A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: February 2011

Pioneer Woman

What’s the worst word that can ever be uttered in Texas?
The schools shut down, the roads close, and the newscasters spend 24 hours a day reporting on the amount, kind, and location of the nasty stuff. To outsiders it seems a little over the top. Okay, a lot over the top. And when I first arrived from a lifetime of Ohio living, I joined the snickering group of Yankees laughing at the crazy Southerners.
Until I drove in it.
Up north they have this stuff called road salt. Truckloads of salt and chemical concoctions standing at the ready to sweep over the snow and ice, melting away the problem. Behind them comes the snow plows sweeping the roads clear.
In Texas?
We have like 3 truckloads of sand for the entire metroplex. And when that is depleted? Hope your pantry is stocked cause you ain’t goin’ nowhere.
Ice storms in the south turn the roads into palatial skating rinks, and since the cars have wheels and not blades… well you get the picture.
So earlier this month when the forecasts called for the biggest ice storms since the early 80’s, I rushed to Walmart with every other inhabitant of Wise County. The shelves were emptying quickly and the aisles were jam packed, but all shoppers were friendly and patient…a nice surprise.
Our little farm sits between two itsty bitsy one-car bridges on a quiet little county road. The fact is, being stranded out here is a real possibility. So we prepared like the pioneers prepared for the winter. We loaded up on hay for the cows, we purchased a generator, we gathered our batteries and firewood. We even filled our tubs with water to flush the toilets in case the electricity went out. Although we have a well, the pump is run by electricity. We did all of our laundry, dishes, and cooking needed for blackouts.
We had done all we could do, so we settled in for the night, wondering what tomorrow would bring.
We awoke to blinding light streaming in through our windows. The sun bounced off the 2 inches of ice covering the ground. The kids rejoiced at the ice-day off school and watched in awed wonder as 4 more inches of snow fell on top of the ice. It was beautiful. And we were stranded. We couldn’t even find our driveway, let alone traverse it.
We did experience a few small blackouts. And we had to continually take a hammer to the thickening ice in the stock tank. Getting the hay to the cows proved a little daunting, and the ice forming on their backs caused concern, but their coats seemed to thicken overnight and they huddled close together to keep warm. 
Overall it was awesome. Our little piece of paradise looked like a winter wonderland and the kids spent hours outside playing in the most snow I have witnessed in my 13 years as a Texan.
We were trapped in our snow lodge for over 4 days, but honestly it was more like a mountain vacation. Eventually the temperatures rose and the snow melted faster than seemed possible. Everyone groaned about having to go back to the real world. We all marveled about how it had been so much easier than we thought.
Then the washer broke.
I was prepared to rough it during the ice storm of the decade, but not when school, work, and sports were calling. I spent every evening of the next week washing clothes in the bathtub for those in need. A household of five people can really generate a lot of laundry in a short period of time. The most frustrating part? Every time a Hopper male walked into the bathroom and witnessed me hunched over the claw-foot tub, laughing ensued. No one had given any real thought to how their clothes were clean when there was no washing machine.
I’m pretty sure the washer quit because of the 10 plus wardrobe changes taking place hourly by the front door during the snow storm. It is impossible to find real winter clothing in Texas, so layers must be used to keep the frostbite away. Every time the front door slammed, I would walk up to a little boy stripping down to his skivvies, leaving behind piles of wet clothes. He would soon return with two more layers of dry clothes and head back out into the blinding whiteness. 
Thankfully the washer is now fixed, and we spent a lot of time getting reacquainted. Hopefully my days as pioneer woman are over.

Grant using the neighbor’s wakeboard as a snowboard.

See the driveway? Yeah, me neither.

  View from back porch.

 Eventually Andy was the only one strong enough to even break the ice.

Bunch of Bull

Know what’s scarier than two huge cows running at you? 
Four big ‘ole bovines chasing the tractor as you push that puppy into high gear racing to the feeder.
I have grown accustomed to the personalities of the mommas, they are slightly pushy, but regularly give in when pushed back. The baby bulls, however, are still developing their attitudes and from what I’ve seen so far, these boys are gettin sold before long.
If you remember, the mommas were named Jenny and Clara. I allowed the boys to name them since they were not destined for our kitchen table. I specifically told Grant and Sam that they could not name the babies since they would be sold. So imagine my surprise when I went to help Grant feed the quartet the other day and he called out, “time to eat Bolt and Steve.”
Who names a cow Steve?
Apparently Grant.
When questioned as to his name choice, he declared, “he looks like a Steve.”
Well, that is just an insult to Steves everywhere. This is the ugliest calf I have ever seen. I am sure he will make a fine meal for someone someday, but he is definitely lacking in the cute factor.
He is also the most skittish creature I have had the misfortune to be standing too close to. Luckily Missy (our catahoula) has saved me from his quick-as-lightning legs more than once, but his stupidity makes me nervous. He’s also so lazy that he prefers to nurse rather than chew.
His momma, Clara, is the thinnest of our bunch. We began providing extra hay in another bunk, assuming that since she is the meekest, the others were taking advantage. It turns out, only Steve is taking advantage. Rather than muscle his way to one of two feeding bunks, he prefers to just wait it out and nurse. Bolt, so named by a relative who had a pet bull during childhood, has weened himself and is more than willing to use his increasing weight to make room for himself during dinner.
Frankly they both keep me looking over my shoulder. Steve is frightened by his own shadow and Bolt has an attitude that seems destined for the bull-riding arena.
Bolt is handsome. For a cow. He looks like a shrunken version of those great big mean looking bulls in a field of heifers. He has no fear. He is already pushing the two moms around. So far his mom pushes him back. Limousin cattle are supposed to reach their full growth at two years of age. But the boys are already 2/3 the size of their moms and they won’t be yearlings until late July. So how big will they get if they grow for another year?!
Like everything else we have endured with these cows, there is gonna have to be some quick thinking. A departure plan if you will.  A corral to ween slacker Steve, and some research into cow sales. Then comes transportation.
Think they will fit in my truck bed?
The warm weather brings hope of green pastures. I admittedly will not miss the hay. Hay in my hair, down my shirt, stuck to my socks. It gets everywhere… like sand.
And cow patties. After a hard winter in Texas, we have enough cow patties to fuel heat for an entire third world country. Anyone want to start that business? You can have them for free, it will be our little contribution…

Jenny, Bolt, Steve, and Clara. Bolt and Clara are looking at the camera. Thankfully Steve’s head is hidden…

Friday Night Lights

I had heard the stories, but I mostly believed that they were idle gossip. Until I found myself driving 5 mph behind a trailer filled with hay. This sight may not seem unusual for the country, but this time it was a trailer bound for some country bling.
Flowers, banners, and Homecoming Queens.
Every street I looked down was filled with trailers being prepared for local sports teams, school clubs, 4-H-ers, and rodeo dudes. A parade to rival Macy’s was in the works and was hindering me from picking up my kids from school.
We never got to go to that Homecoming game, we were in the final week of house building, but I could feel the fever even from 5 miles outside of town. A drive through the town square took me back 50 years as every store window and lamp pole paid homage to the mighty Eagles.
I must admit, I am pretty excited about next year when we can partake in the festivities. I just hope Halloween doesn’t fall on the same day as Homecoming because I have been informed that it will be canceled.
Halloween… not Homecoming.
Well, we might have missed out on football in our new town but we were determined to find a place in the time of year known as basketball season. Grant, being in 5th grade, travels the county to play other small towns while Sam plays strictly in-town. Saturdays are filled with wooden courts, and sometimes juggling.. when the two boys have games at the same time across the county from one another.
Grant’s first game was away at a tiny little town 25 minutes yonder. I paid my way into the gymnasium and was instantly struck by the nostalgia of the old wooden court and ancient wooden bleachers.
The crowd was easily divisible by their colors of blue or green and shouts of encouragement echoed around the room as the players began their warm-up. I silently laughed at my naivety in small town patriotism.
Back during the first week of school, I had asked the kids about their elementary school mascot. They replied, “the Eagles.”
“Isn’t that the mascot of the other elementary school?” I inquired.
“Yes” came the reply.
“And the high school is the Eagles too right?” 
“Mom, everyone is the Eagles here. The whole town, blue and white everything.” the kids mocked me. 
This was completely foreign to me. The town we moved from had 27 schools in it’s district, each with their own mascots and colors. I had a hard time grasping the idea of the entire town being involved in and behind high school happenings. The confusion grew as spirit day rolled around on the first Friday of football season. Everywhere you went in town little girls were sporting blue and silver sparkles on their faces, and people of all ages were wearing the blue and white Eagle gear.
The sharp whistle of the Ref pulled me back to the worn gymnasium in which I was sitting. My swelling excitement became concern as the opposing team took their places on the court. What are they feeding the boys in this one-stop-town? They were huge! My concern turned into panic as the quick-handed boys in blue were sent skidding across the shiny floor by the giants in green.  My head was filled with the sound of pulsing blood, and the ear-splitting squeaking that sneakers make against perfectly polished court floors.
My eyes caught Grant’s where he sat on the sideline across the gym. I probably should have hidden my fear, but frankly it was all happening so fast! Grant’s gaze mirrored mine and he did his best to shrink into the concrete wall as not to draw the attention of his coach. The coach, whose hands could have been waving off planes, mimicked the coach of the opposing team and they seemed to be trying to out-shout each other. Parents were yelling out support and cheering was thunderous every time a team made a basket. The coaches were sending in new players and writing furiously on their white maker boards with new strategies.
Toto we’re not in the church league anymore.
I kept waiting for parents to get unruly, but it never happened. The air was filled with noise and yelling, but all involved were very supportive of the players on both sides. I sat stunned trying to make some sense of this new atmosphere in which I found myself and I suddenly understood.
Pride. History. Family.
New people rarely move into these towns far removed from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. The families sitting on those hard scarred bleachers are probably the same families that have been sitting in that gym for the last 75 years. Those parents screaming “rebound” are the same kids that shed blood and sweat on those floors a generation ago.
Grant has found the sometimes bloody competition a little too daunting for his taste, but Sam…well Sam is another beast entirely. Sam does whatever his coach tells him to do…with gusto. He spends the most of the game with his matched man from the other team safely encircled in his arms…cause the coach told him to not let that boy get the ball. He never actually touches the kid, cause the coach said not to, but he defintely is not gonna let that kid touch that ball. Even if it means bodily harm..his own of course. What most impresses me is his willingness to sacrifice self during the battle for the rebound. Once the pile of kids has been untangled, Sam is usually found at the bottom, stuck to the floor, holding the ball.
Andy and I often snicker as we hear comments from all around us of “boy that kid is gonna be a great football player.”
But right now I am having too much fun watching him play football on the basketball court.