Category Archives: Mostly True Stories From the Farm

Who Knew?

“Jo, you fall off of there and I’m gonna spank you,” says my grandfather, as he sits on the porch watching me tightrope-walk the railing.

“Why?” I say, wishing I knew how to do a cartwheel. “I’d probably get hurt as it is.”

“Cause you shouldn’t be up there doing that.”

“Well, you didn’t say nothin.”

“I shouldn’t have to.  You should know better.”

I never knew better.  Never had a clue most of the time.  I would do things that got me in trouble and have absolutely no understanding of what I did wrong.

Like the time I built a tent out of blankets and chairs in the living room.  Fun, kid stuff right?  It was, until I decided we needed a campfire.  I got my mom’s big blue canning kettle, put some torn up newspaper in, and lit it up. Nothing smells better than a freshly struck wooden match and a toasted Marshmallow.  It seemed like the thing to do.  When our family went camping, we always had a campfire.  I wanted Barbie, Midge and Ken to have the same experience with me. I don’t even like Marshmallows if they haven’t been toasted.

ImageMy mom was at work at the time and our babysitter, Heidi came running in when she smelled, well…either the smoke or the delicious aroma of my toasty confection.  It was on fire and getting burned, just the right amount, when she pulled my tent apart, slammed the lid down on the canner, and put an end to my camping experience.

“Joetta Lynn, what do you think you’re doing?”  She yelled.  “You could have set yourself on fire and burned the whole house down.  You should know better!”

“But…” I was thinking how to explain the necessity of a good campfire when you’re in the wilderness of your living room.

Heidi says. “Butt is right and your’s is gonna get it when your daddy gets home.”

She never did tell him.  I convinced her that I wouldn’t do it again and I would “think seriously about the consequences, young lady before I upped and did something so foolish.”

Problem is I didn’t.  I couldn’t really.  I was a “why not, what if,” foolish, fun loving, kid who liked to take risks.  I’d climb high in my friend’s tree and put my ear up to the telephone lines that ran through it, just to see if I could listen in on a conversation. I couldn’t.  I’d see how far I could ride my bike with my eyes closed. Not very far. Try to jump over two dogs at the same time and once, (only once) I tied my jump rope around my waist, put my roller skates on and tied the other end to the bumper of our neighbors Pontiac.  He only went about twenty feet before he saw me, but it was one wild ride!  I have the scars on my knees to prove it.

Again, I should have known better.

However, I think my youthful audacity paid off.  It allowed me the freedom to explore a bit of the flip side of life. To think about the impossible and attempt the improbable.  To create something from nothing without great concern for the end result.

Oh, I’m more responsible and understand the consequences of my actions now.  After all, I am an adult and being a mom and a teacher, reigned me in to the realities of life.  I channel my fun, foolish, risk taking self, through my art and written words.  I paint what I imagine and create stories of people that find themselves in unpredictable and precarious situations. I let them get their knees skinned.  Behind the easel and over the keyboard is a place of redemption for me.  I can be that person, transformed in limitless ways.

I know I have a great character, when I sit back from my manuscript or work of art and think, “Oh yeah, You should have known better.”

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Chickens Don’t Cry

My grandmother had a glass egg that she used  to slip under a chicken to try to convince her to lay.  Now, I don’t know why a chicken wouldn’t or couldn’t lay an egg.  But after Mammaw ruled out sickness, parasites or the winter weather, she figured the hen needed educating.  Perhaps she didn’t know how good it felt to lay an egg.  Maybe she’d never been with a rooster before and didn’t know the pleasure derived from a sexual encounter. Maybe she just didn’t like baby chicks.  Although, she need not be worried about the last one, because more often than not, her progeny did not see the light of day.  However, this would have been a terrible conversation to have with a prospective mamma hen and not at all conducive to the egg laying process.

The glass egg was used to gently encourage the delicate pullet to “get with the program.” It usually worked.  I would gather it up each morning and slip it back in her nest  before bedtime.  After a bit, she would get used to the feel of the egg and probably with out much thought, lay one of her own.  Having done that a few times, she would then realize that she did not need the young “doodle doo” to lay eggs anyway and it might loosen her up a bit on the sex aspect.

You’ve been there right?  When you don’t feel like you have to do it.  It becomes so much more enjoyable.

The other poultry problem was the inclination of older hens to sit on an egg and lash out at anyone who tried to take it.  They could be vicious.  My grandmother’s answer to that was jail.  She built a jailhouse out of tobacco sticks and corrigated tin.  She would snatch the offender up by the feet and stash it in the jailhouse for a day or two until a lesson was learned.  It sat right outside of the hen house door so all those on the outside could cluck, peck and scratch up dust to exhibit their destain. The hen and I would be devastated.  I would sit by jail and talk to her in an encouraging voice, sharing in her humiliation, hoping to absorb some of her shame.

Chickens don’t cry, but I did.

Even though the punishment was short lived, the lingering effects took it’s toll.  The little jailbird plummeted in the pecking order. Scorned by the other hens she took on a solitary existence.  She lived on the fringes of the farm yard, eating leftovers and dropping poo only after the others had finished.

I would watch helplessly as a sweet old hen lost the last luster of her youth and ended up in hot water.  Literally.  It still brings a tear to my eye, as I blow on my spoon and wait for the stew to cool.

Borrowed from www.theconstanthunger.com

I Learned to Dance in the Outhouse

The outhouse was situated between the henhouse and the coal pile on my grandparents farm in Kentucky.   It was where I learned to dance, had my first art exhibit, won small victories and shared intimate secrets with my potty companions.  It was a multipurpose facility.

For those who don't know...

For those who don’t know…

The weathered, wooden building was a four by six foot, two seater with a tin roof and a door that squeaked out a song when it opened and closed.  It had little or no foundation and rocked back and forth in the wind.  My dad put handles on the inside walls so you could hold it steady if the there came a sudden gust.  The floor boards were loose and if you stepped on one, then the other, they gave way enough to get a good rhythm going.

I needed that in the fall of 1968 when I attended my first semi formal dance.  The Eighth Grade Band Dance was a Fee School spotlight event.  Anxiously anticipated for months, talked about afterwards for weeks, it was a make or break situation for eighth graders.  I had two problems: I wasn’t sure who my date was and I didn’t know how to dance.

I had a whirlwind romantic life at the time.  I had gotten Bobby C’s I.D. bracelet on Monday.  Broke up, gave it back on Tuesday.  Got Robbie B’s on Wednesday. Broke up, gave it back on Friday before class, and got both of them back by the end of the day.  The dance was Saturday night and I was going steady with two boys.  I was switching I.D. bracelets so often, my arm didn’t have time to turn green.  That was problem number one.

Problem number two was my lack of proficiency on the dance floor.  I could move around, but I looked silly doing it.  I was all feet, skinny, flat chested and awkward.  if you looked at me, you would wonder how I ended up with two boyfriends in the first place.  I needed to learn to dance, and fast.  This is where the outhouse came in handy.

We went to my grandparents farm almost every weekend.  It was just up the road in Bracken County.  They didn’t have indoor plumbing and the outhouse was an excellent place for quiet contemplation (I had to decide on a boyfriend) and to my relief, a good place to learn to dance.  I had stepped on those loose boards a hundred times, but it never occurred to me that they would provide a solution to my problem.  As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

I had just been given a transistor radio, for my birthday and was listening to “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” by The Ohio Express (a one hit wonder) I headed to the outhouse for the usual reason, but when I stepped inside with the need to pee and bubble gum in my ear, magic happened.  I started bobbing up and down and moving back and forth, the boards giving way just enough to get my groove on.  It felt good.  I could hear the chickens clucking next door so I started flapping my arms and even threw in a few cock a doodle do’s.  I stayed there all afternoon working on moves.  I was ready for my debut.

I wasn’t allowed to date, so my dad drove me to the dance.  We pulled up to the gym laboriously decorated with tissue paper stuffed chicken wire and silver streamers. It was gorgeous!  With a blue moire dress, lace tights, a padded bra and a bracelet on each arm, I was gorgeous too!  Dad got out, came around and opened the door for me.  Extending his hand, he said, “You look very pretty tonight Jo.  Every boy there is going to want to dance with you.  Have fun and keep your chin up and your nose clean.”

He said that last bit about my chin and my nose every time I went anywhere.  It meant “be good.” What stuck with me was the part about every boy wanting to dance with me.  I believed it.  I started thinking that maybe I didn’t need a boyfriend at all.  I could play the field, dance each dance with a different guy.  I would be so in demand they would be standing in line, waiting in enviable awe till it was their turn.  I was so confident that I glided across the gym floor and told Bobby C, “Sorry, but we’re over for good.  I need my freedom.” I handed him his I.D. bracelet and walked away.  Don’t cry for Bobby C, he gave it to my best friend before the night was over.  As I left my jilted young love, I saw Robby B standing at the punch bowl and gave him the same treatment.  He cried and told me to keep the bracelet in case I change my mind.

“How embarrassing for us both.” I said to my soon to be former best friend and I asked her to return it for me when he gets a grip.

I was free!  I waited for the moment to sink in and the lines to form.  I spun around, pushing out my padded chest and faking a lady like laugh.   I did that for 45 minutes.

I was wrong about the line of suitors. No one lined up.  No one even asked me to dance.  In fact, no boy asked any girl to dance.  They all stood around looking at their feet and drinking non spiked punch.  The girls got tired of waiting and started dancing with each other.    It became competitive as each girl tried to best the other with their moves.  There were  thirty girls, first timers in heels and panty hose, in a circle, lighting up the joint.  We were on fire!

That night I invented the Funky Chicken.  I never got credit for it and I’ve accepted my loss of fame.  But it was me, inspired by a humble outhouse nestled between the hen house and the coal pile on a small farm in Kentucky.

 Chicken Killer              

I killed my first living thing when I was 11 years old.  I picked it up, grabbed it’s neck and wrung it around and around until I heard a snap. Then I ripped it’s head off and flung the body on the ground.

“Good Lord!  It sounds awful when I read about it.”

I killed a chicken.  Only once. It never happened again.

Chicken Killer

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky just down the road from my grandparents farm.  My dad, a high school biology teacher, still helped Pappaw with most of the planting, tending and harvesting and in exchange we got chicken and beef and all the fruit and vegetables we wanted.

We had  “Chicken Killing Day” each year, but Mammaw was the one that usually did the deed.  I just stood and watched them flop around the yard. Then one day, I bragged to my sister that I could do it and asked my grandmother if I could try. I thought she’d say no. I would have looked like a chicken (excuse the pun, but that’s the word for it) to back out. So I did it. It wasn’t hard to do, a little scary at first because it clearly didn’t want to die, making a heck of a noisy flutter. I’d seen Mammaw do it so many times, it was over and done with before I knew it.  The unfortunate thing was being called a chicken killer for the next several weeks.  My grandmother probably killed over a thousand chickens, but I became “our little chicken killer.”  One lousy, dead chicken and I was labeled for life.  They got tired of it after a while, but my sister still brings it up from time to time.  I think she may be sorry she didn’t have the guts to do it.  She missed a life defining moment, of sorts.

Our “Chicken Killing Day” chore was to take the headless bodies and dip them in water, bubbling in a huge cast iron kettle, set over a fire behind the hollyhocks in the back of the yard.  We’d leave them in for a few seconds, just long enough to make it easier to pull their feathers out so we could take them in the house for my mom and Aunt Hazel to gut, cut up and pack in freezer bags.

That doesn’t sound so good either, but it’s what we did. It’s what happens when you have a working farm.

My Mammaw & Pappaw

My Mammaw & Pappaw

It was a small farm, raising mostly tobacco and corn.  There were five or six milk cows, fifteen to twenty chickens, two mules (for plowing where the tractor couldn’t go) a dog named Butchie and a big vegetable garden located out behind the stable.  I was there with my sisters almost every weekend, and daily during the summers from the time I was born until I was fourteen.

My dad would help Pappaw and Aunt Hazel work the tobacco fields while Mammaw, my two sisters and I would do chores around the house or play made up games in the yard.

I enjoyed most of the chores.  Feeding the chickens in the morning was fun although, sometimes frightening. They would peck at you and fly up trying to get the feed out of the pan.  Once I dropped some on the top of my foot and got a nasty peck that drew blood.  Mammaw washed it off with Lysol and water while she yelled at me for not wearing shoes, “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, you can’t walk around chickens in those dang flip flops.”

The chickens had the run of the yard, so we were always on the lookout for chickenshit.  It was funny.  The word “shit” was a bad word.  We would have gotten a whipping if we said it, but chickenshit was different and was used on a regular basis by us all.

Aunt Hazel would say, “Make sure you check your feet for chickenshit before you come into this house.”

Lamenting the placement of poultry poo, Mammaw would exclaim, “Look at that chickenshit, right on my cement!”

I don’t think chickens have the brain capacity to be purposeful in such things, but she took it as a personal insult.  There was only a little cement around the cistern and she liked it to be clean.  She’d say, “Those girls are just being spiteful doing it there, when they got the whole dang yard to do it in.”

I guess she thought the rooster knew better. I miss chickens.  Now that raising them has become a popular urban hobby, I’m thinking I may take on a few.  I just hope they don’t recognize a chicken killer when they see one.