Category Archives: My Brothers

Those Chickens ~ Part One {The History}

I am not far removed from rural living. Both my parents grew up on farms in North Dakota. While these farms were vastly different (Norwegian/grain/some livestock farm versus German/livestock/some grain ranch), I learned early how to use an outhouse and that food doesn’t actually originate in a grocery store.

My Aunt Vi,  dad’s sister, lived on the home farm most her life and had broilers. These are chickens specifically raised for meat production. Yes, you read that correctly, these chickens become Sunday dinner. Broilers do not receive cute names. They are not pets. They are future food.

Some summers, if I was unlucky enough, our visit to Aunt Vi’s farm coincided with the butchering of her chickens. Growing up in a big city, and being me, the thought of killing anything is abhorrent. Therefore, I never witnessed the actual event. I always hid in the house with a book and pretended the meat later served came from far, far away. Possibly a magical land where everyone is happy and meat is grown from the ground, similar to crops.

My younger brother and sister didn’t understand this thinking. For them watching was a rare, exciting treat. Maybe they were more connected to the ebb and flow of life than me. Whatever. Getting your younger siblings to cease talking about chicken butchering was a monumental task. They would run into the farmhouse, talking excitedly about the ‘goings-on’ outside. No, I do not want to know what is happening outside. No, I do not want to know what a chicken does when its head is chopped off. No, I do not want to know how clean, swift and humane the process was.

With no form of escape, I would whine to mom. “Make them stop.” “I am going to throw up.” “Do not make me eat any, and I mean any, chickens this visit!”

Mom, my wise, wise counsel, would put her arms around me, suggest a better place to hide but also nudge me to think deeply about life, food and personal preferences. If I was going to be a meat eater, I needed to realize that meat came from animals. Otherwise, I needed to change, drastically.

I flirted with vegetarianism for a while, it didn’t take. I still eat a number of meatless meals each week, but I have come to realize that meat is a part of my life. I am trying to be more conscious where my food comes from, whether fruits, vegetables or meat.

Which leads me back full circle to my family. My brother has laying hens and broilers on his hobby farm. My daughter, who lives in a suburb of a big city, has purchased laying hens.

Chickens, the real, living, breathing kind… no matter how hard I try, I cannot get away from them.

Don’t Take this Bull by the Horns

My little brother is a businessman by day and farmer/budding cowboy by night. Why does this make me smile? Growing up we were the quintessential big city kids.

Every summer he anticipated our trip to the prairies where he could explore his western roots. Those visits were an all inclusive vacation package for him. He loved farm food, farm hours, farm chores with the side benefit of tractors, horses, guns, dogs, barn cats, cattle, cowboy boots and overalls. Manure was the smell of money or so he told me. I thought it was the smell of p and u.

Living his dream he moved his family into the country. Now he does morning chores before the sun rises, drives to the office for a full day of work then comes home to evening chores after the sun sets. He has dogs, cats, chickens, horses, a small herd of cattle and in particular, this one bull.

He didn’t always have a bull. When he first purchased his cattle his daughters and wife named them. They were so little and cute. Every night after work, he would enter the pasture and shake a bucket of grain. The cows, hearing this, would come over to feed. As the days passed they grew in size. One night he was shaking the bucket when a small stampede started and he survived the bovine assault by completing a perfect Fosbury Flop over the barbed wire fence. He called to tell me he survived the fall, he would have won the state track meet with that jump and that the grain shaking practice had been eliminated.

Many years later, he is getting quite experienced. With hunting season approaching he decided to move his bull to a neighbor’s pasture because his farm is adjacent a county highway and on occasion hunters have mistaken his cattle for deer…or so they have said. I think they were just irritated because this bull looks you in the eye as if challenging you to do something stupid.

On the day of the big move, he enticed his bull into a pen closing the gate behind. When all looked calm he climbed over the gate, entered the pen and proceeded quickly to the other side. He told me running with the bulls has taken on a whole new meaning for him.

Beauty and the Pain

I was tempted to post this picture with no explanation
but young women need to be enlightened.
This is a hairdryer.

Women have gone to extraordinary lengths to look great (dragging their young daughters with them). Curling hair used to involve a lot of time and discomfort. First there was the hair washing. When I was young, we did not have a shower. To wash our hair we bent over a sink or washed it in our bath. Once in a while mom would wash our hair in the kitchen. We would lie on the kitchen counter with our heads over the sink as she lathered and rinsed. It was almost like being at the salon, except for the hard counter, the cupboards and the danger of falling.

Wet hair was towel dried, brushed and combed to prepare for curling. The tangles were yanked, I mean teased out. Short hair meant pin curls. Small sections of hair were twisted around a finger and then secured to your head with two bobby pins. Long hair meant curlers. Curlers were wound in hair and then stuck into place with a plastic pin. Then it was usually time for bed. Yes, we were expected to sleep with damp hair in pin curls or hard rollers. I have one word. Painful. Here’s another. Sleepless.

We were thrilled when mom bought a hair dryer. We were not so thrilled when we tried it out. A big plastic cap was placed over our head of curlers. The cap had a hose which attached to a dryer. Mom would plug in the dryer, turn it on and our cap would inflate with hot, yes, hot air. The part of our head closest to the hose would get a direct hit of heat. Again, painful but mom explained this was the price of beauty. We had to sit on the couch until our hair was dry. Long hair takes a long time to dry which enabled the elastic around the edge of the cap to leave a nice indentation on our forehead and neck. Lovely.

When we were pronounced dry, the pin curls or curlers were removed. The brush and hairspray were put to use until our hair was stiff and would not lose the cascade of curls. Toilet paper was wrapped around our head, to hold the curls shape, and we were sent to bed. These were the good old days. Wonder why nobody misses them?

“Do you have real lemon?”

Traveling with my siblings in North Dakota involved some strategic planning. Where were we going to eat each day? I did not sign on to the trip until this question was answered. The first day we stopped at a wonderful small town cafe. Since the town boasts a population of 300, everyone knows everyone else and their business as well.

When we walked into the cafe, we stuck out like the big city kids we are, and then we opened our mouths. First was the question, is this a seat yourself or a wait to be seated establishment. Take a guess. After some raised eyebrows, we conspicuously made our way to a table. My brothers looked at the menu for about five seconds and then crossed their arms. I took slightly longer, but since we have a long history of visiting small town cafes the fare was standard and I soon made up my mind. My sister opened and read the two page menu, then closed it as she looked at the front cover, then the back cover and then, once again, opened the menu to study it in great detail. The waitress came up, removed a pencil from behind her ear, pulled a green pad out of her apron pocket, licked the tip of her pencil and said, “Whattle ya have?”.

We knew to let my sister be the last to order. When it was her turn she hemmed, she hawed and then said, “I guess I will just have a salad.”
Waitress: “What kinda dressing?”
My sister: “Do you have vinaigrette?”

My brothers raised their eyebrows and rolled their eyes. The waitress just stared at my sister, not saying a word. The prolonged silence began to become uncomfortable. My sister, forgetting everything she had ever learned about small town cafes, finally broke the silence by asking, “Well… what dressings do you have?” The waitress didn’t even move. She just stood there with the same expression and silence. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I looked at my sister and said, “French, thousand island, blue cheese, ranch, Italian.”
My sister said, “I will have ranch.”
Waitress: “Do you want anything to drink?”
My sister: “I would like iced tea with lemon. Do you have real lemon?”

The waitress just turned around and walked away from the table, my brothers dropped their heads in their hands and I burst out laughing. My sister said, “What?”

Sometimes if we know something bothers or annoys you, we do it again

This past June, I traveled to North Dakota with my siblings. Now that we are middle age orphans, we felt the need to embark on a tour of remembrance to the prairie towns where our parents were born and raised. We visited the old farmsteads, a few people of our parents age that are still around and, of course, the cemeteries where we found grandparents, aunts, uncles, distant relatives and acquaintances. We talked, we laughed, we had moments of silence, but most importantly we forged stronger bonds in our relationship with each other.

All four of us have very strong personalities. Our spouses doubted we could survive this trip in harmony. We not only survived, we thrived. We found our personalities continue to have much in common. What drove one of us nuts, drove all of of nuts. What made one laugh, made all of us laugh. My husband started calling our road trip the kumbaya tour and wished we would all return to normal.

While traveling, my sister recorded a list of traits we share in common. Mind you, I am not proud of all of these traits, but they are acknowledged similarities due to our DNA. We blame our father’s side of the family.

Our Shared Traits:

  • Sometimes if we know something bothers or annoys you, we do it again. Weird quirk, I know, but we get endless entertainment from this.
  • If you set a timeline, you better follow through with it. In other words, when you say dinner is at 6:00, expect us to be in our chair with fork raised at 6 on the dot. Whoa to you who is not feeding us on time.
  • If you say we can’t do it, you will be proved wrong in short order. Saying we can’t do something is akin to a motivational speech for us.
  • If you tell us to calm down I pity you. If we could calm down we would, but we can’t so stand back because you have just poured gasoline on our fire.
  • Good luck to anyone who tries to control us. Many a brave man and woman have tried. Mom and dad had to rely on long lectures and the fly swatter.
  • If you insult a family member, even if we agree with the statement, we will have to defend them. You have just waved a red flag in front of a bull.
  • We will always share the details and facts about a tragedy or death. Our morbid side was nurtured hearing many a small town story about life, death and survival.
  • We will ask you several times if you are having a good time or whether you like something. We have a strong need for affirmation and hearing how much you appreciate us.
  • We love to all talk at the same time. This is very disconcerting to people who marry into our family and are actually used to polite conversation.
  • We enjoy embellishing a story and tend to be repetitive, telling it over and over again. We know our stories improve with the retelling.
  • We need to know the plan, especially where and when we will eat next. Our daily life revolves around our meals for the day, secondary to that is what we will actually do.
  • We enjoy laughing at ourselves and retelling our most embarrassing stories.
The picture you see at the top of this post was taken on the last day of our sibling trip. We are holding hands while standing near a field on our dad’s childhood farmstead outside Harvey, North Dakota. We continue to communicate weekly and I am happy to report have kept that loving feeling. Hold on to your family. Kumbaya!