Mice, fire, syrup and the past
The holidays are always a time to get together and tell stories about the past.
My oldest drove in from VT (bringing syrup for everyone) and that spurred stories about my mother making syrup from our trees – in our yard – in Illinois. She would collect the sap from a few of the trees and then let it sit in a big cast iron pot on the cast iron stove in the kitchen for days. I’m not positive if my brother tried it, but I never worked up the courage myself to give it a try.
Growing up my mother frequently was coming up with ideas to try to maker our own. I’ll never forget the chicks being raised in the kitchen in a big pen with a heat lamp. She’s done that one a few times, a few different ways. Then there was deer jerky that she would cut the strips and let them sit on the wood burning stove in the closed top portion. The strips also would lay across the bars for days. That same deer meat used for the jerky was what we used to eat for most meals, and my parents would go out and hunt it each season then hang the deer in the shed. My dad would go out and cut pieces off, bringing them in a little at a time, and the kitchen would become a production facility with my mother wrapping everything in freezer paper and wrapping what it was on the outside. All the scrap pieces would be thrown to the dogs and be scattered throughout the yard for the next couple months.
At one point my mother decided to even try tanning the hide of one of the deer pelts. She scraped as much as she could off the back of the hide and then set the hide in the basement covered in salt. I’m fairly certain it was right after we visited a festival and my brother and I each got sheepskin pelts (died in funny colors). They were so soft and warm, she wanted to try herself.
My aunt needed shells to use to help her control her snake problem, which led to the story of my grandfather and a mouse… Growing up we also had a lot of mice. It was so bad I got to recognize the smell of decaying mouse lost somewhere near my room and would try to burn a candle at night to mask the smell. We had stories about my mother cleaning and throwing toys into a toy box in the dark, feeling something odd only to find it was a dead mouse the next day. Picking up dresses to hang, shaking them and having the feel of little paws going up inside her pants leg – she came out of those pants really fast.
We also had stories about the time my brother put a mouse in an empty hamster cage in my room and just waited for me to find it. He also came into my room and nailed one to the wall with a dart from a dart gun at one point. Hitting a moving mouse was a tradition though! The story of my grandfather sitting with a 22 waiting at the dining room table for a mouse that he knew usually cut through the room is well known. He waited it out until the mouse came around the corner and he shot it. We just had the discussion about whether the hole is probably still in the floor or not.
While up at my mother’s I still like to sleep with television on, not for the television itself, but to drawn out any noise of gnawing. I really dislike seeing the evidence of where the mice have been all over.
While telling stories, the subject of the power going out for more than 2 weeks at a time had to come up. I remember best the year that Headless Horsemen was to be The Wonderful World of Disney – a special every weekend. My brother and I were so excited to see it, and there weren’t recorders, the internet, even DVDs back then (in the 70s). The power went out, and stayed out. In the country we had no water when we had no power. At that point our house didn’t have a wood burning stove yet either, so just a fireplace. After a few days, my dad worked out how to run a tractor and use it to power a couple things like the well. – Not in time to see the show though. I do remember us having a little orange record player that ran on batteries, so that was our amusement. We also always had lots of kerosene lamps, still do. So the kerosene lamps served as light..
The stories of the fireplace and all the times we used it, led to the story of smoldering the boards around the fireplace. My father had always used green wood, but this one year he had dried dead wood. It burned a LOT hotter. My mother had a huge fire going, and we ended up with the steel plate in front of the fireplace red hot. The steel plate charred the wood around the front of the fireplace and caused smoke to come out the cold air ducts. Not having a clue where the fire was, my dad was pouring water everywhere. They did figure out the cause of the smoke and get everything cooled off and put out before the fire department showed up, but the firemen had to all come in and traipse through to see it themselves. There had been a storm going on, so getting out to us, had also meant that fire trucks had all run off the road into the ditches, slid everywhere and the firemen were drenched. The fireplace wood is probably still charred under the front of the fireplace. My brother has now converted the fireplace itself to gas, so it isn’t likely to happen again.
Telling the stories is great, and getting together the whole family at the holidays allows up to tell a story that leads to another. I love the idea of getting family together and recording the stories. Besides having stories recorded I also like scanning all the pictures and trying to get my whole family to name everyone in the pictures. The hard part is finding a way to record the names to go with each picture so that you can identify who each person is.