Thawing the Pipes

With the looming of the “Polar Vortex” staring us all in the eye on television, social media and the like, most of us shiver in remembering at least one episode in our lives not so fondly known as ” the thawing of the pipes.”

There was more than one episode on the farm in Maine. At the time, we had a tiny room, which housed the cupboards and a little black iron sink, known as the “pantry”. Our water was gravity fed from the hill in back of the farm. In other words, it was a perfect set-up for frozen pipes.

The temperature dropped several times to the below zero mark every winter, but usually if we let a faucet drip overnight, we seemed to make it through the coldest part of the season unscathed. Everything good comes to an end. …and especially if  you have four “kids” and you are 23 years old and floundering at the edge of hysteria. Hysteria re-produced itself every morning in late January with kids of assorted sizes tripping over pajama bottoms and fighting for that secret prize in the bottom of the cereal box. All I needed was frozen pipes. I got them.

One morning I turned the faucet for water to cool my own hysteria and there was nothing.   No. It could not be. The husband had to leave for work and that left me to morph into Josephine the Plumber. I grabbed a bucket and gloves. I knew that I did not want matches, open fires  under my sink. I also knew that the Ashley wood heater in the kitchen might warm the area by late afternoon..if then. What produced warmth but looked safe? AH ha my hair dryer! With four little ones, who had time to work on hair styles, so it may as well be put to good use. I found two blocks of wood and a long ( I mean very long) extension cord. Propped the hair dryer on the wood and angled it toward a mean very cold looking elbow.

Time went on; dirty cereal bowls accumulated on the sideboard. Nary a drip from the faucet. The heat provided by this dryer was equivalent to my breath after chasing a cow in a hundred yard dash. Something had to be done and soon. Patience had fled the scene and at this point, there was no describing my hatred for cold and snow.

Desperation set in and I searched through the husband’s pile of tools. There it was..the answer…a blow torch! I hasten to say right now, this is NOT the way to thaw pipes. I knew it then and I know it now, but I had five barn cats, one dog and  four “ankle biters” wanting water. One would have thought they had trudged in a desert for four day with each tongue hanging out.

I cleared the area of all four legged and two legged beings before I scratched the match to get this brightly burning flame. No I did not get on my stomach and use it in an enclosed place . With the hair dryer blowing below, I inched toward the upper part of the pipes, blow torch in hand. I let the flame lick at the upper pipes and slowly there was a drip and then a drip.drip.drip. and then success! We had water once more..actual flowing water.

Blow torch was extinguished; hair dryer put away and now I could walk around the pantry praising myself for actually bringing water back into the farm.  With almost a swagger to my step, I found the four little ones and offered them each a glass of water only to find “they weren’t thirsty anymore.”  That rather marred the joys of victory.

So here it is almost sixty years later and the Polar Vortex is threatening again. Somewhere tonight there are going to be frozen pipes, thirsty kids in the morning and desperate measures to get the precious water flowing again.

Whatever you do, leave the blow torch out of your thawing methods.  Remember, I was young, desperate and only owned one hair dryer.  As time and technology has marched on, surely there is an “app” somewhere that thaws pipes.  I don’t own a smart phone or I’d research the subject and report it.

When it gets really cold, there is only one thing to do: hunker down because there is not one thing you or I can do about it. We can think spring if that makes it easier.

 

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January Jottings

I am sincerely trying to find something good about the month of January .  If I were in good health, I would like to be cross country skiing..meaning just my big back yard. If I go into the woods, I am lost unless I leave a trail of bread crumbs behind. With the hoard of gray squirrels around here, they would be eating my life saving trail as soon as I tossed it behind me.

January days are for digging into old boxes, old trunks and ripped up the side paper bags to unearth some of the “treasures” I have carried along through the seven moves in my life. There are the “rank cards” as we called them…now who is going to want these things after I swoosh upward? ( I assume I am going to swoosh, but on January days, it is more like yanking on a cord to start a dead snow blower).  Anyway, back to the “rank card”. The pictured card was when I was in Grade 3 with Ruth Ring as my teacher. What patience she had! I figure I was about 7 years old at the time and my seat got very hard before day’s end and my mind wandered. Now these are the thoughts that crop up on a miserable January day.

I hated January back then. Christmas had gone and it was weeks before we would start making the crepe paper Valentine box. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, to look forward to, except cold and ice.

There was one holiday in January that I looked forward to each year and that was my Gram Martin’s birthday . Ma always selected something worthy, wrapped it and Dad delivered it over the field to Gram. It was usually a pretty apron, towels or some writing paper. There was no official birthday party, but  I was very excited watching Ma wrap and top it off with a pretty birthday card.

Of course, when one ages, things change. One tries to accept and adapt , I suspect, with a bit of muttered cursings. I would love to be ice skating somewhere because , in my mind, I am still Dorothy Hamill and spinning gloriously. I block out the memories of lopped , weak ankles and walking on the ice instead of gliding.

I do find things to help me tolerate the month. The tiny song birds coming to the feeder outside my window; the many kinds of woodpeckers vying for a spot on the suet cakes. When an evergreen is encased with ice glistening in the early sun, I feel there is hope for us all…just think, another two months and we will be watching for patches of green and maybe a tiny crocus hidden just below the surface.

Then there are mornings such as this.  Pea soup fog over us like a shroud after a night of rain leaving surfaces iced…no sun. This is when we have to fight to get through this seemingly endless month. It is like biting into a cement block with no headway at all.

For the outdoor enthusiasts, I am happy. There are the skiiers, skaters, ice fishermen, snowmobilers and all that. There was a day when I would join them and oh , how fast the winter seemed to speed by. I can’t do that now…so instead  I will find comfort in looking at memorabilia , thinking about the “old ” days, and thanking God that I have been given another day….albeit gnawing on cement.

 

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A CHILLY MEMORY

No matter how hard I try to forget January’s cold in Greenwood Center, it persists. After Christmas, the rest of the winter looked bleak and felt more than bleak. Cold greeted me in my attic bed each morning, with the frost on the nails through the roof and the one window completely covered with frost. It was a prison and no way to escape!  When I was ten years old, I tried to talk my mother into letting me free of the long, brown ugly cotton stockings she insisted upon my wearing. There was no compromise coming. The stockings would stay. I actually would rather be cold than to wiggle those things on every morning. Instead, I took to wearing slacks or a pair of my older brother’s pants to school. Nobody looked and pointed. Nobody cared. It was every kid for himself , I guess, back in the late forties and early fifties.

There seemed to be an abundance of snow…always. Dad left his car by the road as plows were non-existent then and the distance to the house to long to shovel. Uncle Louie, clad in his dark green wool pants, flannel shirt and heavy coat shoveled Gram’s driveway with not a flake left in the shoveled path. Dad was the hurry up and lets get this stuff out of the way kind of man and it showed! He had a flannel shirt like Uncle Louie wore, thanks to Gram Martin’s Christmas gifts, but that was the only similarity when it came to shoveling.

By the time the kitchen wood stove produced a little heat, Ma and Dad were on their way to work and we four kids just danced around the kitchen, eating breakfast and trying to make sure we were ready for Cass Howe’s van to come pick us up for school. We were still cold when we hurried to the main road. We were cold in the van. What welcome relief to enter the school with the warmth radiating off our cheeks as we put our lunch boxes down and shed our coats.

The only way we managed to tolerate this long cold month was to participate in any form of fun one could find in the snowy tundra. Dragging our sleds to the top of my Grandmother’s pasture, pushing, grunting, running and flopping on the sled to make our way to the bottom of the hill was an activity that made us forget for awhile just how cold it was. Skating on Twitchell Pond to the old tires burning ( and smelling) we forgot the cold…until our cheeks started tingling.

I hated January because I couldn’t walk the roads and visit neighbors as I did in the summer. Bundled up like a monster, one had to remove boots, shoes, coats and all the outer garments and by that time, it was time to put them all on again and go home.  Instead I busied myself at the kitchen table with my Gram’s old wallpaper catalogs and her Sears and Montgomery Ward Catalogs, which she parted with after the holidays. The dolls came from the latter and the wallpaper catalog provided me with pretty prints to cut out for dresses. It was a treasure trove!  We were warm in the kitchen with the wet mittens drying and providing quite an aroma  at the same time.

I loved to read but the attic was a bit chilly, so I tried to find a spot in the kitchen where it was warm to curl up with my Nancy Drew books. Ma always cooked on weekends so I tried to stay out of her way. My favorite memory is being with her as she made her “Finnan Haddie” as she called it ..I am not sure if that is the right name or not. She took fresh fish and doctored it up with milk and seasonings and put it in the oven..and oh that smelled so good and tasted even better.

The warmth and the oven smells seemed to soothe me into a mood to take on the next week of the cold which I hated so much.

Now I have all the warmth I want; the space I want ..but still some mornings I feel January’s cold creeping into my bones. It could be my imagination, but just looking at a frosted window will do it. 

I look at the picture of Dad’s car parked by the main road in all that snow and I shiver…but I’d like to live just one of those days one more time.

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Memories From the Doc’s Office

Everyone who knows me, also knows how much I loved being a Chiropractic Assistant for a few years. I made some special friends during this time and also had some memorable patients. The following I wrote one evening after a day at the practice. I found it today in a bunch of papers…as usual!!!

The Challenge

 

His sternness precedes him into

the doctor’s reception room..

his second visit   still withdrawn

within the circle of aloofness

like the first.

“How are you today” I ask

hoping to crack the shield ..

 

“Oh, my wife she come here and she

say he will help you..I dunno” and

his one good eye fixes upon my face as the

second circle of pure white gazes

into an unknown world.

 

“I born in Quebec, you know, but I American

my fadder born in Ver-mont you know..long

time ago. I was a medic in the Big War. It was

awful , and when I worked with the Section

eight I have the nightmares, you know”

the swinging of his arms punctuate sentences

as if to make sure I listen.

 

“Eighty five years, you know? Why bother to come

here. I die like my brothers and sisters..you know. Four

brothers fought in the Big War, too. They dead now.

Thirteen kids we have, you know?”

 

He frowns, silent in reflection, as I seat him in the room.

I hang the x-rays and the one eye follows my every

move. “I din’t mind being a medic, you know. I glad

I could.”

 

I point to the x-rays, alive with light, look at him

and smile “Ok, Emile, which one do you want

for your Christmas Card..”

 

The man tips his head back with laughter

“You ok, young lady, you ok. I like you.”

 

Pat on the shoulder..”Doc will be right in”

He holds my hand and whispers “I thank you..”

…my day’s reward.

 

 

Thanks for sharing a memory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Tis The Season

It happens every year at this time. When the Christmas decorations start appearing and I see trees riding on the car tops, my mind goes back to all the Christmas memories in and around Greenwood, Maine.

As I’ve said, we had very little in material offerings.  The school Christmas tree was such a highlight. It didn’t matter what we received from the tree, but oh the excitement of drawing names and the anticipation of that very day. I awoke so early on that school day and you just knew it was going to be a different day. No annoying classes..well there were a few but the teacher was wise enough to  know we could not concentrate. A few select students were asked to pass out the gifts from the spindly little tree and oh! how we held our collective breaths. Would we get a gift? Did someone draw our name? Then that wonderful moment when one was laid on the desk top and you knew you had not been forgotten!! A pencil, a pad of paper, crayons, barrettes for your hair…it was a wonderful day and made going home to the cold chores so much easier!

Ma brought us up right. If there is one rule she instilled in us that has stayed with me through the ages: it is the thought and not the gift that counts.  My youngest brother, Curt, got very excited when Christmas came upon us and I might find  a favorite stone he picked up in summer, wrapped under the tree for me.

My first Christmas away from home was hard…my husband and I were living with his parents the first winter. Oh, the Christmas day that was observed! The family was big and they were all there joining in a huge Christmas feast. I thought of all the years the kitchen in the little house was alive with my three brothers and me , with Ma and Dad sitting at the kitchen table watching us unwrap what gifts we had. There was no Christmas feast, but Ma did her best to cook something a little special so we would know that it was a special day. It might be a special cake, pie or maybe we might even have a ham…a lot of bone, if I remember, but an honest to goodness ham!

As the crowd celebrated, my mind went back to the little house and I wondered if Dad liked the bureau scarf I had embroidered.  My mother-in-law insisted I learn to embroider and crochet that winter, so I found a scarf with a deer head on each end. I worked on it every evening, after working at Ekco Wood Products, and finished it a few days before the holiday. To even things up, I crocheted edgings around three hankies for my mother. I doubted she would use them, but be proud that her tom boy daughter actually held a crochet hook in her hand. Dad kept that scarf on his bureau until the day he died and today my youngest son has it in his keepsakes, so I guess I made the right choice.  The scarf, back in those days, probably cost less than a dollar but the nights of work I put into it, made in Ma’s mind, a perfect gift.

But back to the little house for a minute… of course we had no electricity, so there were no shiny bulbs for us to see, but in the evening the light from the Aladdin lamp shone off the icicles( saved from the year before) and the tree came alive every night. Paper chains wound around it here and there and old tin ornaments came down from the attic to make it complete.

The orange in the toe of our stockings was eaten slowly and appreciated. How I loved ribbon candy …when it was paper thin and easy to devour!!

Our ornaments we made at school were proudly displayed on the tree as if they had come from the most costly department store…it was a true Charlie Brown tree( before we knew of Charlie Brown) held up by rope so it wouldn’t topple. The frosty window sill held the nightly notes to Santa that Curt printed. Oh, it was a magic time..maybe because it was so simple. I don’t know the answer. I just know that Ma was right when she said that it was the thought that counted.

 

 

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Thoughts on a Foggy Afternoon

Hunting season is over in Maine for another year, so I am told. My thoughts always travel back to my childhood and that wondrous month of November, that my Dad impatiently waited for each year. Months in advance, his rifle was cleaned, his hunting maps formed in his head and by the first day he was ready.  Names floated around my head …”the old Ames Place” , “Furlong Pond”, “Overset” and on and on . Growing up, they were places that were for hunters only…at least in my mind..and I never hoped to see them. How wonderful to read of the hiking trails so many can take advantage of these beautiful hidden treasures. I haven’t heard if it was a good season down east this year or if many were dining on “track soup”. We had many a good meal of deer meat and oddly enough, I cannot remember  many calling it by its correct name…”venison.”  Here in upstate, I do not hear it called deer meat but always venison. Different culture just five and a half hours away!

What else crosses my mind this time of year? My mother making mince meat from the neck of the deer. I hope I remember that correctly. I absolutely loved the mince pies!! A few years ago we ate at a restaurant and I was overjoyed to see mince pie on the menu. Why did I think it would taste like my mother’s pies with the REAL mince meat in it?

Also this week came the news that my beloved Twitchell Pond is almost frozen over. How well I remember the skating parties we had each winter, warmed by the old tires burning and smelling.  The entire neighborhood reeked of rubber burning and no one cared. We had already cut up the inner tubes to fasten our feet to our skiis, as we took over Gram Martin’s pasture! Roland built ski trails and added a few jumps here and there. No, I did not go over any of his ski jumps! My strength was in sledding..get a running start, slam my body on to the sled and let it rip down my Gram’s hill!

November was a grim month, or so I always thought. The trees were bare; the land was colorless and the cold crept into our bones. I think it was colder back then as I remember putting on ice skates after Thanksgiving dinner and negotiating the little bog between my cousins’ house and ours. We sometimes had snowbanks for the jello to set. I hope my memory serves me correct or perhaps I hated the cold so much I imagined it!!

Gram Martin had Christmas on her mind and she sized us up for hats and mittens to knit. What a wonderful gift and it was especially nice to wear them to school for the first time to show that we actually had two mittens that matched!!

Twitchell Pond was frozen but none of us ventured out on it,  until Dad gave the word that it was safe. He forever gave us the lecture on air holes and to avoid going where the brooks ran into the pond. He,himself, went into the pond on snowshoes when he was younger and perhaps that stayed in his mind when it came to his kids out on the ice.

I hated this time of year as I wanted to feel my feet hit dirt, leaves, and anything to do with nature. In snow, all one could do was wade. Roy Millett kept our roads cleared, so when the sun shone, I bundled up and made my way down to Grace and Charlie Day’s home for a little visit. It seemed as though the world came to a stand still when the cold and snow arrived.

We adapted to the new season. Ma hung the clothes on wooden racks throughout the house to dry, turning them and shuffling them around to make the process a bit quicker.  The wood stove burned brightly during the day as we kids came in from playing and crowded around with our hands flattened over the top and rubbing them together to get the warmth. Do you remember the smell of wet mittens drying? Such a necessary thing, but oh the smell. By the third month of cold and snow, one became immune to it and accepted it along with all the other ugliness of cold!

It was the beginning of the buckled boots and long leggings for my brothers  and I had to , once again, don the long brown stockings. Some of the buckles had been broken from the year before and rattled as they walked, but if the soles were still good, they were worn.

Dad parked his car by the road side, as the driveway was too long to shovel. We had a neat path from going to work and school, so no worries there!

Well, the fog has lifted here a little and it is time to put my memories to rest for another day. I would like to be back in Greenwood Center for one more November and hear the excitement among the hunters and the stories of the one that got away…but until then, I have the memories.

 

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Goodbye October, Hello November

I can’t remember when I first hated November. I probably was about seven or eight years old. Suddenly the days became shorter; we got dressed in the dark mornings and had precious little time in the afternoon to do our after school chores when we got home from school.

Twitchell Pond no longer gleamed a brilliant blue with magnificent whitecaps; it turned dark and broody as if to have a tantrum at any given moment. Standing on the shore, the wind whipped the water to sting on my cheeks and I knew what would soon be upon us…old man winter in all its fury.

With the oncoming of winter, the neighbors were hunkering down and were set to “wait it out”. Their firewood was in, quilts back on the beds and soup recipes were abundant.

My Dad loved oyster stew; the rest of the family gagged at the thought, so he was in heaven when Wilmer Bryant sent over extra milk and Ma fixed it just for him. There was nothing as soothing as her corn chowder and fish chowder when there was a distinct coldness in the air..straight from the North!

November was the month I brought out my collection of books. I had read them all but each November they were new to me. Most of my days off from school were spent on the lumpy bed sprawled out deep in thought with the Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew.

School! I hated November for the long brown stockings I had to wear to make sure I didn’t collapse from a cold. I can remember, to this day, how tight and ugly those stockings felt on my legs. It was as though they were in prison, not to be released until spring appeared.

Grammy Martin had her Mason jars on display in her cellar…filled to the top with the vegetables canned earlier. The colors were magnificent. The company was scarce at Grammy and Grampa’s this time of year, so they welcomed anyone who happened to be driving by on weekends.  Gram was busily knitting mittens and hats for all her grandchildren. Christmas was not far away. Her quilting had been put away until she could return to the porch and sew in relative silence during the warmer months.

I never got too excited over Thanksgiving. I think just the cold air wiped out any happy thoughts I might have. Hunting was the top priority this month and although I liked the deer meat, I still felt sad when I saw the dead dear hanging from our apple tree. Of course there was so swinging during November, because our old tire Dad had secured to the tree had to be taken down so there would be room for all the deer that the family shot.

Dad and the older brothers had brought pine boughs from the mountain and laid them around the base of the house. When it snowed the first big storm, it would pack in nicely and insulate us as we had no basement . Dad seldom prepared us for the winter in the category of fire wood. He hauled out a few long trees and left them for Rex to cut up after school ; I helped him when my kitchen chores were done. I never minded chores but I admit we both got a little cranky when the air turned cold and we hurried a bit more to fill the wood box.

The trees were like skeletons with little bony fingers poking toward the sky and most days seemed gray. I loved color and I think that was one reason I did not care for November. It lies in the gray area, unless of course you get a huge snow storm and you were definitely in the white area! Dad loved rainy cold mornings for hunting as he said it was quiet in the woods . If not that, just a cover of snow was excellent for tracking.

When things really got boring , I always hurried to see Grammy Martin . My favorite were her  out of date wallpaper books .  I took them home and cut out dresses to fit my paper dolls, which were cut out of her old Sears catalogs.

Thanksgiving was the bright spot in the month for those who didn’t have to plan around a hunting trip . We could not eat until our hunters came home for their meal or there was a break in their hunting plans. Ma always had the hen from Lester Cole’s , mashed potato, peas, her famous biscuits and for dessert, usually a bowl of red jello which had set outside overnight to make it jiggily! Occasionally she made a pumpkin pie if the stove cooperated.

I still am not fond of November. It has a dampness that seeps into one’s bones and relentless gray days. But it’s all part of the equation, so as my Dad always said, ” You may as well live with it and it only has 30 days.” I must have been whining when he came out with that. Hard to believe, though.

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