Our livestock, ourselves
DebK of Rosemount reports: “It’s grief, I suppose, that has kept me from writing about the departure of Clarence, the Exuberant, from the ram pasture of St. Isidore Farm. A month has passed since Clarence, the first lamb I ever helped deliver, was wrestled into a horse trailer for his relocation to a sheep operation near New Prague, where after a difficult day or two he continues seeing — reportedly with exuberance — to the future of his species.
“The parting was inevitable. After six years of exemplary (though undeniably incestuous) service, which resulted in scores of fine lambs, Clarence’s continued attentions to our ewes posed a weighty problem of increasingly tangled genetics. My emotional attachment to Clarence being great, Taxman assumed sole responsibility for arranging his sale and installing a new ram, an enthusiastic young fellow named Anton (after Taxman’s paternal grandfather, who never got comfortable with either English or internal-combustion engines).
“A week or so before Clarence’s move to New Prague, Taxman and I made one of our whirlwind trips to Iowa, this time to attend a reception honoring my Cornell College voice teacher. For the time we were to be away, we were fortunate to secure the farm-sitting services of an erstwhile shepherdess. Taxman took care to explain to her that, owing to the ewes’ being ‘in season,’ as we say in the sheep business, Clarence was not to be allowed through the fence that separates his pasture from the ewes’ enclosure. Having received assurances that that requirement would be satisfied, Taxman and I headed blithely for Mount Vernon.
“We returned to a farm — and a farmhouse — in better condition than we’d left it and to a more-than-satisfactory report from the farm-sitter, who reported only one concern. She urged us to be on the alert for an early lambing or two. It turns out that she had witnessed the very activity that I have for years postulated as the explanation for our midwinter arrivals: lambs born impossibly early. She confirmed what I have long suspected: Clarence’s commitment to duty has resulted in his perfecting the ability to take care of business through the fence.
“Taxman, who has always pooh-poohed my theory about through-the-fence impregnations, had no difficulty believing our farm-sitter. As she treated us to every salacious detail, he listened with apparent annoyance, which built until he blurted: ‘I sold that ram too cheap!’”
Life as we know it
Birdwatcher in La Crescent: “I was working a volunteer job with another gal from our town. I am an only child, and I knew that she was from a large family, so I asked how many children were in the family.
“She said: ‘Eighteen.’
“My next question was: Since I am an only child, I would like to know what it is like to be in a family with that many children?
“Her reply was just one word: ‘Noisy.’
“I think somewhere between one and 18, there has to be a happy medium.”
The Permanent Personal Record
Tim Torkildson writes: “Subject: My chemistry set.
“Our basement on 19th Avenue Southeast in Minneapolis, where I grew up, was dismal and clammy. Scaly yellow mold flourished on the whitewashed cement-block walls, no matter how often my mother made me scrub it away with diluted Clorox bleach. The undulating cement floor was painted dark gray, and had begun to fissure — creating a welcoming abode for spiders and silverfish. The squat gas meter sat in one corner, looking like a goblin. Most of the basement was taken up by the massive cast-iron furnace, with hot-air tubes wrapped in asbestos cloth shooting out and up in all directions. Next to it lurked the green fuel-oil tank. My dad was in charge of watching the cracked and stained gauge on its side, so he would know when it was time to call the fuel truck to come fill it up again. This, like many other things in his life, he frequently neglected to do. I recall one Christmas Eve when the fuel oil ran out completely, and there was no fuel truck in all of the greater Twin Cities that cared to make a delivery that holy evening. We huddled around the gas stove, with the door open, as our only source of heat, and went to bed layered in flannel shirts, snowpants, and about a dozen wool socks on each foot. The bedroom was lit by the eerie green glow of dozens of Christmas candles, most of them reeking of bayberry, which mom thought would give us a modicum of heat through the frigid night. Dad had to pay a hefty premium, above and beyond the regular fuel-oil price, to get the truck out first thing on Christmas Day.
“The only bright spot in that embryonic dungeon was the laundry corner, which contained the washer and dryer, as well as an ancient cast-iron sink divided into two halves. Mom put yellow curtains up on the casement window and tacked cheery plastic flowers onto the sullen corner wall. She kept a radio tuned to WCCO on a small shelf next to the Oxydol and 20 Mule Team Borax, so she could listen to Joyce Lamont’s recipes and household hints.
“There was just room to squeeze in a small workbench next to the washer, where she folded and stacked laundry — and where I performed my mad experiments in chemistry and mechanics.
“I guess my curiosity about how things were put together, and what happened when you mixed one thing with another, was natural in a small boy. What was altogether unnatural, and severely irritating to my parents, were my surreptitious experiments on the basement workbench that resulted in disemboweled toasters and roaring stenches that would choke a goat.
“My experiments started out innocent enough: pouring vinegar over baking soda in a cup to watch it fizz and pop, or unscrewing the lid of a flashlight to see how the batteries were connected. Once I sawed a golf ball in half, to discover a tightly wound sphere of rubber binders that immediately began to quickly unravel, resembling a globe of thin worms twisting their way to freedom. The gooey black center of the golf ball dribbled all over the front of my shirt, the stain proving so reluctant to yield to my mother’s efforts to expunge it that she finally ripped it up for dust rags.
“But by the age of 7, I wanted to push the envelope a bit more. I took apart a transistor radio, spreading its wire guts all over the workbench. There were little brightly colored knobs and discs among the wires, which I sliced open with a pen knife to discover what their innards were made of. They didn’t seem to be made of anything, and so that exploratory surgery ended up nugatory —and when my older brother Billy finally missed the Realtone that had been in his shirt pocket the day before, I beat a strategic retreat across the street to my friend Wayne Matsuura’s house for the rest of the day, after sweeping all the tangled parts into the basement wastebasket and covering them with old newspapers.
“My infamous chemical exploits were inspired by a movie I saw on TV, called ‘The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.’ It starred the ineluctable Hans Conried as a mad musician who enslaves little boys and forces them to play on a gigantic piano, and was written by Dr. Seuss. At one point, the boy protagonist concocts a sound-sucking potion out of liquid odds and ends he finds around the room; the resulting brew not only vacuums up every decibel of sound but explodes in a most gratifying manner at the end of the movie. After seeing that, I was resolved to re-create the same results on my little workbench in the basement.
“I had received a Chemcraft chemistry set for Christmas the same year we had to cluster around the Kenmore to keep from freezing to death — so I immediately set to work on my sound-sucking formula. A little cobalt; a splash of rubbing alcohol; a touch of ammonium carbonate; gum arabic; and, of course, a generous helping of sulfur. My formula looked, and smelled, troubled, but not yet effective. So I added my ace in the hole: a cup of bleach. The results were spectacular. The plastic beaker melted like wax, so the formula dribbled off the workbench onto the cement floor, where it ate away the gray paint. The overpowering odor caused me to gasp and cough, and then tear up. The smell soon permeated the whole house, making it uninhabitable for a few hours, while all the windows were left open to air the place out.
“Here’s the funny thing, though: I no longer remember what dire punishment I received for my reinvention of tear gas. Likely enough it was a couple of swats on the rear with Mom’s hairbrush and then exile to my bedroom for a longish period, to ponder my misdeeds. As I stitch these little memoirs of my childhood together, I am often nonplussed by my lack of memory of the punishments meted out to me. Wholly justified they were, of course. But maybe there just weren’t that many, after all. Anywho. I know I always tried to show my own kids a little more mercy and respect than I seemed to get as a boy. Carpent tua poma nepotes.”
Everyone’s a (headline) critic!
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Clever headline.
“This was the headline on the front page of Sports in the Pioneer Press the day after the Vikings lost in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens: ‘NEVERMORE.’
“I wonder how many other publications had a Poe play on words.”
This ’n’ that ’n’ the other ’n’ the other
All from Al B of Hartland: (1) “Roadkill goes unmourned in the crisp, autumn air, unlike someone’s dented car.”
(2) “My father-in-law gave me a bird clock in 1997. It’s a field guide, featuring images of birds and authentic recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A different songbird gives voice to the top of each hour.
“The bird singing at noon is a house finch, an American robin sings at 1, northern mockingbird at 2, blue jay at 3, house wren at 4, tufted titmouse at 5, Baltimore oriole at 6, mourning dove at 7, black-capped chickadee at 8, northern cardinal at 9, a white-throated sparrow whistles at 10 and a white-breasted nuthatch heralds 11 o’clock. Darkness deactivates the sounds, allowing ears to sleep.
“I know when I hear the house finch, it’s either time to eat or to go to bed. When I hear the Baltimore oriole, it’s time to eat or to think about getting out of bed. When I hear the chickadee, it’s time to smile.
“The clock was a change from the cuckoo clocks I’d heard here and there in my youth. We weren’t fancy people, but an aunt gave us a used discount cuckoo clock that took a few hours off each day to rest up so it could utter a sound as if it were choking on a peanut butter on Wonder Bread sandwich.
“I’d miss the sounds of those birds if the clock my father-in-law gave me wasn’t hanging on a wall of my home. I miss my late father-in-law. It helps to listen to his birds.”
(3) ‘Some consider a blue jay to be a rascal who keep secrets, but this one is coming clean.”
(4) “Red-bellied woodpeckers and peanuts go together like peanuts and red-bellied woodpeckers.”
Our theater of seasons
Wayne Nelson of Forest Lake reports: “The turkeys are starting to show up again in large numbers in our back yard, to feed on the spilled bird food under the feeders. This was just one of around 30 of them this morning after our first snow.”
Joy of Juxtaposition
Email from Donald: “Recently, as I often do, I was reading the Pioneer Press while watching TV. Just as I was finishing an insert featuring Paul Molitor endorsing a medical plan, what should appear on my TV screen but the same Paul Molitor endorsing the same medical plan?”
Our pets, ourselves
The Hastings Crazy Quilter: “Subject: Favorite Vet Tech.
“For over 30 years, we have had Labrador retrievers. Our current dog, however, is quite different in several ways. She is a Catahoula Leopard Dog. She is smaller, with long hair, white with black spots, a luxurious plume tail, very polite (doesn’t attack her food), and pretty . . . and she knows it!
“When she was a puppy, she ate something in the back yard and got quite sick. She had to stay at the vet for most of one day and received several IV treatments of antibiotics and fluids. At the Hastings Vet Clinic, they have a vet tech sit with the dog while it is getting an IV treatment. The vet tech who sat with Urika was the one that frequently does nail trimmings. She sat with our dog, petting her, stroking her paws, giving her a nail trim and keeping her company. She became Urika’s FVT (favorite vet tech). To this day, whenever we take her to the vet, she looks around for the FVT — and if she sees her, she wags her tail so much, her whole body shakes.
“We recently had to take her in because she had a swollen nose that was leaking fluid and blood. (We suspected multiple bee or wasp stings. Stuck her nose where she shouldn’t have?) Due to COVID, the procedure is to drive up and park, and they send someone out to get your dog while you wait in your car. Then the vet comes out and consults with you, and then your pet is brought back out to you.
“Well, it was the FVT who came to fetch Urika, and was she happy! She didn’t even look back as she pranced off.
“Later the vet came out to talk to me, and I asked how Urika was doing. He replied that she was sucking up attention.’ I looked quizzically at him, and he further explained: When he came into the examining room, Urika was lying on her back with all four paws up in the air. The FVT was trimming one paw, and another vet tech was rubbing her belly.
“I think he should have taken a photo. Not all dogs think a vet visit is trip to the spa. Would have been good publicity.”
Now & Then
From jimmicks: “Subject: From the past.
“My friend ‘Richard Who Saves Everything’ decided to gift me with some items at our Veterans Day lunch.
“You never know when you might need some pineapple jam and a p38 to open the can. No need for the matches, but that C-ration toilet paper might come in handy if there is another shortage.”
Till death us do part
And: The great comebacks
Reports Tia2d: “Smart-aleck husband ordered dessert at the restaurant: a turtle sundae and ONE spoon. The waitress asked if I wanted dessert, and I (also a little smart-alecky) ordered one spoon. It didn’t work, but he did share the last few bites with me.
“It was good to get out and be with the vaccinated friends I’ve been Zooming with for a year and a half.”
The frontiers of graphic art (II) (responsorial)
John Sweeney of Roseville: “Elvis wrote about the confusion in the restroom signs.
“My wife and I have traveled a lot over the years and found the signs shown in these images from bathrooms, in Greece and Norway, very helpful.”
The sign on the road to the cemetery said “Dead End”
Electronic Board of the Church on Lexington in Shoreview Division
Our Official Electronic Board of the Church on Lexington in Shoreview Monitor — Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul — reports: “Subject: Welcome during any season.
“The most recent message on the electronic board of the church on Lexington in Shoreview reads:
“‘CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF
“‘LOVE . . . FULL FORECAST INSIDE’”
Kathy S. of St. Paul: “During the ‘kiss of peace’ in church this week, parishioners near a family with young kids taught them to ‘sign’ peace with the sign-language letter V — so we could welcome them from a safe distance. Go, kids!”
The Permanent Paternal Record
The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Geronimo!
“There is a time in every parent’s life when they realize that those little babies have taken on a life of their own and are flapping their wings at the edge of the crowded nest.
“For me it was a visit to Perkins on a Sunday morning in the late ’70s. As an estranged father, it was my weekend with the kids. My ‘little’ Amy quietly studied the lengthy laminated menu instead of coloring the placemat. When the waitress asked for her order, she inquired: ‘Can I get the everything omelet without everything?’ She had jumped and was on her way!”
Band Name of the Day: Altogether Unnatural — or: The Discount Cuckoo Clocks
Law Firm of the Day: Dismal & Clammy
Website of the Day: 2021 Global Photo Contest Winners