Archive for the ‘Tea and Tough Cookies’ Category

Brew your perfect cup of tea and sit down with me. It’s been a while. Let’s chat.

In today’s story, we’ll tip our hats to a tough cookie of the male gender, my brother, Richard. I’m not sure how excited he would be to be called a tough “cookie.” I think he might prefer simply, “tough.” We’ll deviate slightly for his sake. You and I can sip on tea and snack on cookies, but Richard is one tough hombre.
Richard, the Cool Guy

To set the stage, I have to tell you that Richard was born when I was three. I was proud of him from the very beginning. Mother says that when he was a baby, Richard could talk, but he didn’t have to. I did that for him. If he squeaked or squawked, I translated, “He wants this” or “He wants that.” He let me do his talking for him for a while, but that did not last long. He has always known how to be heard without a bossy big sister barging in.

Proof that my brother was tough. Or was it me? He bit me while my mother went to fetch the camera.

Growing up with him in Nevada was never dull. We lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills and created many adventures in the sagebrush based on Daniel Boone, Gunsmoke and Wild, Wild West. We hiked, fished, camped and hunted in those mountains with our family.

Richard and me ~~ goofing around in the Sierra Nevadas on a fishing trip

Zoom forward a couple of decades and this story takes place in Oklahoma, where we all ended up on the prairie. Like many of my stories, this one takes place on a Sunday in the Bible belt.

I made my way to the driveway and our red, family van with my three little daughters, dressed to the nines for church.

In Oklahoma, you can expect anything, and I do mean anything, by way of critters working their paths across the plains. This Sunday, on this territory, (mine, to be exact) the critter was a skunk. That’s certainly not uncommon. My usual response to them is, run fast, run far.

This day, however, the skunk was not walking. It was weaving. It appeared to be a drunk skunk. On a Sunday. A heretical, whisky-drinkin’, drunk skunk. It looked rough, like Rowdy Yates had practiced for Rawhide, up close and personal on him. Scrawny, scroungy, damp and scary. We’re not talking cute little Pepe, here. If you’ve ever seen a live skunk within a few feet of your person, you know fear. To protect themselves, skunks can be vicious, (odor not withstanding.)

This skunk had either been attacked by another animal and did not fare well, or it was rabid. That appeared to be the most likely possibility. It was a sad inevitability of life in the country.

The girls were already in the van. I ran back into the house and called my brother. He lived next door and the skunk was winding through the property between our houses.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

“Skunk on the road! Rabid, I think! Get your gun!” I was worried, of course, about being sprayed and of rabies, but the skunk was miserable, too. He needed to go to skunkie heaven. (Where is that? A sprawling meadow where they chase dogs and spray all day?) (A vast field of daisies where they chat with Bambi, Thumper and Flower?)

In a few moments, dressed in black jeans and a black shirt, as if he knew his role, Richard came swaggering out of the door, John Wayne style, with the rifle.

I heard echoes of that famous, haunting flute whistling the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” floating on a breeze in the background.

Richard, i.e.: Hondo methodically surveyed the scene. Yep. He agreed. It was not pretty.

In slow motion, he carefully lifted the barrel, sighted the mangy critter, and with one shot, “Boom!” In True Grit style sent the pitiful, striped stinker to the happy hunting ground.

Richard tipped the barrel of the shotgun up, blew the smoke off like he was Adam in Bonanza, propped the gun skyward over his shoulder and did that slow swagger back to the house. If I had not just witnessed the scene, I would have sworn he had shot a bull-elk or a bear.

I know that I heard that great cowboy-in-the-sky whisper from the clouds, “I never shot nobody I didn’t have to” and “Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.”

Mesmerized, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I turned to my impressionable little girls. They sat wide-eyed behind the van window. That day they learned that life is sometimes hard, cruel, and somewhat frightening.

At the front door of his country home, Richard turned slightly and tipped his finger to the front of an imaginary cowboy hat. The Legend vanished until the next episode.

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Lions and Tigers and Chiggers, Oh My!

Make yourself a tall glass of iced-tea and chill out with me.  We’re going to talk about bugs . . . but don’t sweat it . . . that’s what the tea is for.  :^)

This summer has brought record temperatures across the U.S.  In my parents’ yard in Oklahoma last week, it was 119(F).  Yes, it’s been almost unbearable.  I am astounded that the heat has not killed off the bug population.  Instead, they seem to be thriving.  The grasshoppers have taken over my yard.  Not only is everything brown, it is bare.  I’m happy that something is prospering and oh-so-glad that I can keep something alive in my yard.  If it’s bugs, well, so be it.

In Oklahoma we have little invisible bugs called chiggers.  These little dears lurk in anything green, especially tall grass and weeds.  If you even just brush by them, they will find you.  They like to burrow into your skin around the tight spots . . . waistbands, leg openings . . . “snug as a bug in a rug” comes to mind here.  The itch that they create is pure misery.

When I first moved to Oklahoma, I was horrified with the scope of bug potential.  My first run-in with a tarantula came early on.  (Story to follow at a later date.)  ;^)

Chiggers . . . I remember finding out about them when we would come to visit my grandparent’s farm while I was growing up.  Between the humidity and the bugs, I did not venture outside much.  The family loved to make home-made ice-cream and visit out in the yard.  Me, not so much.

(This is me around age 18, visiting Oklahoma ~~ waiting for the home-made ice-cream while my Uncle the Cowboy makes fun of me for not putting my feet on the ground.  Chiggers, ya’ll!!!)

After moving here, I did find that there were remedies.  My dad douses himself with vinegar after a jaunt in the garden.  One of the area pharmacists whips up a secret-ingredient cure.  For years I used rubbing alcohol and hydrocortisone.  Lately, I’ve resorted to a natural remedy.  A few drops of lavender in a carrier oil works like a charm (before an outing to prevent or after one to soothe.)

I discovered last week that Florida has a critter called “no see ‘ums.”  It puts the chigger to shame.  My daughter was covered in bites before we even knew there was such a bug.  There were about 50 bites on each limb and countless others over the remainder of her torso.  We’re not sure if they found her while on the beach or if they were in the house.  But she was miserable and ended up going to a doctor.  Kind of makes a vacation not so relaxing.  You wouldn’t think that something so small could produce such wretchedness.  It’s enough to make a tough cookie yell, “Mercy!”

I have a friend in Scotland who says that “midges” keep tourists off of the island he lives on in certain months of the year.  That could possibly be a boon to the locals’ privacy.  It sounds like midges are the ultimate tourist deterrent!  I know that when I go to visit in some distant moon, I will schedule the trip in the midges’ “OFF” season.

I thought about posting pics of all of these creepy-crawlies for you, but they’re too ghastly for me.  Just Google/Image it if you’re the brave sort.  ;^-  (In my opinion, enjoying photos of disgusting insects does not a Tough Cookie make . . . . )

What does this have to do with tough cookies?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Bugs adapt to every climate that I’ve lived in.  Even in Nevada, where the temperatures would drop 40-50 degrees on a summer night, we had mosquitoes.  In order to cope, I’ve had to adopt the “don’t sweat the small stuff” attitude.  I do what I can to not be overrun by the little buggers, but have learned to adjust.  If I want to sit outside on the porch, (in much cooler temps than we’re having now) I pour on the preventive.  Grasshoppers, mosquitoes, chiggers, fire-ants, wasps . . . all try to chase me away from my peaceful perch.  They may be tough, but I’ve determined:  I’m tougher.  Nothing is going to deter me from enjoying the out-of-doors if I want to.  (Well, OK, maybe 119 degree temps,) but NOT bugs!  I’m a TOUGH COOKIE!  (I’ll just keep telling myself that . . . I have, after all, survived 30 Oklahoma summers now.)  There’s got to be something tough about that.

A Tough Cookie does what a Tough Cookie has to do.  (Now, where did I put that lavender oil?)

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My Great-Grandmother Martha "Mattie"

I know I’m supposed to be thinking of those who served in the military this Memorial Day.  I have been, but these thoughts have led me to others, engaged in a different kind of war, on the home-front.  Women with the pioneer spirit fascinate me.  I want to know what drives them…what they are made of…where they get their spunk…and hope that I can learn something from them that helps me foster some of the same grit.

My father’s grandma was one of these.  She appears small in stature, but she was mighty in spirit.  See that gleam in her eye?  Mattie was possibly of the Chickasaw or Choctaw tribe.  I have spent much time trying to connect the dots to this heritage, but so far, to no avail.  I assure you, though,  her determination surpasses her height.

(Update:  for anyone in my family who might know the precise details of this story, mine turned out to be rather fictionalized.  See?  I am a writer.)  *See addendum at the end*

My father tells the story of Mattie’s days in the Oklahoma territory as a young bride and mother.  Accommodations were sometimes rudimentary.  Hers was no exception.  The place where she began rearing her family was crude, but it provided a roof over their heads.

One night, the window over the kitchen sink was left open.  It was probably a sweltering summer night where any slight breeze would have been appreciated.  Mattie was awakened by a sense of foreboding.  Adjusting her eyes to the dark, she raised herself to a sitting position on the feather bed in the one-room cabin.  A glint from the moon sparkled off the eyes of a creature climbing into the cabin through the window.  It was a mountain lion, perhaps on the hunt for one of her babies!

Mattie possessed a split second to make a move.  She had to do something.  The rifle leaned against the door-jam, all the way across the room.  There was no time for thought.  She sprang from the bed in her white, cotton gown and flung her arms around the creature’s neck and shoulders, attempting to wrestle it to the ground.  The piercing scream of the lion cut through the quiet as a tumble of limbs and fur crashed against the sparse furniture.  In a stealthy leap the massive animal suddenly sprang toward the window and made its escape.

Mattie sat on the floor gulping in great breaths.  Tears streamed down her face.  Her husband ran to her.  Four claw marks trickled a tinge of blood down one forearm.  There were no puncture wounds, nothing serious.  It was a miracle.

It is difficult to place these two pictures together in my mind.  Envisioning Mattie entangled with the mass of a mountain lion seems too unreal.  It is, however, the truth.

I have seen one of these incredible creatures once in the open.  I was driving at dusk  when I saw the massive, golden muscles of a mountain lion twitching as it crept low to the ground in a bar ditch off a country road in Oklahoma.  Its size and beauty stunned me.  I longed to see more, but it was not possible.  I would love to meet this gaze in a safe setting, but that is not likely, either.  A healthy respect for their power is probably all I can drum up.

I wonder, if faced with the same challenge of chasing a mountain lion from my home and protecting my children, would I rise to meet it?  I hope that I would, for the sake of the family slumbering nearby.  I don’t know.  Women of that generation were made of a strong gristle.  I hope that in my own way, I possess that verve.  Sometimes life does require it.

*Update* Otherwise known as, “Get your facts straight, Chickie.”  ;^)  A mountain lion did enter the kitchen window of my great-grandmother’s home when she had small children.  It probably took place in Arkansas, my dad was fairly certain, although not 100%.  Mattie heard the lion, which she called a “panther”  (dad said she said, “pain-ther”) screaming several times outside, before it came in.    She did not wrestle the mountain lion.  My mistake.  This tidbit it just as good, though. She threw a hot flat iron off the wood stove and hit it, burning it enough to frighten it back out the window!  (I would think that since it was bold enough to scream before it came in, it was definitely on the hunt and hungry!)  The panther did, however, make a note-to-self (just as I have done) and said, “Don’t mess with Mattie!”)  (OK, more fiction, BUT–it did not come back!)  ;^)    Dad also said that Mattie probably never weighed over 100 pounds and was only around 5 feet tall.  Still a GOOD story, and TRUE…now that you know the “rest of the story.”  ;^)

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In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to spotlight resilient women.  I think that tenacity in motherhood is an often overlooked feature.  However, if we did not have the ability to bounce back after being thrown for a loop (or two or three or four at the same time…) I’m not sure how we would persevere.  Thank goodness for that quality of stick-to-it-ive-ness (and I’m not talking about cleaning marshmallows off of your hands and your toddler’s face and all the furniture…)    ;^-    In light of that, I present the following story:

When I managed “The Secret Garden Tearoom” we had a great following of patrons.  They loved to sit and chat with us and often lingered.  My favorite time of day was 2 o’clock when lunch ended and the tearoom closed.  The staff could eat, visit with our friends and rest for a few minutes before scrubbing the tearoom for the next day.

Our chat often centered on tough, resilient women; maybe because several of us were experiencing massive life changes.  We needed to know that we could not only survive, but thrive.

The owner of the shop had a long-time friend.  This elderly woman was a never-ending source of uproarious laughter.

Recently, her family apparently had a reason to become concerned about her driving.  They must have thought she was too old and posed a danger to herself, and perhaps, others.  Against her protests, they captured her car keys and took them away.

Within a day, they came back to check on their spunky octogenarian mother.

Parked in the driveway was the shiny, new car that she had gone and bought that very day, paying cash on the spot.

I’m determined to pattern my life after feisty women like her.  Sometimes, pure grit and determination is all we have to hold on to!  Do you know any spunky, ornery souls like her?  Are you one, yourself?  Do tell.  ;^)

(A BIG THANK YOU to Dan Felstead, my blog friend of Wood and Pixels.  For a larger view of this ’57 Oldsmobile and more of Dan’s photography, go check it out!  His work is amazing and you will be inspired.)  ;^)

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