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Friday, April 27, 2012

Allergic to Regret

To those who have been reading my blog for awhile, I apologize.  
I wrote a post very similar to this last year.  
 I tweaked it slightly and am using it for this next week's Chronicle column.

          I stepped outside yesterday and caught a scent which pulled me through the space/time continuum to a tight and confining spot, even for a small child.  The floor was layered with decades of fragrant, dried leaves beneath and a canopy of thin, and slightly velvety, gray-green foliage above.

          When I was five years old, I found this place, which became my favorite hiding place.  Unfortunately, I was the type of kid who felt the need to hide from my little brother, Jim, who was only two at the time and practically worshiped me. Equally unfortunate is how much I regret my hateful hiding habits of 45 years ago.

          The slightly tangy aroma that wafted across the breezes yesterday afternoon was the scent of Russian Olive blossoms and the hiding place of all those years ago was underneath an enormous Russian Olive tree that sat on the border of ours and Harold Morris' property.  The old tree had a huge circumference, but was so low to the ground, it required a crouch, a crawl and then an army-man scootch to position myself under it.  Once past the lowest hanging boughs, I could sit Indian-style, but I preferred to roll onto my back and enjoy the light filtering through those leaves and breath in that distinctive fragrance of the flowers while I listened to the distant sound of little Jim calling, "Dorda", "Doooorda!" as he toddled around the yard.

          Throughout the years of growing up in that house and playing in, around, and under that huge tree, I don't recall ever having allergies, but for the past 30 years, I can mark the exact day the Russian Olives bloom because my eyes water, my nose runs and the back of my throat itches to the point of wanting to scratch it with a sharp pencil.  I bear it as bravely as possible, because I am positive this is punishment for hiding from my sweet, little brother.  I wish he would call me now.  I would scramble out of my place and run to him and hug him as hard as I can and then show him greatest hiding place on earth.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Swing is a Marvelous Thing

Here's the next article for the Chronicle.  Note:  Sheldon and Sharon Western are my aunt and uncle and the nine Steele and Western kids, my cousins.  Playing on the swing at their home was the greatest childhood memory we share.  Lieu Boyd, who lives in Maryland, where she raised her family, says she loved that swing and played on it her entire youth, but can't imagine allowing her own children to do such a foolish and dangerous thing as jumping from a tree onto a home made swing.         

          There was a swing hanging in the enormous Cottonwood tree over the canal in front of the house Sheldon Western purchased next door to his parents' home in the 1950s.  Sometime in the early 60s, he decided the rope and plank construction of the original swing wasn't safe enough for his children, his Boy Scout Troop, and practically the entire kid population of Hinckley who were constantly playing on it.  So he fastened a 100' metal winch cable high on a central limb that grew parallel to the canal below, attached wooden ladder rungs up the trunk, and built a platform in the main fork of that tree.  He tied a half-filled burlap sack to the huge metal hook at the end of the cable, but found gunny sacks didn't hold up very long, so he started experimenting with different kinds of cloth feed and flour bags for the seat of the swing.

            Kids of every age came from all over town throughout the 1960s and 70s to swing on that amazing swing.  No matter what the weather or season, you could find smaller kids jumping from the edge of the ditch to swing to the other side and older kids climbing the tree and hollering for someone to throw the bag up to them. From the platform, you would have to lean forward, holding firmly to the hook, then make a dizzying leap while wrapping legs around the neck of the bag, then settling on the stuffed sacking as it dropped into its long, arching trajectory down the length of the canal.  During the summer months, the noise of happy swingers kept the neighbors awake late into the night.  Often Sheldon would have to go out and send kids home so his own family could sleep.

            Stephanie Steele King recalls growing up with that swing in her front yard and the thrill of letting go and dropping off into a ditch full of irrigation water, fall leaves, or piles of snow.  She says 'Many a wonderful dream was had on that swing.'  The nine Steele and Western children all remember their very proper mother, Sharon, climbing the tree and then being too frightened to swing, but even more terrified to climb back down.  After much cajoling and calling from the crowd below, she leapt onto the cotton sack, landed in a cockeyed fashion, and soared through the air screaming and clinging furiously to the swing with arms and legs.  Even the youngest Westerns, who weren't born at the time, will never forget the day their mother swung out of the tree because the occasion was filmed.  Lieuwen Steele Boyd claims the film quality is rather shaky due to fits of laughter their father experienced while holding the movie camera.

            Swinging double was a popular variation of use.  One kid would straddle the bag and swing out, as he came back another child would jump on in the opposite direction.  There were times when three or more kids would attempt to swing together. For awhile an old, blue pickup truck was parked near the ditch.  Kids crowded onto the bed and cab of the truck using it as a launching pad to jump onto the swing and sail over the ditch, to kick at the leaves while at the highest point and trail toes through the water at the lowest spot.

            Sharon remembers a young man who leaped from the tree onto the swing one summer day to have the overused and weathered sacking tear free of the hook and dump him into the irrigation water.  She says he was uninjured, but came up shocked, sputtering, and without his eye glasses.  With the swing out of commission, the kids spent the rest of that day diving and searching the muddy ditch bed for a pair of glasses.  Years later a similar incident, but without water in the canal, caused a broken arm.  That was the culminating event of the swing.  Hinckley City officials came by shortly afterwards and instructed Sheldon to dismantle his swing to prevent any other injury to children of the town.

            That swing hung in the same tree and was well used and beloved for over 20 years.  Literally hundreds enjoyed the breeze in their face; wind streaming through their hair; and the pleasurable sensation of falling and then being snatched back into the long, sweeping arc of that swing.  The Steele/Western swing doesn't hold the record for the longest continuous use or highest pivotal point of a swing, but according to at least one generation of Hinckley dwellers, it was 'the greatest swing in the whole world'.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Baby Animal Days

             When the grass turns green and leaves appear on the trees, it is baby animal time.  Lambs, bunnies, chicks and ducklings are the quintessential babies associated with spring.

            When I was ten one of our ewes died giving birth to an especially large lamb.  We made a quick run to the IFA in Delta where we bought powdered milk and some dark pink rubber nipples. I remember the smell of that chalky powder we mixed with warm water. We funneled the milk into glass pop bottles, snapped on those nipples, and took on the role of surrogate mother sheep.

            We named our little orphan Cecil.  He had snowy white wool, spindly legs, and the sweetest face I had ever seen.  At first we thought it was adorable that he followed us everywhere butting us demanding more food, but as the months passed it wasn't cute anymore.  When Cecil's horns started to develop, we became increasingly alarmed at the demonstrative ways he insisted on being fed.  My brother, Jim, and I devised a scheme of offering him hay through the rails of the fence.  When he stuck his head through to eat, we used bailing wire to secure him to the fence so we could go in and feed and water the other animals without being mowed over by Cecil the Diesel, as he came to be known.

            We raised rabbits for several years.  It all started with two rabbits my Arizona grandparents gave Jim and me for Easter 1969. They looked just like the ones a magician would pull from a top hat, with white fur, pink eyes, and enormous back feet.  The phrase, 'multiplying like rabbits' is very accurate and it wasn't long before we had a small city of rabbit hutches stacked behind the redwood fence at the back of our house. 

            Baby bunnies are probably one of the cutest animals known to man.  At about two weeks old, their eyes open and their fur is silky soft.  My mom would dab a little vanilla extract on the mommas' noses and Jim and I would sit in the grass holding those darling little creatures admiring their tiny ears and delightful dispositions.

            Unfortunately, bunnies grow into rabbits. Trying to cuddle a rabbit can result in long, deep scratches and even an occasional nip with razor-sharp teeth.  Cleaning out rabbit hutches became the most despised chore.  The smell can burn holes in nasal tissues, eye membranes, and clothing.

            Ducklings and chicks are additional examples of beautiful babies who grown into demented, bad-tempered, and work-intensive adult animals.  As they develop, their lovely yellow fluff dissolves into raggedy, moth-eaten feathers; their odor is atrocious; and I have many stories of being mistreated by adult bills and beaks.

            I remind myself and all parents of these events because spring time brings the sweet baby animals, who by autumn, have changed into something else completely.  When we stop by the IFA store to get our yard and garden supplies this week, I want to be prepared to see the crates of bunnies, chicks, and ducklings, allow my children to oooh and aaah for a minute, and then depart without making any baby animal purchases.

Pass along your remembrances (about animals or anything else) to Georgia at or 801-645-4238.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Even Lamer Than Usual...

I'm feeling a bit run down this week 
(something akin to a loaded dump truck from behind).  
I can't quite seem to get my feet under me 
so I can do all that needs to be done.  
So for this week's article, this is all I could muster.  
Hopefully I can find a spring tonic 
and some energy before the next one is due.

Easter Traditions

            My memories of childhood Easters are slightly grainy, not because they were so long ago, but because for a number of years during my youth, the Primary and Sunday School teachers took our class to the Sand Dunes the Saturday before Easter.  It became a tradition to spend the whole afternoon rolling brightly colored eggs down the dunes, eating a gritty picnic, and rolling ourselves down the dunes.  I'm pretty sure my class and I owe several teachers many apologies for all the sand we ground into their car floor mats and seat cushions on the ride home after spending the day at the Dunes.         
            Actually, it is quite amazing there is any sand left at the Dunes considering all that came home with me each Easter season.  Both shoes would be full, all pockets and cuffs would be filled to capacity, and every crevice was crammed with the stuff as evidenced by the sand bar in the tub after each Easter Eve bath. 
            When I tell people of my fond Easter memories at the Sand Dunes, they look at me strangely, but I'm used to that look.  It is the same one I receive when I tell people my high school mascot was a rabbit. 
            Delta High alums who live away from Millard County know the look I am speaking of.  They also know the conversation that inevitably follows the look:
            "Your mascot was a rabbit?"
            [snickers] "Hmmm."
            Then I explain with pride that a Delta Rabbit is not a fluffy, flop-eared Easter bunny, but a tough jack rabbit who kicks hard, jumps high, and runs fast and that is why we are so tough to beat.  Check out who holds the 3A State Wrestling title (again!)  
            So my Easter memories are a little grittier than most people I know.  I probably still have a little sand in my ears.  Maybe I like my egg salad sandwich with that granular texture and my Easter candy coated in a fine layer of dust…hey, I'm one of those tough Delta Rabbits, what do you expect?