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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lesson Learned

This was the last column I wrote.  It was published in the June 13, 2012 Millard County Chronicle.  The following week I was in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC with my family and since coming home five days ago, I have been suffering from writer's block and haven't written a word--not on Facebook, email, or blogger (until today).  If anyone has some good ideas for a new column, I could REALLY use some help!!  

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the name of the third book in Stifg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, but I believe that title should belong to me. Perhaps even a plaque or trophy engraved with those words should be sitting on my fireplace mantle.
            Part way through my third grade year, my family moved from Hinckley to Pleasant Grove, Utah while my dad worked on a large construction job. I attended the rest of the school year at Central Elementary School, but our Pleasant Grove home sold sooner than my parents anticipated, so we had to move into an intermediary place for the summer. We rented a trailer next to the Provo River from June to August while dad finished his work commitment.  Most of our belongings (including all our toys and books) were packed in preparation for the final move back to Hinckley at the end of August. It started out as the most boring summer of my life.
            My brother, Jim, found a trailer-park friend to play with, but I had no one. So, I spent many weeks sitting by the river throwing rocks and sticks into the water and looking for fish and frogs. Within days of moving in, a bad storm blew a hornet nest out of a tree between our trailer and the river's bank. The next morning I saw the gray, papery nest, which was about 10 inches long and shaped like a fat football with a large split along one side laying on the ground. I gave it a wide berth because it made buzzing sounds and had a cloud of insects hovering around it. As the weeks went by; however, it grew quiet and I no longer noticed hornets attending it.
            One morning, I must have been feeling especially frustrated about living in a trailer down by the river because as I walked through the muddy grass, I decided I was sick of walking around that old, abandoned nest lying in my pathway and I gave it a mighty kick. My bare foot sunk deep through the papery layers of the nest as it lifted off the ground and into the air, tearing apart as it flew. Hornets poured out of the shattered mess looking for the culprit who had just destroyed their home.
            I was instantly engulfed in a swarm. Stings were coming so fast and furious all I could do was run, scream, and swing my arms. I was wailing like a siren as I tore up the hill and down the road. It must have been quite a spectacle for all the neighbors to see a skinny kid screaming and running through the trailer park surrounded by a horde of enraged insects.
            My mom heard my shrieks and was out the door to meet me. Quite a few hornets were still attached as she brought me into the trailer. An hour later, my entire body was encased in baking soda plasters and I was on my bed trying to find the least painful position to lie. There were too many red, swelling bumps to count; I remember there were even stings between my toes and fingers.
            I have not read the Larsson book with the same title as the misfortune I encountered that summer day in 1970, but I am willing to bet that if Stifg Larsson's character kicked anything as volatile as the hornet's nest I found, we both learned the same lesson and will never do that again.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chicken Moving Day

This is the column I submitted for next week's Millard County Chronicle.   Blog followers and family will recognize the story, but Chronicle readers have yet to be subjected to these particular teenage antics of Jim and Georgia Shumway...
On the last day of my sophomore year at Delta High School, my family moved onto Main Street, into what had been a boarding house at some point in Hinckley history. The home was just north of the empty lot by Morris Mercantile and had an overgrown hedge enclosing three sides of the large front lawn. It had been sitting empty for a few years so it required some cleaning and fixing-up as we transitioned to living there. My dad immediately began building a kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room on the south side of the home and my mother cooked in our travel trailer that summer and fall while he completed the project. In addition to the new rooms on the house, dad also built a chicken coop at the bottom of the lot behind the store.

Dad had sold our sheep, cows, goats, and other farm animals; but Jim, Mark, and I had continued to feed and water the chickens at our old house until the new henhouse was complete. One bright summer day, dad assigned Jim and I to transport the 50 best layers from the old coop to their newly completed abode. He told us to each take a couple of gunnysacks and put one or two hens in each bag, making as many trips as necessary to complete the transfer. Jim and I started the task and had made a couple of trips back and forth with two hens in each sack. As we walked back for the third load, we figured out how many trips it was going to take us to move the rest of the chickens and decided that we’d get done quicker if we put more chickens in each bag. The next trip we put three chickens in each bag and when we arrived we dumped them out and ran back for the next load. Being the wise 13- and 16-year-olds that we were, we decided that if it speeded up to carry three each time, we could hasten the job even more if we carried four or five each trip. When we got back to the old coop and started stuffing birds into bags, it suddenly became a contest to see who could get the most chickens in a gunnysack and carried to the new place. A gunnysack filled with five or six plump hens was so heavy, instead of carrying the bags it became more of ‘drag’ race. Back we ran for the next installment of chicken stuffing. There were about 20 hens still strutting around the old coop; we chased and wrestled eight of them into the bags and then realized if we just crammed a couple more in to each sack it would be mission accomplished!

The gunnysacks were stretched so full of feathered bodies and were so heavy, we could hardly heave, push, and pull them through the fields, over a few fences, down the road, and through a ditch to the new place. It took us a longer to haul those last sacks of birds and when we finally arrived our arms ached and our hearts pounded with the exertion. We tried to dump the load of hens out, but they were so wedged and jammed, it took some hard shaking to empty those sacks. When the bottom layer of chickens finally tumbled out, they were completely limp and lifeless. Jim and I realized with horror we had asphyxiated nearly a third of our flock. We were patting those chickens and trying to figure out if mouth to beak resuscitation would work when we heard the familiar sound of the back screen door slamming and peeked out to realize our dad was heading down to check our progress. We were panicked! Ron Shumway was not known for his sense of humor and we were sure we would soon be as dead as our limp hens appeared if we didn't experience an immediate miracle. We were desperately picking up little heads on floppy necks and violently shaking them hoping they would revive and save our backsides from the skinning we knew we deserved.

It seemed like a movie with the camera cutting between Jim and I and our pile of lifeless chickens back to my Dad who distractedly moseyed down the path making his way to the coop. Just as he reached the door, those poor hens started to come to and were drunkenly getting to their feet, some of them wobbling badly.

Dad asked us how it was going and we tried to act nonchalant as we picked up our gunnysacks and told him we had just finished. He commented that we had done that job much faster than he had expected. Jim and I felt as wilted as those hens had been minutes before when we realized what a bullet we had dodged. We leaned against the wall of the coop for awhile watching the chickens explore their new home before we found the strength to make our way back to the house.

Theoretically, we learned an important lesson about taking the time to do a job right and not taking shortcuts, but in reality we probably just became aware that we could cut corners if we were really, really lucky.