Domestic Life in the Ozarks
Not every email from my Ozark home relates details of my Uncle Cranford's wild tales about critters all blazing with fierce eyes and waiting in the voracious darkness just beyond the campfire's flickering light.
Some emails bespeak of peaceful domestic life near the homestead.
In this latter vein came a message titled "Arkansas News" from my paternal Aunt Pauline and Uncle Woodrow, now in their late seventies, to my eleven-year-old daughter, Sa-Rah. My aunt does the writing:
Hello Sa...rah . . . . . How are everyone? We are slow but very busy . . . . I have been canning food from our garden . . . Uncle Woodrow does the gathering of most things from our garden. I have canned beans, beets, greens, pickles, then I have frozen black berries and dried several bags of peaches and apples . . . . . sure will be handy when it getts winter.Especially if winter comes cold and long, as sometimes happens. When I was young, Aunt Pauline taught me that the wild persimmon's seeds could predict the winter weather. Crack one open, and you'd see its 'embryo' in the approximate form of a knife, a spoon, or a fork. If I recall, the knife-shaped sort mean a cold, hard winter, the spoon-shaped kind mean lots of snow, and the fork-shaped variety mean a normal winter.
That sounded rather unscientific to me, and I recall that when the first seed revealed a knife, foreboding a keen-edged, bitter cold winter, I badgered my aunt, demanding that she crack open more than one. Aunt Pauline obliged, and we discovered a fork, promising a normal, fairly mild winter. Triumphant, I asked her to reconcile this contradiction.
She just gave a quick laugh and said, "Well, I reckon we'd have to count and see which has the most -- knives, spoons, or forks."
That sounded more empirical than I'd expected, and also a lot of work, so I didn't push the point any further . . . though I remained guarded in my skepticism.
But let's return from my childhood to the present news, which concerns nieces and nephews -- actually, I think that they're my first cousins, twice removed, but let's not be too picky -- and their trip taken with my cousins Martha and Velna to Branson, Missouri, located by Lake Taneycomo, between Table Rock Lake on the southwest and Bull Shoals Lake on the southeast:
Shiney and Rifle, Amanda and Drue have had a grand summer . . . Martha and Velna took them to Branson on vaccation . . . went to zoos, swam a lot, and the works . . . Velna plans to take Tayhlor, Nathan and Logan somewhere next . . couldn't take all at once . . Shiney found a new friend named Stormy . . . they thought it was fun to be Stormy and Shiney.That sounds like an unlikely pair. Did they become friends just for the sake of uniqueness? Shiney's real name is Cheyenne, but the doctor who delivered her looked at the spelling and couldn't figure out its pronunciation, so he pronounced her "Shiney." I don't know the story to Stormy. As for "Rifle," whom you're probably also wondering about, I've told his story, so let's get back to this recent letter:
I hatched about one hundred and fifty quaille for Velna . . . they sure are growing and she loves them . . . . these are birds . . . . . my little bantam hen hatched five baby chickens. They are so cute. One is yellow and the rest are black and white spotted.Quaille, as Aunt Pauline explains -- in case Sa-Rah doesn't know -- are birds. When my aunt says that she 'hatched' the quaille, she means that she used a brooder, a box-like structure often heated by lights. That word "quaille"' must be an Ozark variant for "quail," possibly a holdover from "quaille" in Middle English. But there are yet other animals:
Shiney's goat had four babies, one died and two stay with the mother goat and Uncle Woodrow has the tiny girl goat on a bottle . . . She is a big pet . . . . Shiney's goat stayes with ours. Her name is Nellie Dawn . . . . . . like that name? She wears a bell . . . . the goat dogs comes in and checks on the baby goat that's on the bottle to see if she is doing all right and goes back to the others.That sounds like a gentle dog that takes its job seriously. It's interesting how 'friendships' can develop across species -- in this case among humans, dogs, and goats. That's not so surprising, I suppose, because we're used to domestic animals like cats and dogs becoming friends. But sometimes, a wild animal will 'play' with an animal of a different species. Why only this morning, I read of a 'friendship' between an Canadian Eskimo Dog and a polar bear. Yes, a polar bear! And not a tame one, either. The polar bear simply approached the dog, which was chained up and helpless, but instead of having the canine for dinner, the bear began to play! The games continued for several days as the bear visited again and again. This happened in the very northern Canadian town of Churchill, Manitoba, and you can see photos and read about it here.
The report reminded me of an anecdote that I read about 30 years ago. A pioneer family in the Rocky Mountains of the western United States had a little three-year-old girl, and one day when the father was out working elsewhere, the mother, who was working in her kitchen, glanced out the door and froze. A huge grizzly bear in the yard was standing on all fours and staring directly into the face of her little girl. The tiny girl reached up and slapped its nose, and that bear simply rolled over and let the girl clamber all over its belly for several minutes before it got back up on all fours and ambled off.
Odd, even mysterious things do sometimes happen in this world, as if through the universe were occasionally being sent a message to say, 'You see, there's also love.'
But some animals are too friendly when they see Aunt Pauline's goats, and approach out of ulterior motives:
We have lots of fun with the little animals, but have to watch the deer A mama deer brought her two babies in the yard yesterday and Uncle Woodrow clapped his hands at them as he worries they will eat my peas in the garden.Undoubtedly, they were more interested in peas than in goats . . . unless these deer were as carnivorous as those carnivorous sheep that I reported on over a year ago. Probably not, or Uncle Woodrow's clapping wouldn't have driven them off . . . and Sa-Rah wouldn't have received the pleasant email upon which I'm now commenting. But that unhappy ending didn't happen, so Aunt Pauline ends her own message with love to all:
I will run along for this time, tell all hello and we love you all . . . . . . . Aunt PaulineMy daughter, of course, has answered in an email with a message meant as much for me as for my aunt and uncle:
Dear Aunt Pauline and Uncle Woodrow, I would love to go to America and see you and Shiney and the boys. I wish I had a pet goat, too. I feel sorry for your goat that died. I wonder why it died. Anyway, I first found out from your email that children can have names like "Stormy." I wonder if that's her real name because it would be strange for an adult to be called "Stormy." I'd better visit you in wintertime so I can try your beans and other canned foods.As you see, Sa-Rah says the right things, asks the right questions, and even pushes the right buttons . . . but I still don't know about that vacation.
It is vacation time for me and En-Uk, but we haven't gone anywhere special with our parents yet. I think Mama and Daddy, especially Daddy, are very busy. I hope he has time to play with us and take us on vacation someplace special. I'll write sometime again. Love, Sa-Rah
Anyway, there it is, domestic life in the Ozarks.