I never do paid posts but I’m doing this one for two reasons. 1) Because I was already going to write about this. Stick with it and you’ll see why in a second, and 2) because the 8th Annual Jame Garfield Miracle is going on and I needed more money to help kids in need and this was a super easy way to do it. So if you’re reading this, you are helping needy children. EVERYONE WINS.
So, StoryWorth advertised on my blog this year and I loved it so much I paid full price to buy one for my dad. Here’s how it works: StoryWorth emails your family member weekly story prompts in the form of questions. They reply to the emails and you get to read their amazing family stories that you never knew existed. Then at the end of the year StoryWorth binds the years worth of stories into a keepsake book. My dad has been doing it for about six months and the emails I get with his answers are so insane and lovely that I often have to call and ask, “Is that true?” Stories about my grandparents and great grandparents that I may never have known are now being shared with family. It is awesome and I highly recommend it because it’s a gift for you and for them. It’s normally $79 but right now (until 1/31/18) it’s only $59 through this link.
The stories my father shares are really too good to keep to myself so I’m sharing a few snippets of my favorites here. You may think they’re strange and terrible but I love and treasure them. I suppose that’s how family stories work though. (BTW, Nelda is my mom. She types the answers as my dad dictates.)
Have you pulled any great pranks?
I was prying something loose one day, and I broke off half the blade of my skinning knife. Stupid! Now the six-inch blade was only three inches long. It was now perfect for prying things loose, but it was also perfect for a practical joke.
We have an electric knife sharpener at the taxidermy shop, and I don’t allow anyone to use it except me. If you’re not paying 100% attention to what you are doing, the high-speed sharpening wheel can throw the blade back at you. Bad news.
I went to my own working area where I hide from the other workers and went to work on my joke. I super glued the tip of my broken knife blade to the inside of my inner right arm. Next I built up the wound area with 2-part epoxy. It’s a product we use in the taxidermy shop like modeling clay to make artificial skin on a mount. I smoothed out the epoxy, texturized it to make it look like my own skin and modeled it to look like that knife is really embedded deep in my arm. I used an airbrush to paint the epoxy area to match my skin. Next I feathered in some white, purple,and red paint to make a realistic cut. Finally I mixed up some blood- red and black paint. I added a little glycerin to give the fake blood a wet glossy look. I poured the blood where it needed to be, and splashed the rest on an old rag that I used to cover the gag.
I staggered into the shop and sat down, not saying a word.
Don was the first to notice the blood. “Holy Crap! What did you do?” Helen came out the office, and I removed the blood-soaked rag to show my work of art. Everyone gathered around me to either gawk or help. Helen hollered out, “Don’t put it out. He’s on blood thinners! He”ll bleed to death!”
No sooner did she say that, Jonathon grabbed the knife and pulled it out. I quickly covered the wound with the bloody rag. I figured the joke was over till Jonathon looked at the knife and screamed, “It broke off in his arm!”
I didn’t get any compliments for my realistic art work. I cleaned up my mess and came back in the shop. I sat down next to Jonathon and asked him if it looked real. He said. “Yeah, I thought it was real……..What are blood thinners?”
What have you changed your mind about over the years?
I use to think that dogs are a man’s best friend, but I’ve changed my mind. Dogs will always forgive you quickly if you ask them to, but they don’t do laundry, they don’t cook, they don’t scratch your back, and they don’t clean house. They are pretty good at doing dishes, as long as you smear left-over gravy over the whole plate.
I use to think that a loving wife would see the humor in that previous paragraph. Dogs will still always forgive you quickly if you ask them to.
I use to think this was funny.
If you could choose any talents to have, what would they be?
I asked Nelda what this question meant. Any talent? She suggested singing, or playing an instrument , or maybe x-ray vision. X-Ray vision might be cool only if it is selective. Some old fat guy crossing your path of vision could ruin your day. A cute young chick could also ruin my marriage. I’ll stick with my near- sighted astigmatism with floaters.
I already sing beautifully. I have that talent even though no one else thinks so. My ears are so good that in my head the notes sound pitch perfect. Self corrective hearing is what I call it.
I might like the talent to finish everyone’s sentences before they could say it. Unfortunately I hang around a lot of people that don’t make a lot of sense. I’m not going to take credit for a bunch of nonsense.
I would like the talent to communicate with animals. I would like to understand their thoughts. Someday I will.
What is one of your fondest childhood memories?
One of my fondest memories is going perch fishing with my mom. When I was about five years old, I got the fishing bug. I couldn’t get enough fishing. My dad had a farm out at Eola, about twenty miles from home. The whole family would pack up before daylight, and drive out to the farm to work. My dad would usually be on his John Deere tractor. My mom would be either building electric fence or picking rocks out of the field. My sisters would be together hoeing weeds. I, being the baby, stuck with my mom. We would work till noon, and then drive to our neighbor’s pasture to have a picnic lunch. A small dirt tank with green water surrounded by large mesquite trees was one of my favorite places to spread out our homemade quilts, and rest in the shade. We would eat bread, summer sausage, longhorn cheese, and drink Cragmont orange soda water. After lunch, I would get out my cane pole. I always saved some of my lunch to use for bait. Those perch would bite on anything, but bread was my favorite cuz it stayed on my hook the best,
My dad would usually sleep and rest while my mom would watch me fish. She was actually watching a five year old kid making sure I wasn’t gonna fall in the water. The fish would bite as fast as you put the hook in the water. They weren’t very big, but I kept anything that had eyes. I even kept a little turtle. When I caught a water snake, my fishing was over.
Have you ever won anything?
The last year that the famous Sam Lewis put on the World Champion Armadillo Races, I won. Actually, my armadillo won. All I did was get behind Army and stomp and holler and chase him across the finish line. I guess I came in second. I released the armadillo back in the woods, but I kept the silver ring. My daughter Jennifer has the ring (I think).
I probably wouldn’t have given her the ring if it was gold.
What inventions have had the biggest impact on your day-to-day life?
The cube is probably the greatest invention of my lifetime. Before the cube, there was really not much stability in my life. Spheres were the rage when I was growing up. How can one build anything on a sphere? No matter how you slice it, you end up with just a lot of wheels.There was hope for wheels in those days, although someone took the idea too far. The whole world revolved around wheels and anything that could be made with them. Donuts were one of my favorites. It was like a wheel inside of a wheel. Clever. But look at a really fat donut from the side. It’s a cube. Give the cube the credit due. You eat a donut from the side, don’t you?
Cubes were the true building blocks of the future. The Egyptians knew this. They even made huge cubes all over their back yard. Then they sliced the cubes diagonally, tipped them over so they would rest on their most stable side, and “BAM”! They had yard art that would last for decades. People would ride by, see the yard art, and ask the age-old question, “Do you think that’s a cube cut in half on its axis, or is that cube half buried in the sand. If someone ever invents the wheel, we could build a big bulldozer and find out.”
Ice cubes. How would you like living in this planet without ice cubes. Sure, there’s people up north that don’t appreciate ice like we do, but what if they want to sit down for a while. Up north, chairs don’t grow on trees, but a big cube of ice would make a wonderful chair. You could probably build a house out of ice if you had enough of it laying around. An air-conditioned house. With an ice box.
I really don’t dislike spheres. After all, a sphere is just a well-rounded cube that likes to travel.
I changed my mind. My favorite invention that has changed my life is a 19 volt battery-operated screwdriver with an extra lithium battery. Made by Craftsman.
How has the country changed during your lifetime?
The country hasn’t changed at all. The cities are all screwed up. I lived in the country when I was a kid, and I live in the same country now. The trees I remember as a kid seemed to be a lot smaller back then. The country roads I use to walk down seem to be a lot shorter when I drive them.
Water skiing, tubing and fishing wasn’t good at all on our local lakes, but I got pretty good at skipping rocks. The trick was to find flat rocks about three inches across. If you could find rocks that were flat on the top and bottom, you were in business. With a little practice, you could get thirty or more skips out of one perfect rock. You could get even more skips if the lakebed wasn’t sandy. When you found that perfect rock, you didn’t squander it. You walked out in the lakebed and retrieved it. Once when I was retrieving one of my dad’s washers (sometimes I used artificials),I found a rowboat. It was a Sears/Roebuck 10 foot aluminum just like the ones in the catalogs. This boat was mine.There wasn’t a drop of water in my new boat, and I started dreaming about all the adventures I would have on Lake Nastywater. (We use to called it Lake Nasworthy, till the water level went down and old tires messed up our rock skipping). I named my boat S.S Minnow. Gilligan’s Island was my favorite after school tv show. I liked Gilligan the best, but Ginger and Mary Ann got a lot better over the years. My Dad enjoyed that show too. I knew he was really gonna get excited when I showed him The Minnow. We walked out on the lake and gazed down on our boat.
“Oh My Gosh! Look! ” Daddy saw my boat. He was excited. He peeled off his sweat stained farmers hat, smiled, sighed, and said something that I couldn”t believe. “There’s my old boat.”
“What! Your boat?”
“Sonny, I lost “The African Queen ” about forty years ago.” I was noodling for yeller cats down here when this was the Middle Concho. You know what noodling is……Catching them with your hands. It wasn’t against the law back in them days. Now, they would throw you in the pokie. I found this big rock right here and knew this was where the big one lived. Right under this rock. Your Uncle Sam, my older brother, was a better swimmer than me ,and he had more experience at catching big fish. Sam jumped in the water, took a deep breath, and went underwater. He came back up about 30 seconds later ,and told me the good news. “There’s a big hole under that rock, and there’s a catfish down in there. His head is as big as a five gallon bucket. As soon as I catch my breath, I’m going for him. My brother, Sam went under. He was down there a long time. He was down too long. I jumped in the water, and found the hole that Sam had entered. I reached in, and found Sam’s legs kicking up a storm. I grabbed his legs and started pulling him out of the hole. It was a struggle,but I pulled him out. We surfaced, and Sam was as white as a sheet. We looked around and couldn’t find “The African Queen”.
We sat up on the rock, Sam caught his breath finally, and told me what happened.”That monster fish was deep in the hole. I was rubbing his belly with both hands. My arms were extended, reaching for his gills. He kept swimming further in the hole. I didn’t realize that the hole was getting tighter, and I was running out of breath. My arms were out in front of me, and I couldn’t push my way out. I was stuck underwater. I was ready to give up when I felt you pulling me out. You saved my life!
We reached down to release our boat from the encrusted mud, and it proved to be a lot lighter than expected. There was no floor in the boat. It had rotted out years ago, but it still held some shared memories for my dad and me.
Uncle Sam and Daddy are both gone now. Maybe they’re floating down the Middle Concho in an old rowboat with a floor in it. Maybe they’re fishing for big yeller cats. They’re not noodling though because Sam promised God that he wouldn’t fish that way anymore.
Do you have any particularly vivid memories of your grandparents?
All of my grandparents were Czech. They didn’t speak English but they were successful farmers. They figured out early in life that to be wealthy, you had to have good discipline. They saved their hard-earned money that they made sharecropping. Then they bought land. They made do with growing their own fruits and vegetables. They raised chickens for eggs and meat. They had cows that they milked daily and butchered their own beef and hogs.They made their own clothes, churned butter, canned produce from the garden, made cheese , flour, cornmeal, and bread. The only thing easy on the farm was falling to sleep at night.
Butchering hogs in those days was a big deal. There was too much work for one family to do all the work in one day. There would also be too much meat and sausage to cure, smoke, and package. The meat from a three hundred pound hog would go bad before one family could eat it.
When the first cold day would come around, all of the aunts, uncles, and third-generation heathens would meet at my grandparents house with all their butcher knives, tow sacks, hog scrapers, seasonings. We were having a butcher day. There was going to be a lot of work and a lot of fun for everyone except two fat hogs.
The women would build a big hot fire under a wash kettle full of water. The men would get the hogs up out of the mud, and wash them off. The hogs didn’t know what was going on with all this special treatment, but I bet they thought they were family and they were being invited for dinner. Smart pigs.
My uncles would build a sled,and then would position our dinner guest close to it. A shot would ring out and an unhappy but short squeal would alert the second dinner guest that now might be the time to cancel his reservation. The relaxing swine napping on the sled would be given a ride to the kettle area. Tow sacks (burlap bags) were pulled out of the boiling water and spread over a portion of the sleeping porker. The scalding loosens the hair on the pig and a dull butcher knife is used to scrape the hair (root and all) off of the pig.
The whole process is repeated on a new area of the pig until the whole hog is as balded as the top of my head. That pig is also pretty and pink like the top of my head.
Now it’s time to gut the clean “organ donor”. The liver, kidneys, and heart are saved. The small intestines are also saved. It was my job to clean out the green juice out of these long tubes. I liked attaching a garden hose to one end and let the water pressure do the work. My job was taken away from me because of the mess I made all over the porch. I think years later Whamo made a fortune with a toy called a Water Wiggle. I guess I was just ahead of my time on inventions, but my marketing skills had not yet been perfected. Sometimes, poop happens.
The rolls of fat from the hog is collected for later use. The ashes from the fire were shoveled into a tilted wooden trough. Water was poured over the ashes and drained into another container. This was lye. The fat is put in the kettle and rendered down to lard. Some of the lard was saved to cook with. It was poor man’s shortening. Then the belly meat and flanks were cut up (with the skin still attached), and the small pieces were fried in the lard. This was cracklins. You eat them hot with molasses and homemade bread. You now have a lot of lard in the kettle. Dump the lye in with some kind of perfume and boil the devil out of it. Let the whole mess cool down and you got soap. Cut the soap into bars with a butcher knife and let it get cold. It will last forever. I think it has such a long shelf-like cuz no-one wants to use it. It stinks, and it takes your hide off with the dirt. It will cure a young boy from cussin .
Cut up the pork chops,cure the bacon, cure the hams and hocks, and start turning the grinder. It’s “SAUSAGE TIME”.
Those casings that were rescued from me are refilled with seasoned ground pork and tied into links. Hang ’em in the smoke house.
It’s now pretty late, and everybody’s tired. We sample the sausage and clean up the huge mess. I clean the front porch.
I give Babuska (Grandmother) a hug goodbye. I smell like the front porch, but she returns the hug anyway. That was sixty years ago, but I can still smell the aroma of fresh baked poppy seed kolaches from her homemade apron.
I still smell like her front porch.