COUNTRY ECHOES

SOME FACT AND FICTION FROM MY CHILDHOOD

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R. R. 2, Brandon, Wisconsin 53919

'Mae!' A short pause. 'Mae!' The voice was insistently determined. I turned reluctantly toward the call, then answered.

'Yes Mother. I'm coming.'

Why they always had to interrupt my preaching to the chickens was an unanswerable question. My chickens may have been a sleepy congregation but at least they had sense enough to go slowly on a hot day. They stretched their legs contentedly into the powdered earth.

'Mae,' the voice came again, 'don't forget to feed the hens at five o'clock.' OH JOY! THAT WAS ALL? Don't forget to feed the hens? I WAS feeding the hens -- spiritual food --, and I could now proceed for at least another half hour. That would leave time enough for the physical.

Perhaps it was a strange pulpit I was using - fence posts neatly crisscrossed for drying. The pile was at least six feet high. It seemed to be a yearly addition to our dooryard. The hens loved to dust themselves in the shadow they provided and many had now expertly wriggled their plump bodies into their individually preferred excavations.

Mother stormed about those 'awful holes' every year, and in her more irate moments erupted, unannounced from her shuddering back door wielding a waving broom or a threatening dish towel, depending upon the extent of her aggravation. It was then that my congregation took to the burdock patch to the northwest of their communal house.

But my chickens always returned to their dusting area and usually any lazy summer afternoon I could find my dust-laden posts surrounded by my dustier audience. Ah! They were not afraid of their minister! They hardly moved as I approached. This wasn't my mother with her beastly broom of considered extinction. This was Mae, their itinerant preacher, bringing them first a solo, sung in the grand grown-up lady manner, then a prayer, and a sermon straight from The Word.

Perhaps they suspected that this was the youngest of six children trying to get somebody to really listen to her. Could this have been the basis for our human and feathered affinity? It could also have been that they knew I secretly hated washcloths. I admired the way chickens could shake themselves and have the clean-up job completed as quickly as I could say, 'In the beginning --.'

Mae had to be hauled to the sink at least three times a week for a good going over. Mother would get that determined look in her eye and say, 'Mae, you are getting that grimmy look again. When did you wash, really good?' I was glad she had learned not to expect an answer. Shucks! I couldn't remember! Washing was so unimportant. And then I was apt to hear, 'I never have to tell Margaret to wash. Why must you be such a little ?' I was glad she had stopped before actually comparing me to another group of livestock we habitually sheltered on our surrounding acres. Their little three-cornered coops were awfully smelly.

Mother was brisk, but also kind. Dirty or not, I was her child and after the daily meals were finished, her ample lap always cradled my head. Mother sensed I still needed my three-meel-a-day loving and as she discussed the news of the day with my brother, Charlie, her right hand made rythmic little drumming patterns on the oilcloth table covering. Her left hand caressed and patted my 'grimmy' head. The four older sisters commented wryly 'that they pitied any man I would ever marry. Why! I would love him to death!' But Mother knew I needed more love because I had to buck up against the four of them.

That is the way Mother was, always active, and very sharp. She was a fine disciplinarian, and while sometimes my rebellious young heart would seek the easy way out, Mother knew she had to bear down on me harder than some of the others. She knew there was a presentable side to me as well. You should have seen me in my white summer dress with a ribbon sash and a matching ribbon in my hair.

Sundays were very special at our house. Mother often managed to pick a chicken or two out of the sweet apple tree. She could make chicken dumplings which I shall never forget. How eagerly the platter of fowl and the bowl of dumplings were passed around the table.

Nor will I ever forget that table. It was a wobbly one in spite of all attempts to stabilize it. Therefore, we were regularly reminded, 'Don't bump the table or you'll spill the coffee and the water.' This admomition was served up with every meal. But it wasn't only our dining room which had unreliable fixings.

The living room was illuminated by a silver-colored hanging lamp with a transluscent white shade. Ah! The joy of it! It gave such a lovely soft light until - until --. How it all started I will never know. One evening Mother appeared with a broken chimney from this, our favorite lamp. She always kept an extra chimney on hand so we soon had our light shining again.

Our joy was short-lived. At the end of about an hour 'CRACK' went our new chimney without any apparent cause. In the weeks that followed there was broken chimney after broken chimney. 'CRACK' would go a chimney in mid day, 'CRACK' went another at midnight. Whether or not the lamp was lit was of no consequence.

Pressure, drafts, wick heat, all were taken into accord. We had used this lamp for years, and now we had only broken chimneys. The mystery was never solved. Both lamp and shade were relegated to the attic.

As I think about it now, Praise God, the message which I was bringing to my odd congregation still has nary a crack in it. It is living truth! It surely should remind us again to 'not set our affections on things of this earth.' A generation past, or now, today, it remains the same. June or January, rain or shine, there is no difference. And the best part of all, it is for eternity. And, I've come to the conclusion after a final reading of this that it is all fact, and no fiction. Also, I would much rather speak and write for people.