Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Spooky Tale of Pottsville

Because it's Halloween and because I haven't spoken of Pottsville in a very long time, I figured I would share a spooky tale of Pottsville and kill two birds with one stone. Now, this isn't something spooky thing that happened in Pottsville, mind you, because in spite of there being only three lonely residences out in the middle of the boonies, far from anywhere, there really wasn't much spooky that happened there.

For those just joining us, Pottsville was a little homestead on a hill three miles off a dirt back road stretching between the hamlet of Woodruff and town of Snowflake.

Pottsville was founded by my Grandpa and Grandma Potts  in the early 1970s; then our little family of four joined them upon our move from Normal Town-Normal Life, Ohio in the late '70s. Finally, we were joined by my Aunt Barbara and her children Jack, Tawnya, David, John and Michelle (Shannon came later and was the only native-born Pottsvillian). We 13 people and assorted dogs, cats and the occasional milk cow, Shetland pony and pigs were the sum total of the inhabitants of Pottsville.

Grandpa and the other menfolk built a windmill that provided electricity for Grandpa's and Aunt Barbara's homes. We had a diesel generator down the lane, and we had Army field phones connected between the three homes. I kid you not. This was my life from nearly nine through age 13.

Ours was a very low key, if busy, existence. We gardened, cleaned, gardened, dusted, canned, did Grandma's laundry on a roller washer, gardened, made cheese, rendered lard, the works. The TV was only on while ironing one hour a week, we listened to a battery-operated radio and read by Coleman lantern in the evening. Again, I kid you not.

But this is not the spooky part of the story. No, that comes much later.

Let me finish painting this image of Pottsville. Grandma and Grandpa's place was at the bend in the road; Aunt Barbara's house was a matter of 50 to 100 yards, I guess, down the road from them; and we were 1/4 mile from Grandma's. There were no street lights, no sidewalks, no asphalt anywhere to be seen. There was a dirt road and we lived along it.

Flash forward about 22 or 23 years, when we had all long since moved from Pottsville to places with stop signs and forced air, and such. Grandma and Grandpa had passed away, I was living in the Phoenix metro area, my cousin John had just moved to southeastern Arizona and Aunt Barbara moved into a little rock house in Woodruff.

John and I had brought our kiddos home to Woodruff for Halloween, as we did every time Halloween fell on a weekend. We were chatting while our kids were trick or treating and I said, "Hey, I have to tell you about this weird recurring dream I've been having the past few years...." and I proceeded to tell him the following:

In my dream, we are up in Pottsville and I know it's sometime in the future, in the way you just seem to know these things in dreams. It's dark and a bunch of us from our family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, older grandkids -- are hurriedly packing belongings into the back of a truck that belongs to my Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam is there, along with John and me, and lots of others, and Uncle Sam says with his Georgia drawl coming through in a low, urgent tone, "Come on, guys, let's just get this packed and get out of here. Let's hurry up and get this done."

I instinctively know we are trying not to draw attention to ourselves.

This Pottsville looks nothing like our Pottsville of old. I know that's where we are, but it's transformed into a makeshift shanty town, with hastily thrown up lean-to kinds of dwellings, string lights strung haphazardly and unevenly from one dwelling to the next.

The dwellings look something like this, but without the water:

They're lining just one side of the street -- the side our family homes had been on -- and they extend from down where our house had been, up the road and around the bend in front of Grandma and Grandpa's place, then on down the road from their house about 1/8 of a mile.
The string lights (which look kinda like these):

aren't flickering, but they're swaying a little bit -- whether from all the bustling activity or a breeze, I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that there is a menace in the air. I mean a menace. Anyone see "Escape from New York" with Kurt Russell and Adrienne Barbeau in the '80s? Yeah, that kind of menace. That "keep your head low, don't make eye contact, don't even breathe loud" kind of heavy franticness in the air. (I don't care if franticness isn't a word; it's what I mean.)

Trucks with all kinds of mean looking dudes go driving past, with threatening looking guys in the cabs and a few in the truck beds, holding rifles, for good measure. Dogs are weaving in and out of the action, moving through the groups of people. There's a droning noise - a mixture of idling engines, generators, and the trucks motoring by.

The mantra repeats in my head, "We gotta get outta here. We gotta go. Let's go, let's go." Even in your head, you muttered it low so no one could hear. I was tense and afraid and intent. And I knew so was every member of my family around me.

I had the sense that if we messed up, something like this would happen:

And that was it.

That was the sum total of the dream.

Where were we trying to go? Why had that little shanty town emerged up on our hill? Why did it feel like the whole world was in the same boat and that wherever we were heading wasn't necessarily going to be much better?

No clue.

As chilling as the dream was, and as unnerving as it was to have it over and over, over the years, the dream wasn't the spooky part.

This is the spooky part.

After I described the dream to John, expecting to elicit a witty quip or rash of questions from him, instead I noticed he'd gone a little slack jawed.

"What?" I asked.

Slack jawed wasn't what I'd anticipated.

"What?" I repeated.

Anyone who knows my cousin John knows he's a jokester and can understand why I was just waiting for his goofy rejoinder.

Instead, he said without a hint of humor, "I've been having that same dream."

There went my shave job.

Does that ever happen to you? You shave your legs, then you go and get goose bumps and out pop the little stubbies on your legs? Well, that's what happened to me in that moment. Instant stubbies.

I took a good look at him to see if he was pulling my leg, but he asked, "Who's in your dream?"

I rattle off the cast of recurring characters.

"That's the same as mine, except Grandpa and Uncle Bob are there, too."

Uncle Bob and Grandpa have been gone for years by the time we have this conversation.

Not knowing what to do with this creepy little turn of events, we changed the topic and didn't speak of it again -- to each other or anyone else.

Then, Halloween rolled around a year or two later, and John and I found ourselves at his mom's house where we were visiting while our kids bagged candy from the neighbors.

As we were sitting there I ventured, "Hey, Aunt Barbara, did John ever tell you about the weird dream about Pottsville we've both been having?"

Aunt Barbara is a no nonsense, doesn't-brook-fools kind of woman and I love her dearly for all her grumpy protestations when people are acting ridiculous. I honestly did not know how she would respond to our tale, but since it'd been a couple years since we talked about it and I wasn't as spooked anymore, I figured we'd give it a whirl.

So, we finish telling her about the dream, and without flapping an eyelid, she shrugs her shoulders and says, as cool as a cucumber, "I've been having that dream for the past 10 years."

We had no words.

Then Aunt Barbara added, "But in my dream, one of the dogs has short fur and I know it's cold,so I take a pair of flannel footsie pajamas that belong to one of Teri's babies -- because, Teri, I knew you wouldn't mind -- and I put them on the dog."

And we've never spoken of it to one another since.

What the heck does it mean to have three people dreaming the same dream over the years, with no shared knowledge of it and certainly without any basis in any kind of shared experience we'd ever had? Why would this happen?

I can tell you that since we had that conversation, I have not had the dream again. I haven't asked Aunt Barbara or John whether they have, either.

And that's my spooky Pottsville tale.

Happy Halloween from the farm,

Thursday, October 10, 2013


I don't feel well so I'm pulling out the big guns.
Ginger lemon tea with homemade honey.
It was when I got good and sick last winter I first found myself craving ginger. I'd never had it in my diet before, aside from the occasional ginger chew from Trader Joe's. But suddenly, there I was, feeling like I needed ginger.
I guess your body knows what it needs sometimes. Last night I suspected this would be a ginger tea morning and I was right.
Usually, I stick with ginger and honey. Today I added lemon juice to my cup. Not loving it like I do the ginger only show, but it's fine.
Are some of you still feeling quizzical about my reference to "homemade" honey? Is your brow a little crinkled with your questioning? Well, stop crinkling your brow, it'll cause wrinkles. Did you just widen your eyes and lift your eyebrows? OK, I'll go on then.
Yes, we have our very own homemade honey here on the farm, courtesy of Mike's mom. Well, courtesy of the bees Mike's mom brought to live at our place.

This beautiful little jar of honey is the result of lots of hard work pollen gathering in the garden and the alfalfa fields, carrying it back to the hive, and then doing whatever hoobie joobie shenanigans bees get up to inside those simple wooden boxes.

Did you know local honey is supposed to be fantastic for treating allergies? We're testing it out on Macy, our Princess of Allergy & Asthma Land. Sharron pressed the honey from the honeycomb and we encourage Macy to use it whenever she's reaching for honey, to see if we can start eliminating some of her allergies.

Just so you know what we're contending with, here's Macy's back at the allergists office five minutes after the nurse impregnated her skin with a whole host of typical plant, tree, animal and mold allergens to see what she reacted to.

And here it is after 15 minutes.

Turns out she's allergic to everything in the whole wide world.

I think it might take a while to tackle all these allergies.

We may need to get a few more bees.

Love from the farm,

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Three's A Crowd

Meet Wyatt. See him there? All black and white with glossy green tail feathers, just hanging with one of his ladies?  

Wyatt is the cock of our walk, the King of the Coop. He's the man.

He's our one remaining rooster.

See, we had three roosters. And three roosters among only eight hens is two too many. (Too bad I couldn't have figured out a way to work in "to" in that sentence, too. That would have thrown any of you who are just beginning to adopt the King's English. Who doesn't like a challenge?)


There is keen importance attached to the ratio of roosters to hens in a flock. Just ask the girls. I'd show evidence of that importance, but I respect my sisters and know I wouldn't want to be pictured when I look so bedraggled. Suffice it to say that when there are too many roosters forcing their attentions on too few hens, the girls show the wear and tear. Feathers ripped from their heads, shoulders, lower back and the base of their tails (I don't know what that's about. I've seen the roosters yank their heads back unceremoniously, or grab on tight with their talons dug into the ladies' shoulders, but not sure what the heck is up with plucking their lower back. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.)

Beyond the overuse, though, we had a bigger problem. One day a few weeks ago, my mother-in-law Sharron stumbled on a gruesome discovery behind the coop. Our hen Blackie was dead, appearing to have had her neck broken and the back of her head and neck pecked, well, to a pulp. We considered all the options - had the dogs gotten into the pen? No. Could a predator such as a raccoon or skunk have crawled in under the fence and killed her? Perhaps, but they most likely would have left evidence of a fight (feathers) and drug her away. A coyote? Don't see how one could have squeezed himself into the coop, first of all, and it's more typical he would have a) drug her off to devour at his leisure, b) created a pile of feathers from her initial fight, and/or c) tackled more than one hen, creating loads more carnage while he had a captive audience in the pen. Given the lack of evidence Blackie had put up a fight alongside the aforementioned considerations, we were left with the conclusion that the roosters did her in. A few days later, Sharron saw a rooster hop on one of the hens, then the other two boys came running up and started pecking on the hen's head while the first guy was still...umm...involved. Sharron shooed the other two away and our suspicions were confirmed. Blackie's death was murder.

We hadn't planned on having three roosters, but it was the luck of the draw at the Feed & Seed when we picked up our baby chicks this spring.  We didn't know until the little boogers started getting bigger what we had.

So what happened to other two roosters, you ask?

Well, this.

Sharron , the fast learning farmer, "took care of" (that's farm speak for "killed") the other two, with Mike's help, while I was off editing film for a video project. Mike helped her with getting the right heft behind the, well, "whack", and she did the rest -- scalding, plucking, eviscerating, cleaning and cutting up the roosters. It's the first time we've killed and eaten any of our own poultry.
Before we get into how that was, let me tell you why Wyatt was selected to be the surviving fella.
We spend time among our little flock and we observe their habits and characteristics. And, we've been around the block a few years now and have a sense of typical rooster behavior. We observed that one of the two ill-fated roosters was a bit "touched." That's genteel Southern speak for a little off your rocker; simple; oh, let's just say it, stupid. Stupid Roo (we didn't call him that while he was alive, swear; I just came up with the handy moniker for the purpose of distinction during this tale) would sort of wobble around the place, a little off kilter, stumbling here and there. He did not command any respect from the ladies, who would routinely run him off when he came around. Not King of the Coop behavior, whatsoever. Worse, he would dart in to do something mean to a hen if he got a chance, then would run off, occasionally looking over his shoulder and stumbling as he made his get away. Not exactly primo characteristics to be contributing to our future feathered gene pool.
Bully Boy, our other now gone rooster also not named that in life, was a meanie. He was more tolerated by the ladies, but he was just rough. He didn't have adoring girls who hung around him; they'd just let him bully them around as he did his business and then would have nothing to do with him.
Now, neither of these boys' character flaws were enough that we would have put them down if our rooster to hen ratio was acceptable; they just made the decision easier when it came down to who would get the axe. Or hatchet, as the case may be.
Where Stupid Roo and Bully Boy got it wrong, Wyatt gets it right. He has a little group of ladies who hang around him all the time; he's protective of his girls, keeping an eye on them throughout the day and calling to them when it's time to eat or go in for the night. Trust me, the girls like these qualities in their man.
Happily, we appear to have made the right decision. Our little flock is calmer and quieter. The ladies are looking less bedraggled. We aren't seeing any signs of unnecessary roughness. All is well.
So, how did it go eating the roosters? Well, we left it a little long. Ideally, you want to eat a young chicken. While the roosters just hatched late March, early April, that's still a little old for eating. You want them at 6 or 8 weeks old if you plan to eat them fresh. The chicken and dumplings made from these roosters were tough and stringy. We got a little grossed out and couldn't finish our bowls, but we had some happy dogs that evening.
While we boiled the meat for the dumplings, we pressure cooked the other meat that was used the next day in chicken enchiladas. That meat was more palatable. But, I think if we find ourselves eating older poultry again, we'll pressure can it first, which cooks the meat a lot longer and is supposed to take care of the toughness factor. I'm not sure we'll ever do much regular butchering on our farm, as it certainly hasn't been a regular occurrence up to now, but it's good to be learning the ins and outs of regular farm life. (I say this, having been in a nice clean television studio while the deed was done, but still.)
Well, there you have it. Another day in the life. How about you? Done any killing around your place lately? No? OK.
Love from the farm,