I Smell A Rat!

‘Funny the skills you accumulate over the course of a lifetime: driving a nail, mending a mitten, riding a horse, baking an apple pie, tap dancing, writing a blog.  Many of them you don’t ever think about, but now and then a learned skill might catch your notice as something that sets you apart from the pack.

In my case, being able to insert four fingers in my mouth and rip off a loud, shrill whistle has always seemed to me to be one of those things that elevate me to a place most girls don’t get to.  It’s good for calling a crowd to order or summoning a dog, not to mention the fact that people are impressed.

And although you often hear somebody say, “I smell a rat!”,  I really can.  This doesn’t happen very often, but yesterday, in the barn, there it was:  my nose, and the unmistakable aroma that falls somewhere between piss, vinegar, and old sneakers.  I’d forgotten all about rat-smelling as part of my skill-set, but yup, sure enough, I, my friends, have it.

Rat cropped

It’s funny what life in the country can teach a girl.  And now I need to impart that knowledge to the cat.


Tech Support

My home Internet connection wasn’t working this morning.  I tried the old turn-it-off-then-turn-it-back-on trick, but still no Internet. I called tech support.

After half an hour of testing and resetting, the serious and methodical “Simon” and I found the problem. At the end, he asked if he could send me an email which I would use to rate his performance. I spelled out my address, but when he read it back, he had substituted “b” for “p”. I tried to correct him, saying “P, not B” but he didn’t understand me. So I clarified:

“P as in Paul.”

“B as in Ball?” he replied.

No, I said, P, as in… Punjab.”

He began to giggle, and then the two of us just howled with laughter. Have a great day, “Simon”!

Having a Heart

photo by WizenedEye.com

How do you catch a woodchuck? I catch mice and voles with peanut butter, sunflower seeds can lure chipmunks, the two gray squirrels who terrorized the Accounting Dept. at work were suckers for Doritos, but what would interest a hedgehog?

It turned out I was able to rush him and scare him onto the front porch. Once he was cornered there, I made a lot of noise, banging my hoe on the sidewalk and shouting to keep him scared and in hiding behind a lawn chair while I dashed to the barn for the bigger Havahart trap. He was just considering making a run for it when I returned. More banging and arm waving bought time to get the trap open, set and along the porch wall, then a bit of herding with a broom, and VOILA! – I had captured Punxsutawney Phil! He now has a new home several miles from my garden.

One spring a few years ago I rounded up a large snapping turtle who had chosen my garden as her egg depository. The capture involved a metal garbage can and a shovel – dangerously close to the electric fence, I might add – and I’m here to tell you that Mrs. Terrapin was one fierce, hostile critter. In comparison, this woodchuck was sweet indeed.

But the Pesty Animal Capturer Life-time Achievement Award goes to my friend Dale who, in his 20+ years of service to the local school district, captured and relocated more than sixty skunks. Did he ever have “a problem?” Only once, when, trap full and loaded on the back of his pick-up, a friend came along and asked, “Watcha got under the tarp?” – punctuating the question with a loud thump of his fist on the truck bed…

Note: A “Havahart” is a humane, “catch alive” trap. Once captured, the animal can be taken to a suitable habitat and released.


Note:  This was written in 2007

Time has its subtle ways of letting you know you aren’t as young as you used to be. The jeans get harder to button, the joints begin to complain when overworked, and there’s the thinning of hair north and south. So you work out a little more, take aspirin, content yourself with the notion that your hair always was a bit thick and unruly. Old? Me? Nah.

Less subtle than time are children. Today I spent three hours at the playground with my five-year-old grandson. When there were no kids his age, I played with him, climbing up through the wooden maze, sliding down the slides, being a witch or “Queen of the Playground” as he dictated. I felt pretty smug that at 62 I could keep up with him. As I stood at the end of a wooden tunnel near the top of the grand structure (catching my breath), a new entrant on the scene, a six-year-old grinning the fanged smile of a kid missing his two front teeth, burst from the tunnel on all-fours and sounded a fierce roar. I jumped in faked terror, and the kid gleefully rose to his feet and shouted for all the playground to hear, “MOM! I just scared the crap out of this old lady!”
Go away kid, ya bother me…

Time Lost

Friends in early childhood were situational, and they weren’t really friends; you met them in the park or in other places your parents took you. Eventually you were old enough to venture out on your own, and then you could “make friends” with other kids in your neighborhood (this was before the world was such a scary place that real play was replaced by parentally arranged “play dates”). Again, initially you had location in common – which, as I think about it, has always been necessary to starting a friendship.

Eventually you were discerning and actually chose your friends. In your teens they were kids you “fit with,” people like yourself; later perhaps you became friends with someone because you admired them and in some way perhaps you and the friend enhanced each other. Lovers and friends were more distinguishable then than in this generation, although throughout history and even in my youth (when the earth was still cooling) it was wise for lovers to also be friends.

Friendships most often seem to be killed by distance and time, or rather, the lack of time. Time passed is time spent; and spent, according to Webster’s, is time “having been used and unable to be used again.”  Once spent, can it ever be retrieved? Or is it gone forever like that quarter lost in 5th grade when I bet Didier that it wouldn’t rain by the time school let out?

In the past twenty years or so, I’ve been making friends from a distance. The Internet has removed that once-essential first step of friendship, location. The irony of this is that while I have made a number of new virtual friends (some of whom I eventually got to know personally), the Internet has also reconnected me with a number of far-flung old friends from various periods in my life, friends who had been “lost.” Recently I received these wonderful lines from one of them:

I’ve never felt pressured to write
By anything you’ve said or implied.
But yes, there is an urgency about it,
Brought on, no doubt, by my own sense
That time has been lost
And that writing is the only way
To try to make up for it.
It’s simple – the more I send,
The more I get back.
And therein lies the time recaptured.

Well said, old friend. How delicious is the recapturing!

Duch and Pack

I had a mommy and a daddy until I was about three years old, but I was never orphaned or abandoned.

For the first five years of my life, home was an apartment on the second floor of my grandparents’ house.  The space had been bedrooms before my mother and her siblings grew up and married, but someone in the family had wondered aloud, “…why Evy never seems to find a man who’s working,” and my grandfather probably took steps to insure a roof would cover the newlyweds.

Memories of those first five years are few but significant: watching our cat give birth to kittens under the baby grand piano; meeting my life-long friend Bekir, whose tall silhouette appeared against the bright late afternoon sun as he passed through the apartment door; quickly saddling my rocking horse at the beginning of a song on the radio, riding to the beat of the music, and unsaddling when a song ended – repeated with every song in the late afternoons; and listening to the early evening radio dramas with my father at our small, round, red-topped dinner table while my mother washed the dishes in the nearby kitchen.  There were two shows I loved:  Straight Arrow, and Red Ryder – although my memory of the Red Ryder comic books being read to me by my father is more clear than the radio broadcasts, probably because the images seen reinforced those memories.

Straight Arrow was the cowboy equivalent of the Superman we know today.  To all who were acquainted with him, he was Steve Adams, a Comanche orphan who had been  adopted and had inherited a ranch when his adoptive parents died.  He was a struggling rancher, but whenever “bad guys” threatened anyone, Steve would slip away to a secret cave, don war-paint, his indian breaches and feathers, and emerge as Straight Arrow, galloping on Fury, a mighty palomino horse, shouting, “Ken-ee-wah, Fury!”, righting the wrongs and capturing the bad guys.  He would then almost magically disappear, leaving the grateful townsfolk to remark, “It was that masked injun!” Only one of them knew – and kept – the truth, an old prospector and friend of Steve’s named Packy McCloud.

Red Ryder was also a cowboy on a mighty steed who righted the wrongs of the old west. He lived with an older woman, his Auntie Duchess, and had a young “injun” sidekick named Little Beaver.

Those cowboy and indian stories never ended. When the radio was turned off, I became Straight Arrow or Red Ryder, and as an only child, my evening playmates were my parents… who became Packy McCloud and Auntie Duchess, and so by age four, I had lost my Mommy and Daddy – replaced by a kindly aunt and an old prospector.

So it would be until the day each died, although over time the names shortened to Duch and Pack.  It was all I ever called them. It was easier for my foster sisters too, because as lacking as those men and women might have been as parents, each of my sisters already had a Mommy and a perhaps a Daddy or two.

Being politically correct hadn’t been heard of in the late 1940s, but if it had, I probably wouldn’t have these wonderful memories. And far from being orphaned, I was blessed.







To be honest, this is not a story I tell proudly…

I grew up on a secluded two acre paradise about 1/4 mile from the center of a village. Also within smelling distance was a sizable herd of goats, and in spring, if memory serves me, those goats were highly odoriferous. Perhaps love was in the air.

One afternoon, the biggest billy-goat I’d ever seen – although I confess to not having seen any others at close range at my tender age of 9 – appeared in our front yard. My sister and I and a friend were playing just outside the garage. Said goat was white, though he undoubtedly had a black heart or maybe a heart beating with passion, his horns were long, and he chased us into the garage, where we were able to climb to the attic for safety while screaming, “DUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”   (“Duch” was what we called my mom, but that’s yet another story). Duch apparently didn’t hear us, and after some time, Mr. A. Goat left.

The scene repeated on the next day, this time sending us up onto our screened porch just in time. I can still see that damned goat standing with hind legs on the front steps and front feet up on the screen of the door.

My mother, who was no sissy, tried to chase him, but the score was very quickly Goat – 1, Duch – 0. She made some phone calls, and in about 15 minutes a man showed up, grabbed the amorous goat by one horn, and led him away. I presume some fence mending was also done that day, or perhaps a goat pilaf was eaten, for that was the last time a billy got my goat.