Among the wildflowers

On the morning of Jan. 6, I said goodbye to my dog, the lovely and talented Mia Frances Goff. She was approximately 14 years old and had battled various infections for the last few months of her life.

miaI knew I made the right decision, but it was still hard to let her go. For nearly 13 years, she patiently listened to my rants about the outside world, brought dead rats to the back door, and allowed the cat army to use her as a pillow. She rarely barked and only acted aggressively when dogs charged at us during walks. She wanted in return only food, treats, occasional car rides, and attention. And to send me judgmental looks whenever I did something stupid like straddle the window ledge and a wobbly stack of cinder blocks.

When the time came, I realized I hadn’t considered what to do with Mia’s ashes. Fortunately, one of the employees at the vet’s office mentioned he knew a lady who had planted a tree with her dog’s ashes.

I liked that idea. A couple days earlier, I had dropped Mia off at the vet’s for observation and IVs. When I returned to my car that day, the first song that played was Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.” What’s more, I still had that free packet of wildflower seeds I had ordered from General Mills. I decided at the vet’s that I would carve out the area in front of my porch and grow a garden of wildflowers in honor of Mia.

With help from my family, that’s what I did. The packet didn’t contain many seeds, though, so I bought another one during a trip to Lowe’s.

Then, I waited for the flowers to burst forth from the earth, watering the garden on the rare occasion we went a few days without rain.

I waited weeks before I spied green emerging from the ground. But I couldn’t be sure if the green things were flowers or grass or weeds. One day, my sister said to me, “You’re growing something. I’m just not sure what it is.”

We weren’t sure because the green things had no buds. Still, they continued to grow and grow and even attracted the attention of a hungry bunny. Then, an actual weed – there was no mistaking it – showed up in the garden.

I was so upset by the appearance of that weed that I pulled it up and then moved on to those life-sized flowers or whatever the heck they were. As I did so, I ranted, “Why did you think you could grow flowers? You’ve killed two cacti and an African violet. You should invite the bunny and his friends over to feast on this greenery. At least they could get some good from this so-called garden.”

flowersAnd that’s when I saw them – tiny white flowers in the midst of all that greenery.

I stopped vandalizing the green things and enjoyed the splendor of those tiny white flowers. As I crouched in the middle of the garden, I imagined Mia’s reaction to my overreaction. I could see her pretending to mind her own business whilst stealing glances at me. And I could hear Tom Petty singing, “You belong somewhere close to me.”

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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For the record

Recently, I saw merchandise at the Supercenter the likes of which I haven’t seen in a store in more years that I care to admit.

No, I’m not talking about cherry cake mix and frosting. (Actually, I found and bought that a few months ago and, unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered.) I am, instead, referring to vinyl albums.

When I stumbled across albums amongst the fitness trackers, smart phones, and smart TVs, for a moment I thought I had discovered a time machine. Oh, I’ve been aware of the revival of vinyl for a while. In fact, some of my friends collect vinyl while others invest in it because they like the sound.

Apparently, they are not alone. According to Nielsen Music, more than 14 million vinyl units were purchased in 2017, marking the 12th consecutive year that vinyl had experienced a sales growth. The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road” were the two top selling vinyl albums last year. Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” also ranked in the top 10.

This resurgence, however, is not just due to nostalgia. Millennials represent a key vinyl demographic.

Although seeing the album versions of “Thriller” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” made me smile, I was not tempted to so much as check out the prices. For starters, I don’t have a record player.

What’s more, why would I buy something I already have? Of course, I’m not actually in possession of “Born in the U.S.A.,” but I’ve had “Thriller” since Jackson’s death. I didn’t have a record player then, either, so I’m not sure why I insisted on digging it out of my parents’ closet just so I could put it in a closet at my house. (If you think I could sell the albums for big bucks, think again. My research indicates that used versions of these albums could yield enough for me to fill up my car with gas and maybe, just maybe, have enough left over for a Wendy’s berry burst salad.)

Anyway, I haven’t listened to the albums in more years than I care to admit. This is due to, firstly, greatest hits compilations on CD and, secondly, digital music. Indeed, I listened to the entire “Born in the U.S.A.” album just the other day on a computer. And I didn’t have to walk across the room to change sides or worry about the music skipping because of scratches.

Don’t get me wrong. I miss the hiss of vinyl and the appeal of album cover art. Yet, in an age where people (not me, though), own devices that turn on lights and lock doors at the sound of a voice, I don’t understand why oodles of folks are returning to something that’s, at best, inconvenient. What’s next, the return of 8-tracks?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

My true colors

With a few exceptions, I prefer clothing that comprises the dark side of the color spectrum. Sure, I recently bought a red blouse, but for the most part, I’m a black, medium to dark blue, and gray type of gal.

Although I generally stick to this theme when covering myself, I don’t have a color scheme when it comes to covering the walls of my house. Indeed, my walls range in color from dark red to yellow to orange and to green.

I didn’t think my color choices were unusual until I heard a coworker note, with surprise in her voice, that every room in the home of one of her friend’s was a different color. “Oh,” I said, “that sounds like my house.”

Then, a couple years later, when a friend visited me, she told me that the experts on the home and garden shows would take one look at my bathroom and ridicule the green walls.

Then there was the time another visitor advised that my walls should be white or beige to increase the house’s re-sell value. Actually, for a few years, two rooms of my house were painted white and beige. For the life of me, I can’t remember why I selected such boring colors.

Anyway, I’m sharing this now because I’m planning to have the green bathroom as well as the orange bathroom and the orange bedroom painted. Although the seafoam green has served me well, I’ve never liked the orange, which looks like sherbet. Since I don’t like sherbet, I can’t for the life of me remember why I selected that shade.

After much deliberation – and by much, I mean that the deliberation lasted approximately eight months – I’ve chosen to go with a light blue for those rooms. I finally narrowed it to two hues, pale flowers and a new day, ultimately going with pale flowers because I preferred that name.

When I mentioned to a friend that I had initially considered something in the teal family, only to change my mind once I saw somebody’s freshly-painted blueish-gray wall, she said, “That’s right. Your walls are all sorts of crazy colors.”

She gets me and I get her, so I knew she wasn’t being rude about the matter. So I didn’t remind her that they are my walls. Not the walls of a hypothetical future owner. Not the walls of the home and garden folks. They’re mine. So when I’m considering a color to cover them, I ask myself, “Self, what do you want to look at every day? And, as a secondary factor, what are the names of your top paint samples?”

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Throw in the dish towel

dish towel

Photo courtesy SWX. Photography

When I was a wee lass, my mom used store-bought dish towels as well as those she referred to as feed sack dish towels. At the time, and for years to come, I never studied much on the origin of those plain white dish towels with the red edging. Indeed, if I thought of the matter at all, I probably decided there was no way those woven, hard plastic bags that contained the horse and hogs’ food rendered cloth dish towels.

Decades later, after I started keeping a house of my own, my mom gave me a few feed sack dish towels. As is my way, I used them until they contained holes and were coming apart. In spite of the fact that I could read through them, I would have continued using them had my mom not spied one during a visit to my house.

When I told her I didn’t want to relegate them to the rag bin, my mom offered to make more for me. I’m all for receiving free, useful stuff, so I said, “Sure.”

The second set of homemade dish towels were comprised of plain white ones as well as some that feature a light green and red floral pattern. Even though I’ve used them oodles of times, I didn’t try to connect the dots between my pretty dish towels and a feed sack. That is, I didn’t until this past weekend. For some reason I cannot explain, when I pulled one of the dish towels from the cabinet, I said to myself, “Self, did this dish towel really come from one of those woven, hard plastic bags that contained the horse and hogs’ food? If so, how did Mom turn it into cloth? Is she a magician?”

That evening, I asked my mom for the dish towels’ origin story. She once again told me they came from feed sacks. When I expressed confusion, my sister noted that Mom wasn’t referring to the aforementioned woven, hard plastic bags. As it turns out, back in the day, feed sacks were made of cotton. What’s more, in addition to making dish towels, my mom’s mom crafted dresses for her daughters from feed sacks.

As is my way, I needed to learn more about these feed sacks. I turned to the Internets where, in no time, I discovered that animal feed as well as pantry items like flour and sugar were sold in cotton sacks. Homemakers across the country figured out that the cotton could double as fabric. Once the feed companies learned of this phenomenon, they began printing patterns on their feed sacks.

Alas, the companies started using less-expensive paper bags in the 1950s, which put an end to the days of feed sacks doubling as high fashion. Fortunately, my mommaw amassed such a supply of feed sacks that her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are enjoying the benefits of feed sack dish towels more than half a century later.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

 

 

Making do with what you have

One recent warm day, my adorable great niece allowed her hand-me-down Barbie dolls to skinny dip in a cooler. (For what it’s worth, my niece also never dresses her baby dolls. Not even when they go to the doctor or to church.)

I smiled when I saw a photo of the naked dolls surrounded by water, ice, and the leftover refreshments my nephew-in-law had packed to work. My niece’s resourcefulness reminded me of how my Barbies and I had made do without a swimming pool.

Before I go further, I need to explain that I did not pine for a Barbie swimming pool. I had a Barbie Dreamhouse, aka the best Christmas present ever, and that’s all I wanted. But there’s no denying that Barbie dolls need to cool off. Even thinking about carrying around all that hair during a sweltering summer makes me sweat.

So, when my Barbies required a break from the humidity, I took them for a swim in a mud puddle. And not just any mud puddle, but the one created by the massive tires on the school bus. (For what it’s worth, my adorable niece calls mud puddles “muddy puddles.”)

Careful not to let the dolls’ hair touch the water – once you wet a Barbie’s hair, you might as well shave her head – I let them splash around in the water until their clothes and plastic skin became stained by the brown water comprising the makeshift pool. Then, I shook off the water and placed the dolls on the ground to sun.

Later, I washed away the grime and dressed them in clean clothes, accessorizing with matching earrings. And by earrings, I mean stick pins because my Barbies didn’t have store-bought jewelry. Although, technically, the pins were bought in a store, so I guess that’s not true.

I had to be careful when putting pins, aka earrings, in Barbie’s ears. Indeed, I had to insert them at an angle or the pins would protrude the other side of her head. Not only would this hurt her, but the pins would also pierce my fingers every time my hand accidentally grazed her head.

With my Barbies attired for an exciting night on the town, they hopped in their cars. And by cars I mean my coloring books, which I pulled around the room, because I didn’t have a Barbie car.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Take your medicine

The board game Loaded Questions tests how well players know one another by asking such questions as “What’s the best part of being sick?”

When that question came up during a rousing game of Loaded Questions, I gave the obvious answer – getting to take cough syrup. Of course, from the way my family reacted, you would have thought I had admitted to Robotripping. For the record, I do not get high off cough syrup. I enjoy taking it because I like the taste. (For what it’s worth, I also like the taste of generic, liquid Mucinex.)

Anyway, the best cough syrup cannot be bought in stores or prescribed by physicians. It can, however, be made at home with only three ingredients – whiskey, lemon juice, and honey. Although some folks refer to this potion as a hot toddy, my family and I simply call it whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney. Yes, that’s one word with no commas, spaces, or pauses.

When I was growing up, whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney played an important medicinal role in our household. At the first sound of a cough from one of his children, my dad would stop at “the top of the hill,” aka the friendly bootlegger, for one of the medication’s main ingredients. Then, my mom would mix up a batch. Those of us lucky enough to have contracted a cough would line up for a tablespoon of the smooth, sweet syrup that spread its warm healing powers from the top of our infected heads to the bottom of our aching toes.

I loved it. I loved it so much that when I got older, I self-medicated. At least I did until I could no longer find the jar in the cabinet. It seems like some people in my family didn’t want me to get better. I’m not saying this lack of access to a needed medication contributed to my paleness, but I’m not saying it didn’t. I guess we’ll never know.

Nevertheless, until recently, I had never made whiskeylemonjuiceandhoney. But with one of my sisters suffering from strep, bronchitis, a viral infection, and who knows what else, I intervened. I don’t want to sound like a braggart, but my first attempt was a success. I know this because I licked the spoon and held the measuring cup above my head, letting the excess elixir drip into my mouth.

Now that I’m in possession of our family recipe – equal parts whiskey, lemon juice, and honey – I’ve decided to make some cough syrup for my own use. In hindsight, I can’t believe I haven’t done so before. Think of all those nagging coughs it could have cured. Think of all those times it could have been the best part of being sick.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The legend of Big Tom’s Toes

My dad, the late, great Burton Goff, loved to work in his garden. And although not a worrywart by nature, Daddy fretted over the health of his plants. He worried that the blight would afflict his tomatoes, that bugs would ruin his potatoes, that birds would eat his berries, and that deer would trample and/or feast on crops in general.

In an effort to be proactive, Daddy sought advice on how to combat obstacles to a bountiful crop. In the last year or so of his life, one gardening issue in particular vexed him so that he contacted the extension office. I can still see him sitting in his recliner, poring over papers.

“What are you reading?” asked I.

“It’s from that professor,” he explained.

Thinking that Daddy had withheld from me his decision to continue his education, I asked, “What professor?”

He then explained that the extension office had sought counsel from a University of Kentucky professor on his behalf. He seemed pleased with the response, but I must admit that I can’t remember if we ever again discussed this topic.

Nonetheless, Daddy wasn’t afraid to experiment with different gardening techniques. He surrounded his beans in bright orange plastic fencing that could be seen from space because someone told him that would deter critters. That’s also why I passed along bags of used kitty litter to him and why he draped tape from cassettes amongst his plants.

Whatever he did worked. None of us ever went hungry. Indeed, we enjoyed our share of, in his words, “garden suppers.”

As much as I might want to believe it, though, Daddy wasn’t perfect. Indeed, he didn’t have much luck with his “cabbages.” But he always raised such a bounty of corn, potatoes and tomatoes that he had to give away produce.

And after all these years, I think we’ve discovered the secret to his success. It wasn’t his use of “Miracle Growth” or his dedication to hoeing. It was his seed collection.

Whilst going through a deep freezer in Daddy’s old work building, my sister, Pam, located enough tomato seeds to yield plants for decades. We had known for some time that Daddy stored seeds in the freezer. In fact, that’s where we found the peaches and cream corn seed that produced a harvest the year after his death. But we hadn’t paid that much attention to the oodles of seed saved in and on such miscellaneous containers as plastic freezer boxes, baby food jars and paper towels.

That’s right. He affixed tomato seeds to paper towels.

Who knows how many years those seeds have managed to remain stuck to paper towels. Who knows how long they’ve rested underneath the description, “Big Tom’s Toes.”

Although I am well-versed in Daddy’s unique vocabulary, this description stumped me. At first, I thought it might refer to Daddy’s great-grandfather, Tom Collins. But I had never heard the man referred to as “big Tom.” What’s more, Daddy wouldn’t have preserved his grandpa’s toes. Unlike at least one of his children, Daddy wasn’t morbid.

Before I could spend too much time trying to translate the sentence, Pam explained that it meant tommy toes. (For those of you not fortunate enough to have grown up in a holler, tommy toes are also known as cherry tomatoes.)

As a writer, I felt proud that Daddy had inserted the apostrophe in the right place. More than that, though, I felt happy to see his handwriting again. I imagined him placing the moist seeds on the paper towels and then rummaging through drawers until he found a marker. As he spelled out “Big Tom’s Toes,” he probably thought he would plant those seeds in the soil of the land that his family has owned for more than 200 years. If not the next spring, then another one. They wouldn’t go to waste.

Now that Big Tom’s Toes have been located, something tells me they’ll be put to excellent use.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.