Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Deed Provides a Need

When I tell people I teach middle school English, they laugh and apologize. When they hear I also teach high school public speaking, they moan. I am not sure which disturbs them the most--the subject matter or the age group.

But I am certain not too many people have ever known a high schooler to do this: hand a teacher the keys to her car and say, "I can walk or catch a ride with friends. You need a car worse than I do."

That is exactly what happened after Brooke Voth, a generous high school girl and daughter of a teaching colleague, learned that I had had a car accident in October 2000. She dropped her car keys into my sweaty hands when I was at middle school basketball practice and said, "You can use my car."


Here is Brooke, as a middle schooler after a big basketball win, her hand touching mine. It would not be the last time.

A few days later Peggy Gregory, another teaching colleague, loaned me a car they had available—that way Brooke could still use her vehicle.


The Gregory car starting acting up right about the time mine was finally fixed. It was only the alternator. Whew--I did not want to get the reputation of being a car-jinx. 

Paula, Brooke's mom, in pink. Peggy in the middle back. Jim Gillett on the left and Jack Goss on the right. Picture taken sometime between fall of 1989 to spring of 1993 because we are in the old jr. high. And yes, that's me--stylin' with those fold-over-the-waist pants.

Around the time this car accident happened, I had recently taken a Crown Financial Ministries course emphasizing a biblical approach to finances. I had been tithing faithfully, earning extra money by keeping the volleyball books at games, and sticking to my budget.

In addition, my car insurance paid a daily allowance towards a rental car for each day I was without my car. I called my insurance agent, Steve Pore, to make sure this was ethical. He said I paid for the policy and this was a benefit of it.

I decided to put the figures on paper for the three months I had been following that budget. To my surprise, I was more than even-Steven. I made money. Maybe only about seventeen bucks, but still--incredible.

For the second accident years later, yet another teacher friend helped me. Kay Wulf loaned me her car, and she drove her pick-up for a couple of weeks. 

Incredible. Students and colleagues alike prove that a friend in deed is a friend to one in need.

How about you? Ever had a high schooler surprise you with their thoughtfulness on a adult level? Or a colleague provide a basic need? I'd enjoy hearing about your experiences in the comment section below.

Kay with me after Wichita Music Theater in summer of 2014.

Writer's Note: My brand new Alero was barely one-year-old when she ended up in the body shop. For more details about the car accidents referred to in this post, read An Out Pore-ing of Appreciation.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Out Pore-ing of Appreciation

I have owned only two cars in my life. Both Oldsmobiles. Both spanking new when I bought ’em.

I know, I know. Drive off the lot—depreciation.

But I drive my car until it nickles and dimes me to death, like my ’87 Calais did, or it looks like an old tin can, like my ’99 Alero does now if you get too close to it.

I call it my rat trap. My husband calls it the space shuttle because he has a hard time fitting into it—roof too low. Next week, I'll write more about this faithful car of 15 years and the people who helped me when it was involved in two different accidents.

The poor Alero has a lot of chipped paint now. She got a bad paint job after my neighbor girl, who was not paying attention, hit my driver’s side back door on the way to school one day. The students outside heard the crash. This was long before I was married.

Only a little over a year old, the Alero received more than just a boo-boo in October 2000.

My second accident? My fault. Location: Zoo Boulevard and 21st Street exit ramp. Slow crash. When high schooler Kristen Allen asked me what happened, I told the truth. “I was stupid. Rear-ended some guy's pick-up when I was not paying attention.” No damage to the pick-up. Again, long before I was married. I have no pictures of my stupidity.

My husband is handy-dandy, even with mechanical issues, but all those years I was single, I depended on my dad, who was 600 miles away; Tom Nixon or Jim Kitchen, my car mechanics of choice at the Cheney Coop; or my insurance agent, Steve Pore.

Steve Pore
Next week, Steve is leaving as an agency owner after 37 years. I believe Farmers Insurance will treat me well, but I’ll miss the trusted voice on the other end of the phone.

Steve always put relationship first, never made me feel dumb for asking, patiently explained the differences between coverage plans, and talked me through home owners insurance when I bought my house.

When I wanted to move due dates around so it was not due in June when my car tags were, or in November when I was saving for Christmas presents, or in March when I wanted extra money to travel home for spring break, he worked with me.

Steve's response when I called him in 2000 when my car got hit? First he asked if I was okay, which I was, then he said, “Get off the phone, call your family and let them know what happened, and then call me right back.”

When I got my first speeding ticket (going 50-something in a 35--again, paying attention), Steve talked me through how long it would be before my insurance rate would get down to normal again.

And finally, after many years of Steve patiently encouraging me to do the one lump sum yearly payment and save money in the long run, I was able to. A Crown Financial Ministries study and Dave Ramsey course taught me to manage money better, but Steve never quit reminding me in his fatherly way.

On behalf of this ignorant girl you talked through insurance issues with, thanks Steve, for being a trusted adviser for my automobile and home insurance needs.

I'll miss hearing your voice on the other end of the phone when I finally save up enough money to buy the third new car of my life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Birds & the Beans

Grandma Katie's old transistor radio, a tube top, and short-shorts: my entertainment and attire for walking the soy bean field when Dad put me to work to pull weeds by hand.

Yes, I walked it.

And there were birds. Our farmland had lots of low places where water would reside and for some reason, birds like to nest there. And everyone knows how birds protect their young.

So this was another place contributing to my fear of the flying beasts--which to me, are flying mice!

Most of the time, I did not even know they were swooping at me since I was bent over yanking at weeds, but then came their screeching.

I could only handle that for about an hour at a time. Besides, I wanted to watch the Iran-Contra Affair hearings with Oliver North on television. Yes, I was a political junky even back then. Receiving decent reception on only two channels with one of them broadcasting it made for a captive audience.

Dad says now that he cannot believe he made me walk the soy bean fields, but I really did not mind. It was better than laying out to get a tan. At the end of the summer, I had a nice stripe on my lower back from that tube top pulling up.

And what about those birds? I was college-aged so the wash house days and hog house painting had toughened me up a bit. I would simply employ my "get out of here you birds" routine and keep working.

And speaking of soy bean fields, I did help with weedy beans at my brother-in-law Rick’s farm one summer. But he had a bean buggy, a tractor rigged with three to four raised seats fitted with a wand and a spray tank.

Now that farmers use more sophisticated ways of combating weeds, the thing is in storage. The tube top was burned, and my short-short sent to Good Will, but that transistor radio--I think it still works!

My sister Priscilla hunted down the bean buggy to snap this picture for me.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Inside Scoop & Swoop on the Farrowing Barn

Should mustard even be allowed as a paint color? It looks like calf poop.

That was the color I painted a red and white Wahoo farrowing pig barn when I was in junior high. Dad picked that color to match the other hog buildings we called the nursery and the finishing house. The building is shown during the painting phase in the picture below. Yep, that's me in front of it.

Childhood friend Debbie Goehring snapped this picture of me by the hogs during my 13th birthday party in 1979.

My dad and brother raised confinement hogs. That means some pigs did not see the light of day until they were loaded up for sale and slaughter.

It also meant I’d see frozen boar semen when I’d get ice cream out of the upright freezer in the entryway of our house.

Artificial insemination meant year-round baby pigs or baby pigs during the times of the year the farmer could handle the work. This process meant more money. And yes, sometimes it is all about the money. But at a cost. Those pigs lived in newer buildings than we did! The farrowing barn housed a full bathroom--newer than the one in our house.

It also contained a little waiting room with an old couch for Dad or my brother Elliott to nap on if they were waiting for a sow to deliver. Sometimes the gilts needed help. For those without an agricultural background, a gilt is a sow who's never given birth before, so sometimes they have trouble delivering.

One time, Dad had me stick my hand in a momma pig's womb because he could not get her to expel the litter. I used an old fish tank strainer without the mesh.

"Get the edges of that thing around the face and pull it out," Dad said. "Feel for the pig's ears. You can do it." It was slippery in there trying to get plastic-covered wire around a snout I could not see.

I tried and tried. "You've gotta get that pig out of her or she will die!"
Now don't get too grossed out. After the initial entrance, it wasn't that bad. Dad had swabbed my arm up to my elbow and in I went. The pig's womb felt clean, safe, and cozy.

Finally, out came part of an ear. Then another ear. Then a head. A body. It was as if I had torn it apart. But Dad assured me they had already been dead, and that I did not dismember a healthy baby pig. Who knows how long those deformed, dead piglets had been inside that critter!

My niece Colleen, ten years younger than I, tells of a time my dad, her grandpa, held her long hair out of her face while she attempted a similar task. See, our girl-hands were small, and that's why us youngsters were often enlisted.

The drama of pig delivery in the farrowing barn was mild compared to the drama on the outside of it--with--the--birds! Yes, I am finally getting to the bird part now.

The eaves of this building housed many nests for the barn swallows. They would swoop out of their nests while I painted the trim. My ladder was not up very high since the building was one story, and boy, did they swoop.

And swoop. And swoop some more.

Usually no screeching--just lots of swooping.


I hated it.

I was still working for that 10-speed bike, so I got through it. Mom would encourage me with common sense. “They are just protecting their nests that you are near,” she said.

Intellectually, I understood it, but these birds diving at my face was another contributor to the fear that other birds had already instilled in me when I was little. Read last week’s post entitled, "The Wash House: Bird Fear Begins" if you missed it.

At the end of the summer, I still had both my eyes and ears. And I don't think I ever fell off that ladder. Never had a bird poop on me either--not ever--I've jinxed myself now, you just watch.

But for my entire life, birds spot me and they just know. They may be just doing a normally fly by, but mostly they dive bomb and swoop.

Always have. Always will.

Now as an adult and in order to enjoy my backyard pavilion, I've learned to not scream every time one darts my way.

Whatever happened to that farrowing barn? See its weathered demise pictured below.

My sister Brenda shot this picture in the summer of 2010.

It's the gray building with the rusty tin roof way in the back of the picture. Not much mustard color left, and it almost burned down one time.

But as of a year or so ago, it no longer stands. My brother, along with his son-in-law, Erik who farms with him now, demolished it. It had seen its better days anyway, but what had lived inside it paid for my college.
Painting wasn't the only farm task Dad employed me to do that caused birds to be upset with me.

Next week I'll blog about birds' nests and weed-pulling and my dad's ever-dreaded holler up to my room, "Melodie, I've got a job for you."

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Wash House: Bird Fear Begins

I would like to thank the joker that had something sent to me in the mail. What was it? Something from the Auburn Society. How do I know it’s a joke?

Because it is about birds!

Anyone who knows me, knows I am afraid of birds. I have all sorts of reasons, so this is the first installment of a series of posts explaining my trepidation of the beasts.

They swoop at me. Always have. Always will.

It started when I was a little girl and would retrieve my bike from what we called the wash house. This little building stood near that junk pile I wrote about in the post entitled, "Procrastination Pile Removed."

The wash house is pictured below with my now 40-something nephew, Michael, on the three-wheeler. That little shack is where all my fears began.
the wash house: the palace of the birds

We butchered chickens in that wash house. Watching Mom clean out the gizzards was my favorite part. Got to see all the sand the chickens did not eat, and Michael played with the rest of the guts in the pail. 

The wash house contained what us Germans call, in Hutterish dialect, a wosh kassle. In English, it is pronounced voosch case-el, meaning wash kettle. It’s a large cast iron barrel with a chimney pipe. Here it is below after it got moved to the garage.

the chimney for this monster is setting over on the right

We did not heat things in the wosh kassle anymore when I was a kid, but since it did not leak, we would use it to soak the chickens in ice water after they were singed and plucked.

Here I am in the picture below doing just that on a hefty chicken. Behind me is the wosh kassle. Looking at how I am dressed, must have been a chilly day that year. I know, I know. It doesn't look like I am too scared of flying creatures, but these buggers were dead.
me--probably fake plucking to pose for a picture

Some of the windows to the wash house were often left open. The picture of Michael's mom below proves it. This is my sister-in-law Doris (whose wedding I discussed in the blog entitled, "Curlers, a Bra, and an Airplane Ride"). She is scalding the chicken so it can be plucked. See that window in the background by the old gas stove? It’s open! Yes, probably because we were working in there, but it was open when we weren't--trust me. And that stove was always filthy like that too--because of--birds!

Doris scalding a skinny chicken

Take a look back at the picture of the wash house. In front, you'll see some gaps between the boards. So, this little wash house had plenty of places for birds to sneak in. And when I’d go get my bike, guess what? They’d flutter and fly about because I had scared them.

But oh, how they scared me more! My screaming only made it worse.

Sometimes I’d have to wait until Mom was home from the field to get my bike out of there, and I got used to riding my banana seat with bird poop on it. Never paid to wash it. Yes, it was a boy's style bike. Mom insisted that it was built better due to that dumb bar. I hurt my crotch on it a couple times.

my old bike my husband Chris found, still full of bird poop, back in 2011 in dad's garage

But with age came guts, so I’d swing open the wash house door to startle those nasty creatures on purpose and yell, “Get outa here you birds!” Then I’d venture in.

Later, after that shed was torn down and the wosh kassle moved to the garage, I'd employ the same routine as a teenager to get out my 10-speed bike. I earned it one summer by helping scrape and paint our farm house. No, I didn’t paint the high peaks, my sister-in-law did that. I’ll have more about birds and painting in the next post.

Until then, do not send me bird pictures, bird jokes, bird clothing or any bird stuff—unless they are dead!

That reminds me. One time a shoebox ended up on my school desk as an end of the year gift. Inside this box I found a rudimentary casket scene.
I guess the 12-year-old thought it would scare me.

My response? “I don’t mind dead birds, Doug Hague. And since the live ones scare me, this is a great gift.”

The next year, Doug may have given me a stuffed parrot that talked when I shook it. Or, it may have been from Todd Howard--I don't remember! I have received so many fowl gifts throughout the years.

I have considered telling my students I hate dogs so I’d get cool, canine stuff instead of bird crap.