind and sun.” She explains that washday only compounded the damage. “Camilla and I both burnt our arms very badly while washing. They were red and swollen and painful as though scalded with boiling water.”

Jane Gould Tortillott offers another example of laundry difficulties. One Saturday, as her party made camp along the Platte, she tells us, “Gus and I took my clothes to the river to rinse them. Was a little island covered with wild bushes nearby. Gus tried to wade over to it—to hang the clothes but it was too deep so we were obliged to hang them on some low bushes close to the river.”

Catherine Haun, an emigrant from Iowa, anticipated problems and wore a dark woolen dress through most of her journey. She tells us it “protected her from the sun and wind and economized in laundrying which was important considering the lack of ‘wash day’ conveniences.”

My stop at Emigrant Washtubs and subsequent reading of these diaries made me better appreciate  these uprooted women who followed their men west. Not only did they live for months under open skies in unfamiliar and frequently dangerous landscapes, they also managed their laundry without the conveniences of home. I’m more than grateful for my automatic washing machine.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Hanging Clothes Outside: a Prescription for Good Health

A friend recently sent me a cartoon that struck my funny bone. In it, two women stand near an old-fashioned clothesline as one ironically tells the other this device dries her laundry using the very latest solar and wind technology. It made me think about people who’ve never hung clothes outside to dry. It also helped me recall helping mom and grandma pin wet laundry on the line and then remove and fold it afterward. Grasping sun-warmed fabric and breathing in breeze-scented sheets and towels is a heady experience, even in a technology-oriented world.

I suspect if more of us depended less on dryers and more on clotheslines, we’d be healthier. Several recently published articles suggest older Americans need more sunshine to help with vitamin D absorption. I’m guessing the amount of time it takes to hang a basket of wet laundry and then retrieve the dry result delivers that daily requirement.  

Not only are many folks in need of more vitamin D, they also suffer from anxiety. Experts who deal with such issues remind us fresh air and exercise are good medicine for such ills. It would be interesting to know if our grandmothers fretted less because they spent more time with their clotheslines. After hanging a couple of loads of sheets and towels the other morning, I see how time outside listening to birds sing and feeling warm breezes caress skin contributes to a peaceful disposition. In addition, you get exercise by repetitively bending, reaching, and pinning wet fabric. Once my basket was empty and the laundry fluttered in the breeze, my concerns seemed to shake away as well.

Add that repetitive action to sunshine and fresh air, and you have the ingredients necessary to generate a good mood. It satisfies the soul to see a clothesline weighed down with clean linens and clothing. The reverse efforts of unpinning dry objects and folding them to put in the basket just as effectively reduces stress. Listening to and watching birds multiplies these positive effects.

In fact, once those fresh sheets and towels are ready to go back on the beds and in the cupboards, you discover another boon. What feels and smells better that sun-dried bedding or terrycloth? Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I swear line-dried sheets freshen a whole room. When I crawled between them that night, that outdoor scent plunged me into deep slumber the minute my head hit the pillow. The fact I’d labored to hang, fold, and put away king-size bedding and towels may have contributed to my exhaustion.

Humans have so many labor saving devices that make life easier. Despite such convenience, we should consider what we lose in terms of physical and mental health. Do some of our grandparents’ old- fashioned housekeeping techniques aid in vitamin absorption as well as connect us to the outdoors where sunlight, fresh air, and exercise renew spirits without requiring prescription drug use.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Things We Keep

Tim O’Brien, a favorite author, wrote a powerful collection of short stories about his tour of duty in Viet Nam. He titled it The Things They Carried. Every time I read it, those young men who walked daily beside death remind me that humans treasure the logical and illogical. The personal items these soldiers added to already heavy equipment loads reveal that humans make room for talismans connecting hearts and memory. This trait isn’t singular to warriors. Those packing moving boxes must choose what to purge or save. What we keep tells our story.

We’re downsizing for the second time in five years. I hope our daughters appreciate that we’ve given away, donated, or sold numerous earthly possessions, saving them hours of labor when it’s time to move us into long term care or the cemetery. That said, we still own more than when we married four decades ago. After another move or two like this, I’ll have unloaded anything I never use as well as items of only sentimental value. During this process, I’ve discovered freedom exists in jettisoning belongings I think I might need vs. those I actually utilize. While I’m not yet a minimalist, I’m getting there. Why keep four pretty platters when one does the job?

Unfortunately, some belongings defy logic. I’ll never have a newborn baby again. I don’t require 35-year-old infant dresses. Yet, several went in the save pile. The moment I opened that crumbling box, impossibly small clothing transported me to those first days of motherhood when everything was so scary and miraculous. Looking at tiny dresses that fit our daughters for one or two wearings, I swear I felt the weight of little girls nestled in the crook of my elbow. Who knew that gingham and lace was a time machine?

A similar experience occurred as I opened a chest full of afghans and baby quilts my grandma and mom knitted, crocheted, embroidered, or cross-stitched. Even without the sensation of knobby yarn or tidy stiches beneath fingertips, I visualized these beloved women sitting in their favorite chairs, watching Lawrence Welk or visiting as they created family heirlooms. A person can use only one coverlet at a time, so a cedar chest protected them for posterity. The future keeps getting shorter, yet I still haven’t used all these treasures.

Who moves worn, scratched pans? A crumbling handle on its last leg and with more dents than a golf ball reminds me of decades of homemade mashed potatoes and chicken n noodle dinners. Whipping up a fresh batch of spuds in that shabby container works better than consulting a medium to connect me to the grandma who taught me to cook. Decrepit as it is, that well-used cookware goes with me.

Tim O’Brien’s characters carried girlfriend’s panty hose, letters, photos, and other non-essentials into battle. Until I’ve moved a few more times, baby dresses, handmade blankets, and Depression-era cookware will make the trip as well. My heart’s not ready to let go.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What’s the Real Tumbleweed Capital?

Several years ago, mom gave me a sweatshirt advertising Hooker, Oklahoma, as the Tumbleweed Capital of the world. After a recent drive across the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandle, I’m certain Hooker is not the only center point of Russian thistle abundance. Winds that day blew an average of 40 mph so we saw droves of prickly Russian immigrants racing pell-mell across three states. Fence lines trapped enough to fuel miles of potential prairie fire. Clearly, this transplant’s adjusted well to arid western soils.

These herbaceous invaders adapted to the Great Plains environment better than many homo sapien immigrants who hit American shores during the same era. The tumbleweed’s human counterparts often left for easier pickings that included more moisture and less wind. This forb, however, took root and multiplied like creatures mentioned in biblical plagues. It prefers disturbed soil—so farmers breaking virgin grassland and then abandoning their efforts unintentionally supported the hardy newcomer. Aridity doesn’t hurt them, and winds strong enough to deform trees and make flags fly at 90 degree angles guarantees each plant sows its 250,000 seeds.

Think of that--one plant produces several hundred thousand potential offspring. Scientists have documented how many actually take root, mature, and reproduce. By the 1890s, researchers reported the first of these Ukrainian hitchhikers arrived in Scotland, South Dakota, in the 1870s. Before 1900, the government assigned U.S. botanist Lyster Hoxey Dewey to investigate this curse to western agriculturists. Dewey, wrote, “The rapidity with which the Russian thistle has spread, both in infesting new territory and in thoroughly covering that already infested, far exceeds that of any weed known in America.” According to writer Doug Main, the only two states that don’t have tumbleweeds are Alaska and Florida. That’s a record-breaking invasion!

The day I drove across the Panhandle, herds of rolling thistles bounded over barbwire fences, surging across roads. This dark force made me think of millions of roaming bison 150 years ago. Due to sheer size, these mammals halted train travel. The tumbling seed-sowers I encountered didn’t halt traffic, but they slowed it.

Due to wind speeds, thorny orbs, small and large, rocketed across flat grasslands. I was glad to travel protected in a vehicle and not afoot like pastured cattle or wild critters. A thistle scouring of this magnitude would leave a being picking stickers for weeks. Unfortunately, these dried plants came in numbers so enormous I couldn’t avoid whacking one after another and dragged several beneath my vehicle until friction shattered and scattered them.

While I smacked some, others slammed into the sides of my Toyota hard enough I felt vibrations through the steering wheel. I’d like to think these collisions halted their seed dispersion, but that’s a vain wish. In fact, I’ve probably introduced Oklahoma thistle DNA to Kansas varieties.

Hookerites may disagree, but that sweatshirt’s claim to fame limits the scope of this invasive plant. The entire Great Plains is the Tumbleweed Capital of America.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Worst Brings Out the Best

While last week’s high winds were unpleasant for anyone living in Western Kansas, Oklahoma, or Texas, they changed life for many. Our hearts ache for families learning to live with only the memory of lost loved ones, ranchers who’ve lost livestock, and those who’ve lost homes and possessions. Despite  the tragedy, Plains people  once again saw that catastrophe reveals our best nature.

Social media offered a peek into individuals, families, and communities who share this landscape. It’s comforting to see relatives supporting loved ones who traveled wherever necessary to battle raging flames or evacuate threatened residents. One post shared a photo of a young girl who fell asleep praying for her daddy and his squad working 24/7 outside of Hutchinson. You know she was concerned, but her peaceful face and clasped fingers revealed such deep faith. Her innocent confidence reveals how those affected by this firestorm will rebuild their lives.

In addition to individuals, communities contributed help. In short time, groups organized supply drives, collecting water, Chap Stick, eye drops, clean socks, and other necessities to support those willing to leap into an inferno. While many battled flames, others took their places at work or at home, so firefighters could focus on immediate dangers. Hundreds wrote heartfelt thank yous to men and women who dropped what they were doing  to protect distant towns. That said, you know these warriors are sad about homes and property they couldn’t save. Supporters' kindnesses offer a balm for those heartaches.

In other photos, junior high and high school students readied sleeping and eating areas for evacuees in gyms and cafeterias. These kids modeled what they’ve seen parents and grandparents do repeatedly during crises. They made certain people had shelter and food. School buses transported nursing home and hospital patients to safety. In this case, that wasn’t always enough. Due to uncontrolled winds and flames, some evacuation centers relocated. You didn’t hear complaints. People continued ministering to others experiencing the worst time of their lives.

Now that the most urgent firefighting efforts are winding down, truckers are hauling hay and fencing materials into fire-ravaged regions. Churches, clubs, and other organizations are collecting supplies and funding for those who’ve lost everything. First responders and others are reviewing their procedures. Those who weren’t affected are wondering how best to help during future events. Many are donating to local fire volunteer fire departments to enable them to repair and replace necessary equipment.

No matter what, it’s good to know we live where people sacrifice to keep one another safe. It’s worthy to note that residents support firefighters, first responders, and law enforcement. We let them know in various ways that their and their families’ sacrifices are appreciated. As more stories emerge, it’s clear that living on the Great Plains is a challenge. Those we call neighbors make it worthwhile. 

Some Things Do Get Better With Time

In the rush of daily life, it’s easy to forget indoor toilets are relatively new to housing construction. Those who’ve never relied on an outhouse don’t understand how relieved residents were when they had a solid privy resting on a concrete foundation. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, 600,000 American families enjoyed stable, sanitary facilities behind their homes.

The WPA focused on projects that improved life. Few communities could fund band shells, picnic houses, and swimming pools without federal dollars and the necessity to provide jobs. However, those weren’t the only projects that enhanced the USA. Health organizations had insisted from the early 1900s that Americans needed higher sanitary standards. Shallow pits and poor outhouse drainage led to epidemics related to fecal exposure. Scientists determined that concrete vaults at least 6 feet deep reduced such risks. This was a perfect goal for this department.

Most of us have visited WPA pools, buildings, and other monuments to hard work and hopes for better times. Depression era toilets add to the projects local labor teams and resources constructed. With so many built across the country, remains of facilities must still exist in western Kansas.

This information might help find them. Bureaucrats selected a standardized design that involved a poured underground vault planned so the top served as the outhouse foundation. Wisely, someone included a surface level concrete pot and vent hole. Cement flooring and seat construction offered better sanitation than wood construction did. Wisely, this design required screened vents to prevent fly-borne disease. Such models significantly improved public health.

While the vaults and seats were standardized and mass-produced, the actual wooden shelter depended on local materials and preferences. The plan called for a 4 x 5 frame and braced wooden door. While building crews followed similar plans, researchers note structures varied throughout the country.

Although labor teams installed over 600,000 outdoor commodes during that era, few remain. If you want to visit a Kansas WPA outhouse, you must get permission to search old homesteads for concrete foundations. Once you find one, don’t fall in the hole.

 If seeing the wooden “house” satisfies your curiosity, a landowner in McPherson County moved one onto his property years ago. The Sherman House Bed and Breakfast in Elk County transported another one to a site near their flower garden and named it “The Flower Pot.”

A trip to Franklin County Indiana offers the opportunity to check out ten such relics. For your reading pleasure, their museum has an edition of the “Indiana Community Sanitation Program Regulation Manual, Sponsored By United States Public Health Service, Indiana Division of Public Health Works Progress Administration.” This would be helpful if you want to install a reproduction on your homestead. In addition, they’ve posted official outhouse maintenance rules tacked to a surviving privy door.

Personally, I want to observe one of these as an historical object. While WPA construction has many charms, I’m happy with my indoor toilet.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sandbox Bliss

Temperatures dropped and snowflakes flew long enough to blanket our yard and the field behind it. Despite a chilly reminder that winter isn’t quite over, I have spring on my mind. Recent days warm enough to wear short sleeves reminded me to deliver our grandkids’ sand and water table so they could enjoy it over spring break. Our youngest grand has already tried out hers out. Seeing a photo of that little blonde dumping shovels full of sand into her bucket recalled memories of her mom and aunt’s happy hours in their sand-filled tractor tire.

While we weren’t farmers with our own big equipment, friends who made a living driving a big John Deere offered us one of their gigantic discarded tires. We rolled it to a spot close to the back door so I could do dishes or cook while listening to our youngsters’ cheerful chatter as they sifted sand, wetted it, and used old measuring cups and bowls to mold castles and other fanciful structures inside their three-foot-wide rubber moat.

When I had time, I joined them in creating architectural wonders or baking luscious desserts concocted from ingredients available within their tire and the surrounding yard. Each of us selected a dainty plastic pan to form our pastry. Once we finished packing dampened dirt, we’d slowly remove our creation, hoping it didn’t crumble during the process. Using leaves and flowers we found in the yard, we decorated our culinary delights. The girls were wizards at designing inedible works of art. As good as these looked, only a chicken pecking for a little gizzard grit would enjoy eating them.

Every now and then, I’d hear wild shrieks and race outside to see sand flying. This signaled the girls had found a live bug in their dirt. Shovels flew like windmill blades to eject unwelcome intruders. Enough insect protein found its way into the sandbox so I didn’t have to worry a wayward amphibian would starve if it managed to fall or be placed inside that deep walled tire. I did intervene the year baby toads infested the yard.

Unbeknownst to us, the girls collected dozens of miniature toads and corralled them in their sandbox. These mottled -skinned creatures dug themselves shady holes and waited for flies and beetles to land within eating reach. At dusk, I discovered our daughters leaning over the tire to say good- night to their captives. This population was too great for the available resources so I intervened and made the girls relocate their livestock to a less restrictive environment. As they carried handfuls and pocketsful of toads to freedom, I heard them talking to them like I talk to my dogs. Gadfrey. Toads as pets in the sand box.

I suspect our grandkids will soon weary of bright colored sand and water tables. They live on ranches where discarded tractor tires abound. It won’t be long til our daughters join their tots to once again bake sandy confections and check for insects and toads. Heck, Grandma might have to see if she can still whip up one of those pies.