Category Archives: Aunt Betty Lou and Other Crazie Town Residents

UNICORNS, MOUNTAIN LIONS AND BRUSH HOGS

A couple of years ago, when my aunt died, she left me a fairly worthless piece of farmland about sixty miles from my home.  I know the land is worthless because my Grandpa said so in his will.  A third of the original farmstead [the rich flat land] went to my father, the other two thirds [the rocky, cedar-tree-infested land] went jointly to my two aunts.  That’s the part that I inherited with my brothers and sister.  Basically, I own one/nth of one/half of some acreage.

We hired a local farmer (Little Steve, son to Big Steve – a friend of my dad’s and the only farmer we knew) to plant the fields he could.  The rest is rocky, hilly and covered in trees.

In the plus column, at the highest point, you can see for miles.  I’ve spotted dozens of deer and turkeys and coyotes. In the early spring we even had one little lonely duck on our sad tiny pond and after I parked my vintage camper out there and spent the night, I heard a mountain lion.

In a fit of Crazie, and against the advice of every attorney I talked to (more than six, less than twelve) we all decided to keep the land.  Why? you might ask along with my husband who asks constantly. Maybe because it is two-thirds of the farm I grew up on and although as a kid I never once wanted to do a single farmer thing on it, now I can’t wait to get my hands dirty.

Unicorn Besides, I had a vision. Simply remove all the invasive cedar trees and we’d be left with unicorns dancing in the starlight or possibly just rolling hills covered in prairie grass and wildflowers.

We worked and slaved (for one weekend) and then paid someone to bulldoze acres of the prolific cedars.  After two days we ran out of money he finished. But I was determined to keep going.  I had a vision after all.

I started out with a hand saw and then graduated to a reciprocating saw, which required the purchase of a generator, extension cords, gas cans.

Teresa with sawI borrowed my nephew’s chain saw (don’t tell Husband) and cut down every cedar I could reach.

Overwhelmed with nightmares of cedar trees, I learned from Little Steve to hone in on the female of the species, easily distinguished by the thousands of blue berries covering her branches.

In the process of tidying up the land, I uncovered spectacular deciduous trees; walnuts, red buds and pears.  Next to the hundred year-old-dump — a dry creek filled with rusted tin cans, stoves and old tires — I discovered a hundred-year-old oak tree with a seven-foot circumference.

From Little Steve, I also learned that baby cedar trees pop up wherever there is open grass so the cleared area would need to be mowed. Rather than pay someone, I thought it would be more fun (?) to buy my own tractor and a brush hog — that’s a mower to you city folk.

From a friend of a friend of my brother, Rick, I looked at a 1949 Ford 8N tractor.  The owner was kind enough to deliver it.  Sure there were a few issues, like I had to disconnect the cable after every use or the battery would run down and the steering was so loose I could turn the wheel a foot in either direction with no reaction.  But it was a tractor and it was destined to be mine.

In Crazie Town, the women/girls stayed in the house and cooked while the men/boys ran the equipment, so in all my years on the farm, I never once drove a tractor.  I gleaned a little bit of farm knowledge so I could probably tell the difference between a plow and a harrow, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, tell you what a harrow is used for.

But, now, I had the possibility of my own tractor and I was in farmer heaven.  I puttered around learning how the gears worked.  I drove the tractor fifty yards one direction, changed gears and drove fifty yards in the other direction.  Number one lesson learned: don’t drive over rough terrain in third gear with the throttle full out.  Until I could get my foot on the clutch long enough to downshift, I bounced around on the seat like a piece of popcorn in a hot pan.

After that harrowing (hey, maybe that’s what a harrow is for?) experience, I coasted up to the owner who was trying very hard not to laugh. I paid him and with a shaky hand I waved goodbye and he drove away.  I turned off the tractor and…it never started again.  I left it where it landed and drove the sixty miles home, composing a story in which I could tell Husband about the tractor without actually mentioning that I’d probably just purchased a very expensive lawn ornament.

The new plan was to meet my brother, Rick, the next day to see what we could do to get  the !@#$#@! thing running. But the next day it rained and then it rained…and rained…and rained.  It was over six weeks later before Rick and I could get out to the farm and see what repairs we could make.  This is the condition of the fuel filter when we arrived.Fuel Filter

It appears to have been eaten by some rats cute little field mice.

With the help of Rick and his wife, Shelly, we took a trip to the Tractor Supply store, where (as every woman has experienced) the salesclerk would only talk with my brother.  He informed Rick that my vehicle was so small that bona fide tractor parts don’t fit.  He sent us to the lawnmower department which I found quite insulting, but less expensive.

Once we installed the fuel filter — right side up — the tractor roared to life.  Hurray!

However, it is just a moving lawn ornament until I can buy the brush hog to do the mowing.

Stay tuned as I find myself in Billy Bob’s Death Compound.

CRAZIES’ CLOWN COLLEGE GONE WRONG

shutterstock_105365543 copyLast summer, in a fit of Crazie, I booked a beach house in the Outer Banks with way too many fifteen family members – another nine were in a house down the block.

What could possibly go wrong with that many loud, loving, abominable, affectionate Crazie Town residents in one place?

Number one concern was bedroom placement. Maybe the bedroom off the kitchen should go to the early risers, or maybe it should go to the person who had the most trouble negotiating three flights of stairs, but then again, that person didn’t want any special treatment, so maybe it should go to ???

How do you plan who gets what bedroom for fifteen people and not just people – Crazie Town people? I believe democratic rules work best so the majority agreed to the First Come – First Served statute.

A few weeks after we booked the house, my younger brother, Rick, asked me what flight I was on. Because I’m a gullible sap, I told him. He used that information to book his flight to arrive before mine.

Our son Fineas’ family, driving down from Connecticut, planned to leave at four in the morning in order to be the first ones there.

My nephew Ben bailed on sharing a car with his parents from the airport so that he and his wife, Kate, could arrive first.

This is just the way my family works. We love each other with all our hearts and would give you the shirt off our backs, but there comes a time when First Come First Served wins out.

Vacation day arrived and we piled into the house, alternately shouting curse words and caring remarks to each other. We crowded onto the deck and fought for the best chairs. While we all talked at once with no one listening caught up on each other’s lives, we discovered the house next door was an exact duplicate of ours and also filled with a large family.
shutterstock_105365543 copy Mirror images of ourselves – only perfect.

While we walked around in torn t-shirts and worn out shorts, The Perfects glided from their pool to their house in starched white shirts, sleeves appropriately rolled up two folds. Waves of aftershave and perfume floated our way.

shutterstock_170330840 copyshutterstock_135088358 copyOut on the beach, our sandcastles were six inches tall, made from red solo cups; The Perfects’ reached to the sky with turrets and moats.

We sweated, grumbled and yelled at each other as we set up our Wal-Mart special tarp. Twenty feet away, two uniformed teenagers set up The Perfects’ canvas rental chairs and brightly colored umbrellas.

Our pool was filled with $1.54 plastic rafts while The Perfects’ pool held elaborate floating chairs, complete with cup holders.

Most disturbing to the woman in our group, The Perfects’ older sister paraded out in a white designer two-piece swimsuit. And, although she certainly was a couple sizes larger than a six, she looked amazing. I suppose that comes from not buying your swimsuit from the clearance rack at Target, but I could be wrong.

My family does actually have a few social skills, taught to us by our Evil Grandmother Nellie so as the week progressed we pulled ourselves together and pointed out that someone (not me of course), might find your red beacon of a nose funny; we said in the kindest possible way, “excuse me but that was my drink you just kicked over, you stupid idiot”; and we toned down our loud guffaws to a more seemly quiet chuckle.

Then, BAM! my nephews, Josh and Jordan, started a water balloon fight.  shutterstock_188671901 copy

For the next hour, five little nieces pounded up and down the deck stairs, squealing in delight while the drenched adults shouted out military strategies. When the battle was over it looked like a clown college had thrown up. Our deck, covered in colorful fragments of shattered balloons and laughing residents of Crazie Town.

Next year – fair warning – we are planning our vacation for the Adirondacks. Please accept my apologies in advance if you end up in the house next to us.

The Man with the Neon Green Wig and a Half a Mannequin

Everyone Needs a Half a Mannequin

Aunt Kathleen would be sorry she missed this garage sale

I parked across the street from a church garage sale and watched as this man worked to arrange his purchase – a half a mannequin – into his bike cart. He reminded me of my Aunt Kathleen. Last week, I wrote about the great time I had as a child, visiting her fun-filled home [Click Here] and, a half-mannequin would have been a great addition to her play room.

Somewhere along the line though, as I progressed into adulthood, the tons of items in her home went from amusing to annoying.

When Grandpa died and she had to move to town, I helped her pack up all the junk treasures stacked in the rambling two story farm house so we could cram them into a tiny cottage she’d bought.

Every article had to be examined and evaluated for its worth and, as it turned out, everything was worth keeping. The only place we made progress was in the pantry where, with significant wheedling by my brother, Rick, and I, she agreed to part with the dusty jars of green beans that her mother had canned twenty years ago.

We also managed to toss out several things during the time Aunt Kathleen ran screaming from the house when we discovered at six-foot long black snake living in the pantry.  Rick picked up the rusty shovel that was in the kitchen (you keep a shovel in your kitchen, right?”) and killed the snake, tossing it through the back door where Aunt Kathleen had stood moments before. I froze, a scream ready to erupt when Rick punched my shoulder. “Quick,” he whispered. “Start shoving stuff into these trash bags.”  We managed to fill six bags before she returned.

Aunt Kathleen eyed them suspiciously. “Did I really agree to throw all that away?”

I ducked into the pantry while Rick dragged the bags out to the trash pile.

“Wait!” she cried and took a step to follow Rick out the door.

I held up a broom with a broken handle and said, “This can go in the trash, right?”

She gasped and snatched it from my hand. “Of course not. Mama used to use that to sweep off the front porch.”

That’s what I’ve learned about hoarders – each item has a strong emotional attachment, and to throw it away is akin to having one of their limbs cut off.

The fork with only three tines?

“Mama used to eat her pie with that fork.”

The moth-eaten military uniform?

“Your dad was wearing that when he came home from the war.”

And so it’s gone for the last thirty years. A broken television, kept because she’d bought it with her first paycheck, the new one placed on top of the old one. As she grew in girth, new clothes were hung on top of the smaller ones, which must be kept because she remembered where she’d gone in the outfit. The five hundred decorating magazines blocking the front door — filled with  projects she planned to create with the broken dishes she’d been collecting for years.

And now she’s gone and I’m tasked with going through it all again. The family and I spent a weekend shoveling out and sorting through the first layer. A hundred plastic bags from the dollar store with her purchases still inside. Another hundred bags stuffed with only empty plastic bags. And a dozen stacks, from floor to ceiling, of puzzles.

As I worked through the pile of thousands of empty envelopes and junk mail I could hear my brothers and sister mumbling. “What the? Why would she keep…the plastic tabs removed from her insulin medicine/the empty containers of hand lotion/the expired food?

Our next clean out will be in the basement. I wandered through it the other day and without the layer of trash, I found myself reappraising what’s left.

“Why, here’s a perfectly good wooden clothes-drying rack.” That doesn’t count as hoarding because I’ve been wanting one of those.

“Here’s a cast iron skillet.” That doesn’t count because I can use it in my camper.

“Well, what do you know. There’s her old treadle sewing machine where she taught me to sew.” That’s not hoarding – that’s keeping a memory, right?

It’s Not Hoarding, It’s a Funhouse!

shutterstock_108936575When I was a kid, my Aunt Kathleen lived 1/4 mile away from us. She and Grandpa shared a two-story, ramshackle stone house that had been built in 1856. Judging from the amount of stuff in it, that’s when my aunt started collecting. Now I know her problem is called “hoarding” but as a child, her home was a funhouse stuffed with ancient games and dress up clothes.

I can close my eyes right now and remember the sensation of stepping from the hot summer sun into the dark cool kitchen. It smelled like a combination of percolating coffee and layers of dust, with the slightly earthy hint of decaying food, a fragrance I found oddly comforting.

shutterstock_120611089In the background, static from the metal-framed black and white TV competed with the mack-truck-sized stereo that played Petula Clark singing “Downtown.”

I’d stop at the dining room table, slide an Oreo from it’s package and pat the mammoth orange tom cat that slept next to it. Then I’d inch past Grandpa sleeping in his chair, his one millionth game of solitaire laid out on a board across his lap.

As I twisted the Oreo apart and scraped the creamy filling off with my teeth, I’d wave to Aunt Kathleen. Her jet-black hair, piled in a beehive a yard high, wrapped turban-style with tissue paper and fastened with long pink clips.shutterstock_118550869 She’d be on the phone, talking to her friends or, just listening in on the party line.

If she was talking, I’d sit on the floor next to the stereo and wait for the next 45 to drop, while I eavesdropped on her conversation. If she put her fingers to her lips, that meant she was listening and I would tiptoe up the rickety staircase to the second floor, first room on the left.

Here, was magic – The Playroom. I’d don a battered Raggedy Ann wig, toss a molting fur wrap across my shoulders and slip into a mismatched pair of sequined shoes, demanding that the armless one-eyed doll do my bidding. Perhaps, I’d pull on a pair of too big overalls and buckle a six-shooter around my waist. Then I’d climb up on the molting rocking horse that no longer rocked and ride off into the sunset.

After fifteen minutes, or maybe two hours, Kathleen would call me down for an iced tea laced with spoonfuls of sugar. We’d sit out on the front porch in the swing. She’d point out the latest addition to her treasure trove and our conversation would go something like this:

“I found that boot on the side of the road. I thought I’d keep it. You know, in case someone breaks their leg and they need one shoe.”

“A’cept, wouldn’t they haveta have broken their left leg?” I questioned.

“That’s true.” Aunt Kathleen gave the giant swing a push. “Still, I have a 50/50 chance of having the shoe they need.”

“Yeah-but, wouldn’t ya it need to be the right size?”

“Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that.” She stopped the swing and hauled herself up. “Run get me that shovel on the side of the shed.”

We moved slowly out to the center of the yard, her faded pink rubber flip-flops slapping against her wide heels. She thrust the rusty shovel into a patch of weeds and flowers.

Ten minutes later, the boot stood on the top step of the broken wooden porch with an orange day lily leaping out it.

I Swear, I Don’t Know How These Things Happen to Me

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite bloggers, Donna Louise, I swear I don’t know how these things happen to me.

Recently, Husband and I talked about downsizing to a home more appropriate for our new lifestyle. Without the responsibility of a house and large yard to take care of, we could walk out the door and travel to the south of France for a month or so.

This House Is Too Big

This House Is Too Big

We have no tickets to travel to the south of France yet, but we imagine if we change houses, we would.

One Friday morning I thought I’d take a step toward that carefree lifestyle and said to Husband, “Hey, let’s put our house on the market today.”

We did. It sold in three days.

Suddenly, we had a little over a month to pack up fifteen years of life and move to…well, that’s just it. We hadn’t decided where we wanted to move.

Time was running out for us to find a new home and then, my favorite aunt fell ill. Within a few days time, I was required to fulfill her end-of-life requests.

Certain if I made a choice on a house in the middle of this, I’d wake up six months from now in a Victorian B&B and wonder how I got there, Husband suggested we try apartment life for a while.

We spent an entire weekend talking with flaxen haired twenty-year-old Kimberlys and Kendalls and being treated as if we were a couple of twenty-year-old deadbeats and then were asked to pay $100 for the privilege of simply filling out an application.

This One is Too Small

This One is Too Small

We settled on a Teeny Tiny Place because it only required a seven month lease. Actually, we chose it because it was one of the few places that allowed our 70 pound  60 pound dog. (We stopped at one place where you could have any number of pets as long as their combined weight didn’t exceed 50 pounds. I didn’t want to think about what that might include.)

Back at our house, I packed and packed and packed some more. I designed an elaborate color-coded labeling system that included where each box went for the apartment move, what’s in the box, and where the box will go when we buy a house.

Moving day arrived and within minutes of getting to the Teeny Tiny Place, I discovered I’d over-estimated the amount of furniture that would fit.

Uh Oh

Uh Oh

We quickly rented another garage — and then a third to hold all the crap treasures I’ve collected over the years.

In our Teeny Tiny Place, we have the privilege of paying $20 per month more for “hardwood” floors, which are actually linoleum printed with a wood image. The walk-in closet is rendered un-walk-inable once clothing is hung on both sides. And, we have the luxury of a master bathroom with floor to ceiling mirrors on three walls – which not only gives me a multi-imaged look at myself in my least attractive position, but also depicted several dozen images of the look of horror on my face as the toilet backed up on it’s first use.

Settled into the Teeny Tiny Place, I got back to looking for a home.

No, wait. That’s not right. Somewhere in there I had a garage sale. We left on a long-ago planned trip to Disney World and from there, a flight to Hartford. And, oh yes, I went gluten-free.

Maybe I Could Stand to Lose a Few?

Maybe I Could Stand to Lose a Few?

Tune in next week to discover if the house we accidentally put an offer on, is now ours.

I swear, I don't know how these things happen to me.

I swear, I don’t know how these things happen to me.

Help! I’m out of practice and can’t keep up with the Nursing Home Improv.

I drove the sixty miles to Crazie Town this weekend to visit my Aunt Betty Lou at the nursing home. When I pushed open her hospital door, she was asleep, curled up underneath a tattered K-State throw.

I touched her shoulder and said, “Hi, Aunt Betty Lou.” And, because I’m never certain she’ll know who I am, I added, “It’s Teresa.”

She lifted her head, blinked twice and said (as if we’d seen each other a day ago,) “Hi! We’re on our way to the grocery store. Want to come with?”

“Um. Well.”

Evidently this visit we’re going to be living in 1999.

“Sure,” I said.

“Help me put on my shoes.” She sat up, dangling her legs over the edge of the bed. “Of course, you’ll have to drive because I don’t have a license any more.”

Our conversation had just jumped to 2013, because up until the time she moved to the nursing home, she had a license.

I helped her into her wheelchair. “Of course I’ll drive,” I said.

“Honey, don’t forget my glasses. They’re on the dresser.” She pointed to the empty space next to the head of her bed.

And, now we’re back to 1999.

I glanced at the swivel hospital tray at the foot of her bed. “I don’t see them.”

“Well, that’s where I always put them.”

I looked around her tiny room. “Here they are, next to your sink.”

She looked at me like I was crazy – suggesting there was a sink in her bedroom.

p_v11agy64zae0472_rAunt Betty Lou had never had any children. Up until 1999, she and her husband, Harold, lived in a tiny wooden home that was frozen in 1951 – the year they married.

From a child all the way through adulthood, I remember walking into their narrow house, through their living room (with the mid-century modern nubby green couch) and past the formal dining room (perpetually covered with a starched tablecloth,) into the kitchen.

I’d sit down in one of the red vinyl-covered chrome chairs at the boomerang patterned Formica table and Uncle Harold would offer to cook me whatever I wanted. “Eggs and bacon? No? How about some fried chicken? I was just getting ready to make some.”

While he ran through his repertoire of menu items, Aunt Betty Lou would fill an aqua blue aluminum tumbler with milk, put three cookies on a matching melmac plate and place them in front of me.

Unable to sell me on any of the Carte du jour, Uncle Harold waited until Aunt Betty Lou was out of the room and then refilled my plate with more cookies.

Twenty years ago Uncle Harold suffered a stroke and although he survived, he changed into a gruff, stingy old man. After that, Aunt Betty Lou lived in the bottom of a bottle of gin. She kept her stash out in the detached garage. One wintery day she slipped on the ice and lay there for several hours until Uncle Harold got hungry enough to go looking for her.

They moved to the nursing home together where Betty Lou joined Harold in the Cranky Old People Club. A few years ago Uncle Harold passed away and because I still remember the aunt of my youth, I try to make the drive to visit her every other week.

Lately, I haven’t made the commitment and now it’s been several weeks since I’ve been to see her.

I pushed her wheelchair up and down the halls of the nursing home hoping she’d forget about our imaginary trip to the grocery store.

“Will I need a coat?” Aunt Betty Lou looked up at me through her oversized glasses.

“I, uh. No.”

“Is John getting the car?” she asked.

I paused, struggling for a good answer. “Maybe,” I stuttered. “Maybe, we should stay here because…because there’s a big snow storm going on outside.”

“Good idea, ” she said.

We sat in the waiting room and she asked “ Have Aunt Lorena and Uncle Henry been able to get out of their house yet?”

Uncle Henry has been dead for 60 years.

“Um. Why would Aunt Lorena and Uncle Henry be stuck in their house?” I asked.

Aunt Betty Lou gave me the “Are You Crazy?” look again. “Because of the snow storm.”

“Oh, right. Yep. They’ve been able to get out.” Including a bit of color commentary to my performance, I added, “The snowplow came through today.”

“Snowplow?” she asked.

Staring at the ceiling I struggled to come up with an appropriate reply. Had our conversation moved so far into the past that snowplows hadn’t been invented yet?

“I’m ready to go back to my room now,” she said.

I wheeled her down the long hall, slipped off her shoes and arranged her in bed. Lifting the K-State blanket into the air, I let it settle over her tiny body.

“This was your dad’s,” she said, smoothing the fabric over her legs

“Yes, that’s right.” I smiled, realizing she was back in the present. I pulled up a chair thinking we’d be able to have a pleasant conversation. “Remember when Dad got that?”

Aunt Betty Lou patted my knee. “Honey, I want you to get home before the roads get too bad from the snow.” She took off her glasses, handed them to me and closed her eyes.

I fell out of the Crazie tree and hit every branch on the way down.

Two Branches From the Crazie Tree

Mom's Parents

Mom’s Parents

Nellie and Walter  were city folk and lived in Kansas City. Grandmother, who worked as a legal secretary well into her eighties, was a tiny tyrant. She was written up in the newspaper because, when a purse snatcher tried to grab her pocketbook, she refused to let go and beat him with her umbrella. I know, I know. She looks so sweet. That’s what everyone said when they met her. Here’s just a small dose of her horribleness. When Mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Grandmother sent a Get Well card with the following note. “At least now you’ll be able to lose those extra pounds.”

Grandfather was a tall, quiet man.  He was the personal driver and property manager for a wealthy businessman. When I think of Grandfather, I picture him sitting with his knees to his chest in the too-small chair assigned to him by Grandmother , smoking a cigarette and nursing one of his bourbon and waters (without the water). He taught me the importance of learning things the hard way. He loved to play Monopoly and it didn’t matter if you were five or fifty, if he could bankrupt you he would because that’s how the game was played.

Dad's Parents

Dad’s Parents

Ben and Irma, were farmers who lived in Tecumseh.

Grandma Irma was my dream grandma–literally. She died before I was born, and from what I’ve heard, she would have been someone who smelled of fresh-baked cookies and always ready to wrap me in a hug. I miss her.

p_v11agy64zae0426Grandpa Ben never said more than a dozen words to me, yet I remember him wiping away tears at the news of a new grandchild arriving. He lived in a crumbling hundred-year-old stone house just a quarter mile from us. He wasn’t a very committed farmer, as every day after dinner (lunch to you city folk) he’d change out of his overalls, get cleaned up and drive to town to play pool for the afternoon. In his eighties, while scrutinizing a neighboring field, he drove his car into the ditch. Not one to miss his afternoon of billiards, he walked the half mile home, started up a tractor, pulled his car from the ditch, returned the tractor and walked the half mile back to his car. He lived well into his nineties and at his funeral a dozen sharply dressed men from his pool hall told us all about a “Benny” we’d never known.

Wedding Day for Mom and Dad

Wedding Day for Mom and Dad

My parents, Lewie and Ginger, had two separate wedding receptions, one upstairs, because Dad’s family was filled with senior officials from the Kansas Dry Forces. And one downstairs because  Mom’s family was filled with people who drank massive quantities of bourbon and water (only without the water.)

Their honeymoon didn’t go so well. Just to say the word “Ozarks” caused sparks to shoot from her eyes. Turns out, humidity transformed Mom into the Wicked Witch of the Plains. The trip was so bad, Mom never stepped foot in the Ozarks again.

But, they managed to survive the honeymoon and produce this crazie *clan.

Janet, Larry, Tom, Rick, John, Teresa, Mike

Janet, Larry, Tom, Rick, John, Teresa, Mike

*Plus one more.

Craig

Craig

Tune in next week as we explore the lives of Lewie and Ginger and their Crazie Clan.