Posts Tagged ‘farming’

Tale of a Broody Hen

Some of my hens turned broody in the spring. I don’t keep a rooster in the flock to fertilize their eggs or give them any hope of motherhood but still they sat, staring ahead as if sheer will and concentration could turn those blanks into babies. They only came down from the nest once a day, heads low and plumage fanned out like visiting royalty as theycartoon-chicken-on-nest steered an imaginary brood of chicks to feed and water.   Most of them gave up after a couple of months. Chicken eggs only take twenty-one days to hatch. Every day after that further dissolved the illusion in their little minds that it was ever going to happen for them. They abandoned the nest and the cluck-clucking sound distinctive to broody hens, drew in their feathers and resumed their place in the pecking order with admirable stoicism.

One chicken, whom I’ve affectionately come to know as Millicent, refused to give up her dream of a family. Every day I took away the eggs she sat on, so until the other hens laid more the next day, she had to imagine the eggs as well as the chicks, and still she sat, week after week, month after weary month. She began to be distressed and confused, abandoning one group of eggs by midmorning to sit on another, desperately hoping for one of them, any of them, to hatch.

cartoon-chicken-on-nest-02I finally took pity on her in August and ordered a flock of day-old chicks for her from Frey’s Hatchery in St. Jacobs. I could have ordered fertile eggs for her to hatch out herself but they only sell fertile eggs in lots of a single breed and I wanted an assortment of yellow, black and brown chicks scuttling about the barnyard with the hen, just like my mother had when I was small. Albert and his mother said it wouldn’t work – no self-respecting hen would deign to rear a chick she hadn’t hatched herself, but then neither of them had probed those flickering, broody eyes, seen the desperation tinged with madness there…you’ve got to know your chicken.

On September 8, I set out for St. Jacobs, a good hour and a half from home. The day was an unseasonably warm 84°Farenheit but air conditioning kept me comfortable on the way. The drive home was another story. At one day old, chicks are unable to regulate their own body temperature so their environment must be 95°Farenheit. Free of drafts. Or any other relief that an open window might have afforded me that sweltering afternoon. The scenic route lost all appeal; I gripped the wheel and sped up the inside lane of the 401 for home, my cargo cheep-cheeping in chorus from the passenger seat and sweat pouring from my hair down my neck and back. Clearly, I’d underestimated the merits of unicolour chicks. I cracked the windows before I got halfway home; I couldn’t help it. By that time it must’ve been closer to 200° in there anyway.

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On being introduced to Millicent, the chicks cheep-cheeped their raucous and unanimous vote: she would do very well for an adoptive mother, even though they had no other prospective mom to compare her to. Until the day before, they had incubated in a sterile, noisy mechanical mother devoid of softness, gentle clucking sounds and every other comfort a hen provides except heat, yet they instinctively ducked under Millicent’s feathers and she automatically stood up a little to allow them even though her brain struggled to make sense of this new development. Her first contact with her chicks should have been a stirring under her feathers as they began to peck their way out of shells accompanied by peeping, twittery progress reports whenever they stopped to rest, and she keenly felt the omission. It took a moment for her to decide that adopted chicks were better than no chicks at all but once she was sure, she commenced to cluck and wing her noisy brood of children into obedience and order.

Not that she’d let herself be cheated of any more birthing rites of passage if she could help it. Fertile eggs almost never all hatch no matter how devotedly the hen cares for them, or if they do, they don’t all come out at the same time so after most have hatched, the hen continues to sit on the remaining eggs for a day or so, just in case. So did Millicent. Her mail-order children darted to feed, to water and back to her, repeated the circuit, then mixed it up for interest’s sake but she remained resolutely parked atop her imaginary eggs for another thirty-six hours. I’d taken every egg out from under her when I brought her the chicks but to her mind, this was no reason not to give them a fighting chance.

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I moved the little family to a small pen for a week, a sort of chicken nursery where they’d be safe from jealous hens and other predators. Then I pulled up a lawn chair and sat down to watch them. Some people look at fish aquariums in order to relax and unwind…I look at chickens. Presently, Sniper the German Shepherd shuffled in to join me. Looking at her look at the chicks is an amusement in itself. Something in me resonates with the expression flickering across her face when she gazes on the tiny, defenseless chicks. I’ve felt the same emotion when I look at a plate of cream puffs. Thankfully, she’s an obedient dog who respects her boundaries as well as any dog can.

The chicks are a delight to touch, too. At one day old, each downy ball is so light, you almost can’t feel it when you pick it up. There’s a barely discernible skittering as it explores the palm of your hand, like a spider if spiders didn’t ignite irrational fits of terror in otherwise serene and sensible middle-aged women. Three of the chicks are roosters, so we’ll have to see if they’re as sweet-tempered when they’re fully grown as they are now. I’m a little nervous when I think that within a few months, they could morph into brawny, spiky thugs who mug me whenever I cross their terrain but if they do, I reckon they’ll rehabilitate well enough in the soup pot. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.


shop talk

When we moved here about eight years ago, I asked Albert to build me a little egg shop and he did it. He’s a sport, that Albert, because he knew I was much more interested in embellishing it than in keeping it stocked with eggs.  It’s as much a canvas I use to display and enjoy a few relics I’ve acquired from fifteen years of yard sale snooping, auction picking and thrift store rummaging than it is a business.  They range from semi-valuable to endearingly kitschy but each one is a treasure to me.

egg shop storefront

Still, I keep my end of the bargain by keeping a coop full of hens that turn out a basket full of eggs by noon every day for me to sell to the neighboring folk.  I count on them to do it.  Without them, my reason for keeping a sweet little egg shop would cease to exist.

egg shop eggs & goats

egg shop sink

In the farthest reaches of my memory stands a double-sink cement laundry tub in my mother’s laundry room against the north wall next to her wringer washing machine.  Before I was old enough to remember much more they were replaced by a white plastic tub and an automatic washer so when I found this one complete with raised cement ridges forming a built-in scrubbing board at a Shackleton’s auction, it was like a lost piece of my childhood dropped out of the sky and landed upright with a k-chunk before my very eyes.  I paid $10 for it, hauled it home and now it stands on the egg shop porch as a haven for garden gnomes, petunias and other trailing things.

egg shop gas pump

Albert and I went to see a man about a motorcycle last summer. We ended up buying it along with an old gas pump I found rusting in the weeds beside the garage that housed the more fortunate motorcycle.  I sandblasted as much of the rust as I could, covered the pump with the most joyful shade of red I could find and fitted it with a few choice accessories from a website called Gas Pump Heaven.

I’m not sure why it’s called that – is it where old gas pumps go when they die? Or does it describe the euphoria felt when vintage gas pump enthusiasts discover that not only are we not alone but that there areegg shop bell enough of us to merit a whole website dedicated to uniting lovers of these rusty shells of yesterjunk and supplying us with everything we need to restore them to their former glory?  Both are apt.  I haven’t spent as much time and money into my gas pump as some have but it stands a bright and cheery greeter to folks round about who buy eggs from my little store.  Albert never did take to that motorcycle.  He likens it to a Chevy Cavalier – it’ll get you where you need to go but the trip is pretty boring.  I like my gas pump very much.

This old bell hung from the exterior wall of the workshop at our first farm until just before we sold the place. I made Albert scramble up a ladder, remove the screws that held it fast and yank it from the wall hours before signing a contract that stated everything bolted, nailed or screwed down was to remain as property of the new owners.  It’s clanging can easily be heard from the barn and clear to the next farm.

Let’s go inside.

egg shop arborite table

It’s odd that my most precious childhood memories formed in my mother’s laundry room. Or maybe it’s mostly those that come back to me in the form of vintage treasures like this arborite table in classic chipped ice pattern.  My mom’s was grey and littered with homemade lye and beef tallow laundry soap and a bottle of Fleecy to cover the smell of the soap on Dad’s work clothes.  Mine provides a spot for customers to set their eggs and make change in the tin that collects their money.

The heavy slate chalkboard above the table comes from the farmhouse where I grew up. It’s only through providence (and a bit of shameless begging on my part) that it remains in the family today.  You can read that story here.  Now it’s a shop sign and medium for my best friend Suzy’s artistry.

egg shop fan  The fan and heater come from an old camper we bought years ago but I only ever use the heater. The fan comes from the time when a safe environment was forged less through built-in safety features than common sense: anyone who stuck their fingers in the fan blades whether accidentally or otherwise would almost certainly never do it again.  I can’t be sure all of my customers would agree with this reasoning though, so the fan serves only as an ornament.

From the north-facing wall, Heintje looks past us to an unseen plane of perpetual childhood joy and incorruptible innocence. There’s something wholesome and reassuring about vintage boys so I surround myself with them like a safety blanket.  Contemporary choirboys have the same effect.

egg shop heintje & candy machine

Next to him, Felix the kit-cat clock keeps near-perfect time with his rolling eyes and pendulum tail. I can’t tell whether those eyes convey lunacy or the most knowing smirk I’ve ever seen but they’re definitely benevolent.

A surprising number of children and teenagers accompany their parents into the shop. Anxious lest they be deprived of an equally satisfactory purchase as their elders, I brought in a new but classically appealing Beaver candy machine.  Parents leave the store with the best-tasting free-range brown eggs in the county, youngsters leave with handfuls of sugary sustenance and we’re all of us gladsome.

egg shop cartons

In another corner, customers drop off their empty cartons for me to reuse. Sometimes, it looks as though I’ve filled one carton with larger eggs than the next but I really haven’t.  It’s just that some cartons are designed like a Wonderbra – tiny compartments force their contents upward making them look bigger than they really are.

The old radio on top of the fridge is set to AM 980 news talk London, the only station it’s able to receive. Depending on the hour and the day, my customers can hear the news, learn to take a proactive approach to their health, weigh in on current affairs or take in a rousing gospel message.

egg shop radio

The Essex County milk bottle is a present from Bob, who lived next door to our first farm. Bob was a retired nurse from Hamilton with a yen to farm in his golden years.  His farm consisted of two goats, three pigs, a few hens and a dog on one acre of land.  It provided plenty of physical work for a man his age but little excitement for someone used to the diversions of urban life.  He became my laid-back, witty travel companion anywhere I decided to go on a whim, whether exploring flea markets or tramping through St. Patrick’s cemetery in two feet of snow the day I wanted to see the Donnelly gravestone.  Bob was also an invaluable fashion guru who was never afraid to proffer an opinion about my clothing, including a pretty pair of heels I could not make up my mind to buy in the shoe department one day.  “My dear”, he sighed, his impatience barely contained, “you cannot spend your entire life in rubber boots.”  My decision was egg shop curtainssuddenly simple.  Whether or not those heels see the light of day more than twice a year is another matter.  Some years later we moved away and Bob returned to the city.

I stitched my seventies-inspired curtains from a piece of fabric left over from a skirt. If I’d known my waistline would expand six sizes in as many years I might not have spared material for curtains but that’s another story.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely finished outfitting the egg shop.  There’s too much wall space begging to be filled, too many yard sale and flea market treasures still pining for a second chance at life in dim and dusty corners of the barn and garage.

I’ll show them to you sometime.

egg shop ivy

Slow Goings

The strawberry patch we planted in the spring has grown green and lush.  Once the night temperatures fall to a regular four degrees Celcius, we’ll tuck every row under a straw blanket where they’ll convalesce until spring.  In April, they’ll throw off the covers, raring to grow their first crop of luscious red strawberries.

strawberry imageIt’s a happy thought for me now but when I was a kid, the prospect of all those berries would have filled me with anxiety.  When you’re an Old Colony Mennonite kid whose family depends largely on the agricultural harvest to make a living, there is one standard by which to measure your value as a worker: speed.  That’s it.  Intellect and creativity fall under the tomato truck; what matters is how fast you can pick a flat of strawberries or fill a hamper of cucumbers or a bin of apples.  Some parents employ dubious tactics to spur their kids on to even greater speeds.   My friends’ Dad used to promise his children that the earnings from every flat of strawberries they filled after the tenth one were theirs to keep.  He knew they weren’t capable of filling more than eleven before the field was picked clean around noon but he also knew they would bust their little hineys in hopes of big money every time.

I fared about as well as a dachshund at a greyhound derby in this environment.  By the time I picked four flats, the kid in the daschundnext row had picked six or seven.  When I filled one hamper of cucumbers, the kid next to me was toting three full hampers to the back of the machine to make room for empties.  I hated being slow but no matter how I willed my fingers to pick faster, I always fell behind.

There’s a Low German word for people like me: “langsomje”, pronounced long-some-yə, which means “slow one”.  It indicates someone who is slow to complete physical tasks, not someone with a mental disability as the term might be interpreted in English, but they suffer a lot of the same prejudice in their respective worlds.  No one wants the langsomje on their cucumber machine.

It wasn’t until I grew older that I understood that being fast wasn’t the most important part of every job.  God began to show me this through things I love to do.

Who would want to read an author who chose random words and ditched any effort at pleasing composition because her highest literary aspiration was to exceed her word count from the day before?

Or who would trust a translator who delivered the sentence, “The minister ruled against her but she pressed her case all the way to the Federal Court of Appeals” into the target language as, “She lost the case but she fought all the way to the top” because he earned his living by piece work and hey, at least his client was getting the gist of the story.

Translating the example above into something that non-English speaking Mennonites can make sense of is a fiddly business, by the way.  We’re not inclined to appeal much of anything.  We pack our things and move to a country where they let us do whatever we want.  But I digress.

The tasks above call for such unhurried behaviour as staring into space while I contemplate the effect of a single word on a wholestack of books paragraph.  They necessitate rummaging through dictionaries and thesauruses for the perfect word then repeating this action a hundred times for one document.  They require me to scour the cupboard furiously for a piece of chocolate when the perfect word goes AWOL, then rewrite entire passages when it turns up.  They make me walk past the washing machine with an armload of dirty socks and dump it into the deep freeze when the best story idea ever temporarily shorts out every other thought in my brain.

Happily, I have these character traits in abundance.  I can make anything take longer than it needs to.  Because God never created me to reign as queen of the 8-second pickle hamper and knowing this frees me to be kinder to myself.  I wouldn’t call myself a dachshund anymore but I’m still no greyhound… an arthritic beagle maybe…but I no longer see this as a birth defect.  I’ll be your langsomje, anywhere you need one.  Just leave me plenty of time to get there.


Number 559

The sirens started blaring at about six on Sunday morning.  This wouldn’t normally get us out of bed except that as soon as the sound drew near, it stopped.  Albert looked out the window and said,

“Oh CRAP!!”

Before I could ask what scatology had to do with the view he said,

“The neighbor’s’ barn is burning.”

I stumbled over to the window.  He said,

“I don’t think it’s the cow barn though.”

I stepped out onto our front porch and looked east.  Albert was right; it wasn’t the dairy barn; it was the machinery barn.  Flames fueled by hay bales stored inside leapt from the entire three hundred-odd foot length of it.  The fire crackled and that was the only sound because there was not a breath of wind that early morning.  It was oddly beautiful, that quiet fire, but I turned to go back inside.  I didn’t want the sight nor sound of it indelibly stamped on my brain were I to find out later that someone or some living thing was in the barn.

Albert walked the half-kilometer to the neighbors.  I waited ten minutes, then called his cell phone.

“Is anybody inside?”

He didn’t think so.

I put on my rubber boots and set off after him.  A fire that doesn’t hurt anyone isn’t a tragedy.  It is a misfortune, surely, but an interesting spectacle too.  “A shame about your barn, neighbor.  I hope everything was insured?  Let us know what we can do to help.”

I crept through the apple trees in the front yard, well away from the fire trucks and police cars.  When I reached the back yard, the farmer’s wife came toward me from the barn.  Her eyes were rimmed with red and her voice could hardly manage more than a whisper.  More than forty Holstein heifers were trapped in the barn.  Her husband had tried to get to them but the fire was too hot.  She turned and walked to the house.

I know why Hagar put Ishmael under the bushes and left him there when the water skin ran dry.  The same cowardly vein runs through me – when a living thing suffers and I’m powerless to alleviate that suffering, I turn away and try to block it out.  I went back the way I’d come, hating the inescapable stench of smoke that would surely mock us for days yet and weeping all the way home.  Albert came home soon after to collect his gun and go back.  About ten of the cows were still alive and must be put down immediately.


We were in our own barn three evenings later when the blaring of a horn summoned us outside.  A minivan stood parked on the road at the end of our drive, honking at nothing that we could see.  Some of my egg customers make the same belligerent noise when they’re too afraid of the dogs to step out of the vehicle or just too lazy, but as a rule, they pull into the driveway to do it.  I began to wonder if the driver was crazy when a Holstein cow ran out from behind the hedge line and past our front yard.  The van stopped honking and drove off.

With the help of our neighbor to the west, we herded the cow into our pasture.  She had no burn marks and she could have wandered away from one of many farms in the neighborhood.  But she was a heifer (a cow that hasn’t had a calf yet) and Albert and I could barely contain our excitement at the thought of where she could have come from, whom she just might belong to…

It was late and Albert decided to wait until the next day to tell the east neighbor about the heifer.  In the meantime, desperate for cow company, the heifer ambled off to hobnob with our calves, exhausted and anxious to acquaint herself with rites of passage for joining a Black Angus herd.

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The neighbor was overjoyed to learn that one of his heifers might have survived.  In his heavy Dutch accent, he hailed her “a miracle calf” should she prove to be his.  If she was, the number on her ear tag would read somewhere between 530 and 580.  She was hanging out in the shady barn and I hurried over to look.  The number was much clearer than this picture shows.

August 2013 037

She was number 559, and somehow, she had escaped from the burning barn completely unharmed.

The farmer, his wife and their six children rejoiced over the restored heifer and I made a pie.  I’m not sure what the occasion called for.  My default response to the big stuff in people’s’ lives, whether offered in congratulations, gratitude or condolence is habitually pie and so far, no one’s ever turned it down.  Nor would I, if I were offered pie after losing all my heifers less one.


The Bird Wars

If life is a bowl of cherries then the grim reaper is a bird – nay, an army of birds, swooping down from the sky, darting through branches and pecking each juicy red morsel until all that’s left is a bare brown pit, swaying in the breeze.

That is what happened to our largest cherry tree a week ago.  Albert and I may have gotten a handful of cherries apiece.  The birds got the rest.

A smaller tree stands a few feet away.  It produces lots of cherries for its size, but they ripen more slowly than the cherries on the large tree did.  Our feathered foes are no more inclined to bite into a sour cherry than we are so this gave us a few days to plan a counterattack.

A friend of ours succeeded in scaring birds out of his fruit tree with snakes, the rubber kind from the dollar store, so, armed with this intelligence, I headed to Dollarama to buy a snake for the little tree.  The outing itself turned out to be an exercise in tactical withdrawal and sneaking behind enemy lines.

They make those things way too realistic.  It was hard to make myself pick up this rubber snake by the tail,

rubber snake (3)

But the one made of tiny, interlocking wooden bits that writhed in my hand was much worse.

The Old Colony Mennonite community where I grew up would find it morally repugnant to offer a child a toy snake to play with.  As I approached the checkout line with my rubbery reptile, I spotted an Old Colony family at the till so I turned around and darted up the food aisle to study the ingeniously designed clover leaf logo on a can of tuna.  It wasn’t entirely cowardice or even a desire not to be a stumbling block to them that propelled my headlong flight.  I found myself trying to hide the snake against my pant leg around everyone else in the store too, which tells me that after all these years, I still find the idea of a toy snake almost as distasteful as do the people who will always be my family in more ways than one.

The checkout lady jumped when she saw his beady eyes staring up at her from the counter but other than that, I smuggled him out of the store and into my car without further incident.  Now he’s posted in the cherry tree.

cherry snake

He’s not very good at it.  It didn’t take the birds long to figure out that a snake that never moves doesn’t pose much of a threat and now the cherries are disappearing almost as fast as they did in the big tree.

I’m not sure what to do with the snake.  He’s not a very good soldier and he’s certainly not living in the house.  I think I’ll discharge him to the barn.  Who knows, maybe he’ll fare better at defending the chicken feed against mice.

Angus Advert

After two long years with nary a “moo” to be heard in the meadow, Albert and I are again proud owners of a little herd of cattle.  Not just any cattle, but purebred Black Angus calves, so pure that they come from bloodlines with such prestigious sounding names as Laurel Lea Frontier 15N, Traveller 6K, Cedarview Profit 1S and Super Edition 914.

 But we know them simply as Maud, Mabel, Hazel, Beulah and to the far right, Kaiser (German for “emperor”), our bull calf.



They’re a tightly knit bunch,

 snuggly cows

who’ve shown me that straw stays fresh indefinitely – they tried to eat my hat.

 eating my hat

I can’t quite suppress the pride I feel in owning such a beautiful bevy of bovines.  You must allow me this tiny vice, for it’s a novel feeling since moving to this address.  Living in a mobile home on twenty-seven acres of un-tiled clay leaves blessed little room for pride in anything else.  Besides, who wouldn’t feel proud to own a breed of cow that’s world-renowned for yummy steaks and burgers? 

 Not that I care to picture Maud or Mabel wedged in a sesame seed bun with special sauce, cheese, lettuce, onions and pickles.  Nor do I need to.  All four heifers will live idyllic lives on the lush meadow under the protection of a strong, handsome bull.  Once a year, each one will lead a wobbling baby Angus out to pasture to frolic with its cousins and to learn to graze by watching its mother.  A virtual cow’s paradise.      

 But Kaiser’s dynasty is in some doubt because he shares a father with the four girls.  This makes him an unsuitable father to our next generation of Anguses.  I must be careful not to get attached to Kaiser. hamburger

 But being unsuited to our herd doesn’t automatically mean that he’s headed for the patty press.  I take comfort in that hope.  Who knows, we might find a farmer who’s looking for a bull to perpetuate the line of Mucho Mooie 0NUR PL8 and if that happens, Kaiser might very well inherit a harem whose charms rival even those of Maud, Mabel, Beulah and Hazel.

 So, if you or someone you know is in the market for a herd sire or if you have an Angus bull calf you’d like to trade for Kaiser (preferably from a different bloodline than the ones I mentioned), drop me a line. 

I might have your man.   kaiser crowned_edited-1

A Chalkboard, a Lighthouse and Other Cherished Articles

Three days ago, I pulled a well-loved and much-used treasure out of the garage and into the house for a good dusting: a very old chalkboard that I inherited from the farmhouse where I grew up near Port Rowan.  It’s not made from a thin piece of painted steel the way chalkboards are today.  This board was fashioned from a single piece of natural slate rock, carved two feet high by three feet wide, a good inch and a half thick and framed with wood.  It was in the house when my family moved there, before I was born.  Our parents forbade us to watch television (my brothers smuggled a prehistoric, tiny black and white up to their bedroom but it only stood on the bureau when hockey was on and was stashed under a pile of quilts when it was not) so the chalkboard, which hung from the dining room wall downstairs, served as a game board,


Chalkboard hangmanand self-promoting billboard.  At the age of nine, my brother Frank already knew the value of a fierce stage moniker on his path to the World Wrestling Federation.


Inevitably, it even served as a medium with which little imps pull hijinks on their sisters.  My brother John wrote the tag on the chalkboard in the following picture (minus the fragrant verb beneath), then told my sister Helen to stand next to it for a photo.  While she was busy arranging herself so that the camera would capture the arrow that pointed the eulogy to herself, John scrawled the word “stinks” below it and snapped the picture.  By the look on her face, she was about one second away from catching on to the prank when the shutter came down.


About seven years ago, my parents sold the farm and moved out of the house.  When I drove past it two years later, this is what I saw.

old version

The new owners, a semi-retired couple, had begun to tear it down.

It’s a shock to see your first home this way.  I knew it was an old house; it was old before I was born.  But it used to be clean, bright and filled with the smell of bread baking in the kitchen and the clamor of ten bratty Mennonite kids fighting, playing, living.  Now it stood desolate and wounded.  Dying, literally, from a lack of love.

I pulled over, turned the car around and went back to the house.  I stopped a short way up the lane and got out.  I wondered at the curious way in which the house was being taken apart, like an onion stripped away one layer at a time.  Why not simply demolish it all at once?

There was no one else about so I stole into the house.  That is, if stepping through a gaping hole where the front door once stood can be called stealing in.  Inside, I noticed a similar pattern.  I hadn’t expected the house to be neat and clean, but neither did I expect it to be gutted, exposing paint and wallpaper I hadn’t seen since I was four.  There were also other, strange colours, reminding me that the house had witnessed the happiness and tragedy of other family sagas long before I was born.  It was as if her new owners were dismantling her piece by piece.

When I’d picked my way through piles of rubble to the kitchen, I saw the chalkboard.  Standing against what was left of the kitchen counter, it was wrenched from its age-old station on the dining room wall and looked for all the world like one more piece of debris destined for the construction heap.


Grief replaced shock.  I seized a pen and scrap of paper and covered it with shameless, impassioned pleas to the persons in whose hands the fate of my childhood memories now hung.  I begged them not to throw the precious chalkboard out with the trash or sell it, but to return it to me, the true possessor of the cherished article in all but name.

Okay, so the real letter wasn’t quite as pathetic as that, (it contained no mention of “cherished articles”) but no reader could have doubted my wish to claim the chalkboard again.  I scribbled my phone number at the bottom, placed the page on the counter top, weighted it with a chunk of splintered wood and drove away.

Two weeks later, the owners called.  They hadn’t intended to throw the chalkboard out or to sell it at all.  In fact, they had meant to install it in a new house which was to be built almost on the very spot where the old one stood.  But (bless their dear hearts) after reading my letter, they could do naught but return the chalkboard to me.

Furthermore, every salvageable bit of the old house was being carefully removed so that it could be used in the construction of the one to come, from the ornate woodwork in the living room to the gathering of Styrofoam bead insulation into sacks as it poured from torn away walls.  The old house wasn’t dying at all.  She was merely breaking from her shell, tired and careworn from a century of Lake Erie winds beating at her walls and roof into a new one – bigger, stronger and more glorious than she had ever been before.

the new house

This photo doesn’t do justice to the sheer size of the new house, but if you focus on the doors on the first story, the rest falls into perspective.  The attached lighthouse towers forty-seven feet in the air.  It was built so that the lady of the house could enjoy the view of the lake where we spent every free moment of our childhood summers.

lake view_edited-1


I gave the chalkboard’s frame and ledge a fresh coat of paint when I brought it home but since then, it’s gathered cobwebs Chalkboard (chalk)in the garage, waiting for another chance to shine.  But I’ve finally found a project worthy of it – a place to use it where voices chime and sun shining through polished window panes floods the room with light and life once again.

More to come…

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