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Country at Heart

Pickin' Clover

Country at HeartAs a curious little girl, I always had my ears open to interesting and almost unbelievable tales, and my hands were always anxious to test those way-out stories that I had heard.  And with that, I'll tell you about my experience in the clover field.

Folklore is that if you find a four-leaf clover it will bring you good luck, and, of course, I was always looking for something that would make my days out in the countryside a little bit better. So, one day I decided to find a four-leaf clover and see what good fortune it would bring me.

I didn't have to go far to start my search because there was a field between the pine forest and our yard. I don’t think clovers are considered flowers, and I don’t think they bloom, but they easily sprout up among flowers and other vines that bloom. So, when no one was around, I ventured into that patch. I'm not sure why I didn't want anyone to see me during my desperate search, but I remember that I didn't ask anyone to go clover huntin' with me.

When I got to my destination, I got down on my knees. Then I slowly and methodically started spreading the grasses and weeds and turning the leaves of the clover "flowers," carefully plucking them up one by one and taking a good look at each. I searched and searched and searched for about half a day without seeing one clover with four leaflets.

Finally, I got tired of turning grass and clover leaflets and began to think that, perhaps, clovers only have three prongs after all, and whoever told me about the four-pronged ones was lying to see if I was naive enough to go looking for a four-leafed one.  About that time, not only had I concluded that I was wasting my time, but I started feeling quite foolish looking for something that maybe didn't even exist.

Eventually, after a rather lengthy and exhausting search trying to find my “good-luck charm,” I finally gave up; packed up my bags, so to speak, and trudged back home, concluding that if clovers have four leaves, they would luckily grow in some other girl's yard and not in mine. You know what they call “freaks of nature?” Well, at that time, I thought a four-leaf clover was one until I saw one online. At this point, I may never see one in person, at least not by my hands plucking one from some field somewhere.

Anyway, it is a fact that four-leaf clovers exist, but they are rare. And to this day I have not seen one of those “lucky” clovers, partially because since I left the country I've never had the opportunity, nor the inclination, to go huntin’ long and hard enough for one. And by the way, I never told anyone about my clover search, mainly because I didn't want to be laughed at for looking for something that I wasn't sure exists.

clover
Photo by Adobe Stock/knelson20

Springtime in Bloom

Country at HeartThis early-year season brings my favorite things — chirping birds, flitting butterflies, sweet honeysuckles draping over walls and fences, and those beautiful daffodils sticking their heads up through the cold, spring ground. Those pretty yellow flowers are the joy of my springtime. When I was young, as soon as their yellow petals opened I gleefully plucked them until I gathered enough to make my first spring bouquet. Then I gingerly took them home, carrying them ever-so-gently, as though they were babies that I was careful not to hurt.

Flowers are the love of my life, and it just wouldn't be spring to me without those attractive, eye-catching petals atop those long green stems. They make springtime complete, and I always take time to stop and smell the roses. I can hardly wait until the first frilly yellow daffodils pop their heads up from the cool, spring soil. When I see those first, fashionably-dressed beauties, I know spring has sprung. It's amazing how everything in nature knows when the seasons change. Just at the right time Mother Nature bursts out of hiding and gets busy doing whatever she has to do during this warm, inviting, and enjoyable season.

Daffodils are my favorite flowers. God knew I would fall in love with them, so each year He sprinkled golden-yellow daffodil seeds all up and down the road near our house. The first time I saw those pretty, deep yellow blossoms swaying in the early springtime breeze, I ran down the road and picked every gorgeous flower in sight. Not only are they a beautiful sight for the eyes, but they are so independent, too. They grow without any personal care or special nurturing. They only need the rain from the heavens to nourish their bodies. Each spring I could, without fail, expect the ditches along the roadside to be ablaze with my favorite trumpet daffodils ... and they always were.

After I gathered my sweet-smelling bouquets of blooms, I hurried home to look for something to put them in. Now, my poor, country family had never heard of or even seen a vase— at least, I hadn't. Our containers were crude versions of vases: old cans, fruit jars, buckets, and anything else that would hold water. When I had stripped the earth of its pretty flowers, I put them in whatever holders I found. I set them across the long porch that ran the length of our house. I can still see it now: a bright row of almost identical yellow blossoms. What a beautiful sight! A warm, delicious feast for my childish eyes. I thought that other people passing by might enjoy the beauty of my front porch nursery.

Once I was done stripping the ditches of those wild blossoms growing along the road, I visited the florist just up the road. Our neighbor, Mrs. Brown, appeared to compete with Mother Nature in growing her blossoms. She obviously loved flowers and no doubt planted every variety that would grow in Arkansas soil. The love of her life was her own nursery with rows and rows and rows of the prettiest petals you've ever seen. I would follow her as she trumped up and down the rows, dutifully clipping stem after stem and politely handing them to me. My little, beady eyes feasted on the labors of her love and the beauty that her hands had nurtured to fruition.

Bees buzzed around the honeysuckles that hung gracefully on the vines overlapping the walls near the old country school house. You could smell their fragrance a mile away. I just loved to tip-toe up to them (as though I thought they were going to suddenly disappear) and gently pull the stems from the center of their little, sweet-smelling bellies. There is a delicious collection of nectar that I sucked out of every honeysuckle flower that I could. I did that to keep the bees from getting to them first, but I'm sure they got their share of nectar, too, as the flowers bloomed and lingered for quite a spell.

When it comes to the fields and meadows, Southwestern Arkansas is mostly pine, and the only things they produce are needles and cones with a fragrance nowhere near that of a dainty rose. They are not as beautiful as a rose, either, but they will do. Pines are green all year, so during the spring there's not much new about them. Actually, there aren't many trees that have buds that blossom into full blooms like apple and cherry trees, which as a child, I never saw.

The nice aromas of this lovely season make the days so pleasant and enjoyable. Just to walk outside, stretch your arms, yawn loudly, inhale deeply, and smell the roses is a special treat for even the happiest soul. Spring just isn't spring if the breeze isn’t punctuated with those air-perfuming honeysuckles and brightly colored roses. What delicious fragrances they emit! When you're surrounded by so many blossoms, the outdoors smells like a big perfume garden.

Daffodil field
Photo by Adobe Stock/Samo Trebizan

The Easter Egg Hunt

Country at HeartI still have fond memories of our first and last Easter egg hunt. That year, my sisters and I boiled and dyed dozens and dozens and dozens of white, store-bought eggs. I say "white" because those brown, hen-hatched, country eggs don't dye easily.

But hold on for a minute. Before the kids go egg-hunting, let me tell you about some expressions that we used that may make the Easter egg hunt a bit more exciting. Then we'll go out to the pasture and watch the kids hunt their loot. We used these terms when someone was looking for something and we knew where it was — or we just wanted to be contrary while they frustrated themselves trying to find what they were looking for. They're your basic "hot and cold" hints.

If the seeker was a little off, we’d say, "You’re cool." If they were quite a bit off, we’d say, "You’re getting cold." If they were way out in the boondocks we’d say, "Boy, you’re freezing." Then, if they were somewhat in the territory of their target, we’d say, "You're getting warm," and the closer they got to the object, the more we'd say, "You’re getting warmer." If they were getting close to the target, we’d say, "You’re getting hot." And if they were right on the target and didn’t see it, We’d say, "Look out. You're on fire."

So after we tucked the eggs everywhere that an egg could be hidden, we eagerly watched to see if the little ones were on the path to finding them. If they started walking in the wrong direction, we’d say, "You’re cold ... cold ... cold ... You're freezing." Then, they would turn around and head in another direction. When they got real close to an egg, we'd say, "You’re getting hot." If they were about to step on an egg, we'd shout, "You're burning up!" That was their clue to look down and move something around. When they did, then, bingo — there was their treasure.

I had fun just watching them having fun while they romped and tromped on springtime's soft, green grass sprouting across the landscape. Then, after we counted the eggs and were satisfied that they had found them all, they gathered them into their little, homemade, brown-paper-sack Easter bags and we headed to the house to gobble them all up.

Doesn't it seem as though colored Easter eggs taste better than just plain old boiled breakfast eggs? It’s as though the pretty colors add some magical flavor to the taste, but that’s probably just my imagination running away with me. Back then, we didn't know anything about high cholesterol, and probably if we had known we would have eaten our beautiful, brightly-colored Easter eggs anyway ...

Dyed Easter eggs in grass

Photo by Adobe Stock/Leigh Prather

Country Memories, Part 2

Country at HeartFlowers do bloom in the city, but it may not be a bright idea to stand and stare at 'em too long. Don't smell them, and definitely don't exercise your freedom of expression and pull them, either. In the country, though, I stood and smelled those sweet, fragrant roses as long as I wanted to and then took my time, pulled the small stems out of the honeysuckle blossoms, and slowly licked the sweet nectar off. It took forever to get a mouthful, but that was okay. I had all day.

Understand this: most of what takes place in nature (in the country) takes place in the city as well. But in my country years of yore, it was so different than being in the city now. For instance, there is one thing that I dearly miss about the countryside — in all my years of city living, I’ve seldom seen such awesome, breathtaking sunsets as I did then, where there was nothing obstructing the view, only the landscape between you and them. I probably caught the sunset every day of my country life, and I loved those evenings when I could see the clouds and the horizon in perfect, living color. You just can’t have it any better than that.

Even the early spring rain seemed more refreshing and enjoyable in the country than when it falls on the hard, unyielding, and sometimes dirty city concrete. For one thing, we would get as bare as we could and venture outside to frolic in the free-falling drizzle. Unfortunately, my present view is blocked by sky-scraping buildings, but if I were home, I could see the rain falling for miles on end, especially if there were no trees in sight. I loved to see that kind of rain fall. Its appearance was like looking through an almost-sheer curtain. You could see the rain but couldn't see what was on the other side, whether it was a mile away or right up close. Either way, it was a delightful sight to see.

The main reason those springtime memories are so precious and that season so welcomed is because its arrival announced the end of a too-long, freezing-cold, heavy-coat-and-hat-wearing winter. And perhaps best of all, when March came, we had only two or three more months of school, which was always out before the first of June. Hip, hip, hooray!

Living in a metropolitan area affords little of the pleasures, adventures, and experiences of those from my childhood. I can dream, but that’s about as far as it goes. For instance, for over fifty years I've been surrounded by more people than I ever thought existed. Don't get me wrong. I like people, but sometimes, it is a bit much. During my growing-up years, if I wanted to escape, all I had to do was take a few steps out the back door and walk down the tree-lined lane, or retreat to my little girlish playhouse in the thickly forested "jungle." In other words, if I really didn't want to see another human being for a spell and be totally isolated, I was good to go on any front.

But be that as it may, it's always nice to take a trip back down Memory Lane. It’s a pleasure to visit the things that are fondest to me, especially those happy days in springtime country.

Bright orange sunset
By Jessie Eastland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Country Memories, Part 1

Country at HeartWhen the earth warms up and begins to thaw, and the air become crisp and fresh, my mind travels back in time to my childhood home to dig up those memories that are so precious and dear. For instance, every day in the city I see sidewalks and asphalt, but in the country I would see dirt, gravel, and red clay. In the city where I see grass, in the country I saw teeny-tiny purple clover sprouting up among the blades and my favorite bright yellow trumpet daffodils parading in the fields and along the highway.

You can hear happy, feathery creatures chirping in the city as well as in the country; however, in the city I don't always see them even when I hear them. Long ago, I could both see and hear them. And in my childhood folly I even chased them in an ill-fated attempt to catch one of ‘em. Even the cute little yellow chicks (that Mother raised) fit in well with the springtime season, adding their color and charm to those bright, warm, sunny days.

Easter is a beautiful season, and since it comes in springtime it adds its loveliness to this pleasant time of the year. I always looked forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny with his basket full of cavity-causing goodies. He brought us a mini-Christmas, as far as candy is concerned. I can buy as many jelly beans and Easter eggs as I want, but it won't be the same as chowing down on those delicious treats that I ate over half a century ago. I've finally figured out that the reason we had so much Easter candy is because Dad loved candy, which was fine with me — as long as I got my share of the goodies too. That spring holiday was his excuse to buy those sweets that everyone hungrily looked forward to, and since we didn't eat candy every day, those treats were special. Dad always saw to it that we had an abundant supply of jelly beans and Easter "eggs" so everybody could feed their sweet tooth.

In early spring, another one of my favorite things to do was check out the plum trees and berry vines. I was always too early for Mother Nature. Even though I was ready for fresh fruit in March and April, she wasn't in a hurry, so I, too, had to wait. But at least seeing the premature blossoms gave me hope that within a couple of months I would be plum-picking and berry-plucking.

When it was warm enough to go barefoot, I tickled my toes in the first green, baby-soft blades of springtime. I suppose I can go bare-footing-it in the park, but since I don't see anybody else doing that, I don't have the nerve to do it either, tempting as it is. But if I were back home, I would roll up my pant legs, kick off my shoes, and run like a deer down the road and across the pasture ... freer than the Arkansas wind.

I loved to see all the trees and bushes that bloomed — whether they were pink, white, yellow, or blue. Some of the most enchanting sights were those beautiful Monarch butterflies dancing weightless through the warm, spring air, and bees flitting from blossom to blossom, kissing sweet nectar as they go. I couldn't pass by the wall with the honeysuckles overhanging it without stopping, smelling the "roses," and picking as many as I wanted. What delicious fragrance!

Spring flowers
Photo by Fotolia/Paul Maguire

Using "The Old Farmer's Almanac"

Country at HeartWhen I asked a young drug store sales clerk and if they sell the Almanac, I could tell by the expression on her face that she had no earthly idea what I was talking about. She probably thought I made that up to make her job difficult. Anyway, after I got outside the store, an older clerk (who had overhead the conversation) came running and asked if I was referring to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She was closer to my age and was vaguely familiar with the journal. Perhaps her parents or grandparents used it when she was a child.

I’m aware that not many people (especially those who live in large cities) have ever heard of (nor need) the information that the Almanac contains, as it is intended mostly for rural folks and farmers. Though I live in a metropolitan area, I am still country and still use this annual publication which was a staple in our house just like the Bible.

When I started looking for a dentist, the first thing I thought about was The Old Farmer's Almanac. Since I don’t have one, I used the library’s copy. You might be wondering, "How does anything in that Almanac relate to dentistry?" For me, the answer is simple, but it goes back in time.

Each year while I was growing up, my parents bought The Old Farmer's Almanac. We had our teeth extracted only when the Zodiac chart indicated that the astrological "sign" was in a certain place in the body — I think I said that correctly. Now, you may say, "That's old-fashioned!" Which is fine. We were old-fashioned and believed the heavenly constellations had a direct effect on our minds and bodies. I still adhere to that belief. According to the Almanac, “Ancients believed that the placement of each astrological sign of the Zodiac influenced a specific part of the body.”

The Almanac has a picture of a man with arrows pointing toward different parts of his body, indicating the effect of the sun, moon, and planets on that part of the body. When we had a toothache, my parents checked the Almanac to see where the "sign" was. If it was in the stomach or below (in the thighs, legs, knees, or feet), they took us to the dentist for an extraction. If the sign wasn't "right," (from the head through the heart), we had to wait. If we had a severe toothache, my parents bought Ora-Jel while we waited it out.

As a child, I didn't understand anything about the planets’ influence on the body, and I don't understand the Almanac as well as farmers. But I know that country folks get the weather reports, plant and harvest crops, fish, hunt, start and end projects, destroy pest and weeds, let the cows out to pasture, drain the pond, etc., etc. based on the astrological chart. I made those last two up, but the Almanac does contain information for certain activities based on what is going on in the heavens. So there must be something to it.

Mother wasn't sophisticated enough to understand the differences between astrology and astronomy (and neither am I), but she had enough general knowledge to know the importance of not having a tooth extracted when the astrological "sign" is not in the right position in the body. Plus, the Zodiac signs, the body parts, and the dates are obvious, so there's nothing to figure out about that. And by the way, the Old Farmer’s Almanac is still around, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon!

Old Farmers Almanacs
Photo by Fotolia/Ken Pilon

Childhood Illnesses

Country at HeartI always wonder why children get sick, and that's probably because I was one sickly little girl. Seems like every germ, virus, bacteria, or parasite that came along, they apparently saw my poor, frail body as a likely camping site ... and camped, they did.

Now, what ailed me as a child? Just about everything, but these in particular. Tape worms: My mother made some kind of weird concoction with a taste that I can't describe and with ingredients that I have no earthly idea what they were. However, to make a long story short, whatever was eating my food, this medicine finally poisoned them. Thanks, Mom, for the "whatever" medicine.

I have to make a confession here. I'm not sure that I believed that any kind of food-eating worms ever lived in my intestines, but I know that a lot of Southern kids, especially in poor, rural areas were plagued by these parasites. Supposedly, they eat your food and as a result, the child is always hungry and malnourished. Of course, I was always starved anyway, but to say that I believe I had worms, I'm not sure. I do know that I was always sick in my stomach with something, so, perhaps they were tape worms after all.

Then, there were ring worms. Seems like we're in the "worms camp" on this blog. It's a strange-sounding ailment, but they aren't actual worms like fishing worms. They are round patches of white, flaky, irritated skin that form in a round-ring shape on the scalp. Have no idea what causes it, but at one time, my head was full of them. And, again, Doctor Mom made up some kind of scalp salve or perhaps she bought something or used something that she got from Lucky Heart Cosmetics. Wherever she got her "medicine," its continual use eventually cleared up my scalp.

I've already written about winter sickness such as colds and their accompanying nuisances such as sore throats and runny, stuffy noses,

My tonsils got infected more than I'd like to remember. Have no idea why they did, but there was no remedy for that. I just had to keep my dirty fingers out of my mouth, keep my bald head covered and dry during the winter, and just live with it.

health records
Photo: iStockphoto.com/ScantyNebula

At school, we were given a series of shots. Seems like every time we turned around our teacher told us that the nurse was coming to vaccinate us. I don't think any of us kids looked forward to that. Such an announcement was almost like saying we were going to get the whipping of a lifetime. Actually, the way some of those kids screamed, you would think they were being beaten to death. We called those scaredy cats the “big cry-babies.”

On the other hand, I couldn't figure out why that sweet, gentle nurse, Mrs. Turner, had to stick us with so many needles, but I guess she knew what she was doing. Nevertheless, regardless of how many times she stuck us, she didn't prevent those dreaded yearly colds and other ailments from visiting our house. So I don’t suppose there’s a “stick” for those illnesses. (I’m being facetious; I know those shots were for polio, diphtheria, and whatever national or international plagues were going around that we children were vulnerable to.)

In addition to those unwanted and unplanned colds, seems as though winter’s inclement weather lowered our immune systems and dumped other illnesses on us such as mumps, chicken pox, measles, earaches, and the whooping cough. Normally when we were sick it was during the cooler season when we had to stay inside anyway, so rest, relaxation, and being sheltered helped us stay well.

For earaches, Mother poured warm, sweet oil into our ears. For measles and chicken pox, she oiled our bodies with hot tallow or some other kind of grease so our skin wouldn't itch so badly and instructed us not to scratch so the healed sores wouldn’t leave "craters" on our skin. With those afflictions, we also couldn’t get wet until we were well. Fortunately, none of us have any visible signs of our childhood diseases. I don’t remember that we had smallpox ... We may have, but I’m unaware of that disease attacking us.

For mumps, we ate sardines, then rubbed the oil on our swollen throats. For colds, in addition to other medicines, Dad bought 666 from the drug store. Remember that? Usually, though, we also drank homemade herbal tea made with lemons, peppermint candy, mullein, pine needles, and any weeds from the wild that wouldn’t kill us. For other illnesses, Grandmother made jimsonweed and sassafras teas. Mother also bought Syrup of Black Draught to clean out our clogged, irritated intestines, and boy, did it do a first-class job.

The year I had the whooping cough, Dad bought me some strange-tasting medicine, but eventually I stopped coughing. We used a lots of medicines for our childhood sicknesses, and they came in handy for whatever ailed us. So there you have the history of our sickly little clan.