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Country at Heart

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.

Winter Home Remedies

Country at HeartAll of us, no matter how healthy, can expect a dreaded visit from that miserable old man, "Mr. Sick," at least once in our lifetime. Unfortunately, he popped up at least once a year at our house, and with so many of us kids one was almost always sick, especially during those long, cold, winter months. So, "Dr. Mom" stayed on the ready with some kind of medicine to remedy our frequent childhood illnesses. My mother didn't believe in going to the doctors' office, so when we got sick, whatever grew out in the fields gave her the herbs that she used for medicine and healing.            

Like clockwork, we kids came down with some kind of malady during inclement weather. Now, this may sound morbid, but I looked forward to sickness more than I looked forward to going to work — sickness was the lesser of the two "evils." And whenever I think about it, it seems like childhood illnesses weren't as taxing on the body as grown-up ailments. That could be because, with the passing of time, I've simply forgotten what it was like to be sick.    

When we caught a cold, that unmerciful demon brought along his hated cousins: chills, fevers, coughs, sore throats, stuffy heads, blocked sinuses, and runny noses. We inhaled camphor for decongestion. We ate Vick's Vapor rub and saturated our little, flat chests with it as well as with hot tallow (cow grease) to help break up the mucus and clear our lungs. But no matter what medicines we took, these unwelcome intruders hung around until they outlived their usefulness. It was as though colds had a time frame, and if the cold's time wasn't up, it didn't leave. The medicine simply eased the symptoms.

Since we kids came down with a cold every winter, Mother was always ahead of the game. With the herbs that she gathered from the woods, she concocted her favorite homemade remedies. One of those bitter, weird-tasting, stomach-gagging concoctions that she forced down our throats for colds was called a "Hot Toddy." The ingredients are a little strange; nevertheless, they were brewed together into a nice, soothing, hot tea that scared away colds and anything else that was tormenting us.

Mom's get-well formulas worked like this: When it was time for that unsavory, slow-pouring castor oil to be administered, the drama began. That liquid had to be force-fed. Mother literally stood over us in a threatening manner before we'd finally "gag" it down. 

Then it came to the "Hot Toddy;" we drank that strong, strange-tasting tea just before turning in, with a verbal warning that no matter how hot and sweaty we got (and believe me, we got summertime-hot under a pile thick, heavy quilts) not to kick the covers off. To do so would expose our body to the room's contrasting cold night air and thus defeat the cure's purpose. If we removed the covers, the "toddy" wouldn't work as well as it should have.

While we sweated in our hot sauna, all of that hot stuff swirling around inside, our system attacked and fought off those tormenting cold germs. In the morning, when we awoke, all the cold came out one way or another. Although we were okay, we still took it easy for a couple of days until our strength returned. Then after that, we were cold-free and good to go. 

Dr. Mom's homemade medicines may be a little hard to swallow, but they're what we reluctantly ingested, and they catapulted us back into the healthy zone. That's why I'm still here to tell you about it.

hot toddy
Photo by Fotolia/Liv Friis-larsen

Wintertime Foods

Country at HeartIn the wintertime, we would not have eaten so deliciously had it not been for my industrious grandmother. She helped us out with canned fruits and vegetables, mostly from her own garden. Sometimes we'd help a neighbor harvest his sweet potatoes or some other fall crops, which they shared with us, but our winter stash came from Grandma's smokehouse

My mother wasn't a "canner," but vaguely I remember eating her pear preserves during the winter. I say winter because pears are a late fall crop, and the only pears that we picked were from a tree that was on an old, abandoned homestead down in the woods. Those are the pears that she canned.

Pears are my least favorite fruit, but I reluctantly ate them — only after the more delicious preserves (like peaches) were long gone. Actually, I think the rest of the family had taste buds similar to mine, because pears were the last canned fruits that were eaten. Or was it because they were canned without sugar? I can't say for sure, but I do know that it was almost spring before the last jars of pear preserves disappeared, which proves that they were low on everybody's "desire" list. Eventually, though, they were eaten.

Our family winter's survival started in the spring (when the first produce was ripe) and ended in late autumn. You know how bears, ants, squirrels, and other creepy-crawly creatures gather and store away their winter harvest in the summer and fall? Well, while they were busy foraging for their meals, Grandmother was busy harvesting from her garden. While the wild animals packed their "finds" into the ground, in tree trunks, or under piles of leaves, Grandma packed her bounty in air-tight Mason jars and stored them away in her smokehouse.

Nuts — though not exactly what I consider food — are gathered in late fall and early winter. They can be stored in cans and buckets and eaten well into springtime and beyond. We had a hickory nut tree and a black walnut tree in our front yard. Those nuts and the few stray pecans that we gathered in the orchard added a little more protein to our otherwise lean, meat diet.

Pears, apples, peaches, watermelon rind preserves, wild plums and berries (from nearby orchards and patches), and anything else that could be gleaned from the woods, vines, bushes, and trees was canned. If something could be eaten, it was.

My grandma canned chicken, pork, and wild game, which we ate mostly at her house. That was fine with us, because Dad "put up" slabs and slabs of fatback, sugar-cured hams, and salted-down pork. We didn't have a smokehouse, pantry, nor shelves on which to store our winter reserves, so our empty back bedroom became our smokehouse.

Since no one slept back there, and since in the wintertime it was refrigerator-cold, that's where we stored anything that needed to be kept cold. And, surprisingly, whatever we stored in that "deep-freezer" was good to eat throughout winter. Thank God for those wonderful and almost miraculous preservatives — salt, sugar, and cold weather. They helped our food (and us) survive during seasons when the weather is too inclement to run around looking for something to eat.

Canned food
Photo by Fotolia/Serjik Ahkhundov