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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Let me be clear on this poverty thing.

Maybe we are getting lost in semantics here if indeed semantics is the word I want.  I very much appreciate the comments I am receiving when I write about my childhood.  "Oh, grandma, so sorry."  "I just never knew how hard you had it."  "This is so very sad,"  The thing is here, I did not have it bad.  Granted we were poor, but back in the times I grew up in, most people were.  We may have been poorer then most, but there were families living in box cars and chicken coops and eating less than we did.  While I never knew these people, I knew of them.  That was enough.

My mother was there and my father was there.  My sisters and brother were there.  My family.  What I remember most about growing up was not what we ate or did not eat, only that we survived.  We survived and moved on to better times, but we survived.  We grew up playing "Kick the Can". "Blind Man's Bluff, " and "Red Rover, Red Rover."  We could always drag enough kids together to play something and when darkness fell and the streetlight came on over on the other corner, we better get for home.

Clod fights were common place and we needed to use our good common sense when choosing a clod out of a plowed field to lob at someone.  If it was too soft, it fell apart in the air.  If it was too hard it could do some real damage.  Of course, it it was too big and too hard it could kill some one.  As you see we all survived to adulthood and in that day and age, that in itself was a miracle.

I remember setting on the side of a dirt road in my little cotton dress and my bare feet trying to build an ant hill for an ant I had found that I thought was an orphan.  I remember pulling dead wood off of a Cottonwood Tree and lighting it on fire and then blowing on it to keep it burning because I thought it would pass as punk for a fire cracker in case I ever found one of those.

I remember wading in the Arkansas River and the water was so clear I could watch minnows swimming.  I could cup my hands and drink it.  And I could lay in the cool water and then jump up and run home in the warm sun and be dry when I got there.  I was brown as a berry .  Of course I was barefooted!  We got new shoes in the fall when school started and when we grew out of them we passed them down.  I have a closet full of shoes now, but I still long for the days when shoes were an option.

I remember setting on the front yard with my brother and listening to the Grand Ole Opry from WSM in Nashville, Tennessee!  I remember Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff and a host of others.  I remember stars so bright they were diamonds in a black sky and a moon that lit up the yard like a spotlight.

I remember so much that I have no words for most of it and that is what I am trying to get across here; not the poverty, but it has to be told because it was what it was.  So when I tell you about something, try to see past that to the lesson that is there.

Making soap was how we got soap,  Times are different.  Now if you want soap, you go buy it, but it was not always that way.  We rendered out fat because we needed lard.   We played our little games because that is what we passed time on our way to adulthood.  We had a checker board instead of an XBox.  We played Dominoes instead of turning on a television or booting up the computer.

I grew up in the best of times and I am going to continue to tell you about them.  There was a time that poverty was an inconvenience, but never a time it caused me to lose my zest for life.  It was a time to be gotten through and a time to be thankful when it was over, but there is not a childhood memory in this head of mine that is dominated by poverty.  Poverty was for the people we saw pictures of that were guant and sad looking with a look of silent pleading in thier eyes, not for those Bartholomew kids at 709 Strong Street in Nicherson< Kansas!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chicken feet? Of course. Right up there with Carp!

I was talking to a friend the other day and explaining to him the facts of survival back in the "good old days." I am pretty sure he thought I was making it up about the carp and all.  He told me that Carp was a trash fish and no one really ate them.  Hmm.  Seems like I recall wading in the river with a big seine and filling tubs with them   Mother had a way to can them so the bones got soft and they were almost like Salmon.  I said "almost".  They looked like Salmon, but they sure did not taste like Salmon.  We liked the Carp best drenched in corn meal and fried in lard.  And we always had bread when we had fish because one of the little kids would always swallow a bone and the only way to get it on down was to eat a piece of bread.  I am amazed today that none of us ever had a perforated intestine, but we didn't.

So few people are around today that actually lived through the times back then in the small town of Nickerson when it was catch as catch can and anything that didn't move real fast was going to be eaten.
Try to imagine 8 of us living in a 2 bedroom house and no income.  The house payment was $10 a month and it came first.  Mother always planted a big garden that consisted mostly of sweet potatoes, onions, beans  turnips, and corn.  The corn was not the sweet corn like we enjoy around here in the summer, but was dried and then ground into corn meal.  The root vegetables were pulled up and stored in the root cellar.  Apples were abundant and several bushels of those ended up in the root cellar.  We ate apple sauce, fried apples, baked apples, and boiled apples.

Mother always seemed to have chickens around and chickens meant eggs, except when "brooding" season was upon us.  That was when the old hens sat and hatched out babies.  Not all of them sat and we still gathered eggs, but I always kept a damn close eye on those beady eyed hens.  They were just as apt as not to fly off that nest and peck me if I got to close.  They never actually did that, but I lived in mortal terror that one day one might.

Usually the hens kept us with plenty eggs, so there were cakes when we had sugar.  If one of the neighbors butchered a hog and dad helped we had pork and we got the fat which was cooked in a cast iron pot and this gave us "cracklings" and lard.  I think out here they are called chiccarones.

Meat was never very plentiful at our house through the week, but come Sunday, we always had meat of some kind .  My favorite was fried chicken because then there would be potatoes and the good country gravy.  Now to the feet part.  Mother had to make a chicken stretch to feed 7 of us, so every bit of the chicken as going into that skillet.  Not the head though.  The feet were immersed in boiling water and skinned.  They went right into the skillet and while there was no meat on the feet they were good for chewing on and the little kids never knew they were not really getting anything to eat.

Sometimes mom would come up with a roast beef.  That was something to die for.  I especially liked the gristle.  I could chew that for the longest time and actually thought it was good.  Amazing how that worked!  Today I only eat chicken breast.  If I cook a roast it better not have any gristle in it.

So to this day I do not eat apples in any cooked form.  I do not like to smell them cooking and so I do not cook them.  I eat them raw and only when they are nice and crisp.  Needless to say, I have given up the Carp for Alaskan wild caught Salmon and the only fowl on the farm here is the geese and they are not going to be eaten.  I steal their eggs and make them into noodles.  That is my idea of birth control!  Chicken breasts is the only part of the chicken I buy or cook.  No feet for me!

I look back on the hardest times and I can not help but realize that my mother had to be the strongest woman in the world.  She took nothing and raised us kids to be functioning members of society.  She took in laundry and cleaned houses to put food on the table and clothes on our backs.  She made me a teal corduroy coat when I was in fourth grade and Lord only knows where she came up with the fabric.  I wore that coat longer than I should have because the kids finally began to tease me, but it was mine and I loved it.  When I hear Dolly Parton sing "Coat of Many Colors"  I always think of my mother.  As I get older I realize everything makes me think of my mother.  The missing her is as bad all these years later as it was the day she passed.  I do not think one ever "gets over" the death of our loved ones, we just learn to live without them and I am now acutely aware that my kids are probably walking in my shoes.

It is called life.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Home, Home on North Strong Street where my memories actually begin to be sort of accurate.

I have noticed that fuzzy little memories of life on the Stroh place and then the Ailmore place change according to my mood of the moment.  Most of the time I remember those days as carefree and happy.  Well there were a few exceptions.  Seems like I was always getting my ass beat for something that I was sure I had not done, but someone gave me the credit for being the instigator of one foul deed after another.  But when we moved North of town life took on meaning.
Miss Donough was my first grade teacher.  She was so pretty and so sweet.  The school was two stories tall and we were not allowed to ever go up the stairs.  I longed to walk those stairs all the way to the top and see what mysteries lingered there, but alas I was 4 years away from that trip.  Little did I know how quickly those years would fly by and then I would be going up the stairs every day and would hate that too.
The first grade classroom was very big.  The alphabet danced around the top of the room and the numbers followed.  At one end of the classroom was the "cloak room."  That meant coat room.  It was also the place where we took off our goulashes and there was a shelf for our lunch buckets.  Now you should know that when I say lunch bucket, I mean lunch bucket.  Some of the rich kids had lunch boxes with designs on the side of them.  Some were black.  Some kids brought paper sacks and those kids could just throw them away when they were done.  While I envied them that luxury I still thought it was wasteful.  We carried a bucket that had once held lard.  It was called a lard bucket when it had lard and lunch bucket when it had lunch.
At the far end of the classroom was the "sick room."  It held a small cot and it was for whoever was sick to lay on until they either felt better or a parent came and took them home.  I longed to be sick and lay on those clean white sheets, but it never happened.  Being blessed with an immune system that never allowed a disease or virus to enter your body is a curse to a kid wanting to see what it felt like to lay on a sheet.  Our beds at home were shared with at least 2 other kids and sometimes more.  Sheets were unheard of at our house.  Mother cut up old wool clothes and made them into quilts which were used both as a sheet and a cover.  Course with that many kids there was a lot of body heat shared.  To this day I can not even "rough it" when I go camping.  I need a sheet over me and under me and a pillow with a crisp pillow case under my head. I love fresh sheets and if I weren't so damn lazy I would wash my sheets every day.  I digress.
At the end of my first year of school, Miss Donough married a man named Mr. Breece.  Miss Donough ceased to exist and Mrs. Breece came into being.  I sadly left the first grade and moved across the hall to the second grade and Mrs. Wait.
This was where I would learn "manuscript" which is known today as "cursive", but is no longer taught in school as a required subject.  Not sure that anyone writes anymore what with the tablets, laptops, and such. It was here I also learned to add and subtract.  The second grade class was also responsible for raising and lowering the flag on the flagpole in the sand box.  Not the girls though.  No, no.  Girls were in training from day one to be good little girls and learn how to be good wives and mothers and raising and lowering the flag was not woman's work.  Strange, but all my life I have been on the wrong end of the stick as far as boy/girl things went.  Second grade passed in a blur.  We were kids.  There were no class distinctions.  We had not yet learned that there were the "haves and the have nots".  We had not yet learned that clothes were for anything except covering our bodies.
We ate what was in our lunch buckets and were damn glad to have it.  Potato sandwich's, wrinkled apples, or a cold piece of carp were just fare for the day.  Just something to keep us fed so we could make it through the day and home to our tar paper shack we called home.  A place to lay our bodies down, a place to rest our head and dream of places we were learning about where there was electric lights, a gas stove and  water that came out of a pipe in the kitchen, all warm so you could wash the dishes or take a bath.   .A fairy tale place that existed just outside our reach.  Soon I would learn that Strong Street was the wrong side of the tracks, but for now I was happy and secure,  and when I was 8 years old the present was all that mattered.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Did I cause World War II? Some say yes.

This is my mother at about 7 years old.  I would guess that this is a picture taken to commemorate the purchase of the new washing machine on mom's left since pictures of kids and dogs were not real important at the time, but a new waahing machine was!  And the washer seems to be more centered than mother!  LOL

This is my mother when she was in high school.  She was a farm girl with the soul of an angel.  Now I did hear tales that perhaps mother was not the saint we gave her credit for and history did show that before she met my father, she was married to a man named Jack Walden and my oldest sister was indeed a Walden when we were in school and before she married.  What ever became of him is unknown to any of us.  I recall scuttlebutt that he was a gangster from the Chicago area and mother did indeed live in Chicago before Josephine was born.  It was rumored that she had escaped his evil clutches and returned to Plevna, Kansas and grandma Haas had sold a cow to pay the doctor bill when the baby was born.  No one is alive now to ask, so I guess if I want to I can make up a story, but for history's sake, I will not.
This is my mother and father when they eloped.  Now here is another story.  Dad had been married before and he and his wife had 5 children.  There were 4 boys and one girl.  One of the boys and the girl died of sand pneumonia back in the "dirty 30's"  His wife was rumored to have lost her mind and then died or perhaps taken her life.  Dad put the 3 boys in an orphanage.  Earl and Richard were adopted, but Gene remained in the orphanage until he was taken by a family named Banks who did not adopt him, but gave him a home until he was mostly grown.  Some where I have letters that he wrote to my dad while in the orphange which I shall post for posterity, but not now.  They are very sad.
There were also rumors that dad had his own dark side and I recall a man named Costello that he took me once to the house and I waited in the road while he went inside and talked to him.  Frank Costello lived in a very big house across the river.  And that is all I know about that!  We never went there again and what Dad  did was never fully known to us.

This is me when I was tiny (a sight that will never be repeated).Wasn't I the cutest little thing that you ever saw?   I was hatched out in  Nickerson, Kansas  right before Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.

Now, I ask you, what the hell happened!?  My mother was beautiful and my father looked like he was mostly Irish and here I come as sturdy German stock.  But it is what it is.  I fully intend to delve into my dark past over the next few weeks, so hang on kiddies, we may be in for a bumpy ride!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

OMG!! I can see the rocks on the bottom!

So you know how you get when the world is more than you can handle and it looks like the time  (to quote yogi bear) to "Exit, stage right!"  Friday after work I made good my escape to the high country and partook of just a tad bit of hiking in the warm sunshine of the Salida, Buena Vista, Coaldale area.  I also was shown a part of Buena Vista that I did not know existed, the Water Park.  This is an area built on and along the river.
This is the Collegiate Peaks.
This is the hiking area.  Avalanche Trailhead.  That sounds a bit ominous, doesn't it?
It proved to be beautiful and not really cold.  I had to hop over a couple babbling brooks, but what are friends for if not to help me?
And the trees are showing new growth.  If Winter comes, can spring be far behind?
So then to the River Park.
And across the bridge and look down at that water and see the rocks in the bottom!  I can see through the water and there is no sludge or moss or cans and botttles and other litter.  What happened!
So I took a little stroll up the mountain on the other side and there is my car, way down there.  It looks like a Hot Wheels car.  Mine is the tiny one in the middle.
And speaking of tiny, look at those little people below me.  I am Queen of the mountain!
So, back to earth and back across the bridge.  There I met two lovely ladies who asked me to take thier picture.  So I did and then took one for me!  They are from Denver and Kathleen is a Spritual Conselor and Tracy's grandma lives in Pueblo.  Of course, I lost thier card.  Not really lost, just lost to me at the moment, but it will turn up.  In the meantime, you should know that it is chance encounters like this that make my life worth living.  It is so great to meet friendly people when miles from home and exchange a few words with them.  Sorta like ships passing in the night, only it is day!  Thanks, girls!
And then it was time to head back down the mountain to life in the big city of Pueblo.  Time to put the geese away, pet the dogs and cat, eat a bowl of cereal and go to be to dream of what a wonderful Valentine Day this was.  If you want to see the full video ( and it is very long and I put classical music to it), just click here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ah, the world of e-commerce never ceases to amaze me and keeps me very busy.

I have been selling on ebay since 2008 (?) and have maintained a 100% feedback despite myself.  I sell mostly bird seed catchers which is a band that goes around the cage to deflect the seeds back into the bottom of the cage.  I sew these to order in the size and color that the customer wants.  If they are buying, they might as well buy something they like.

Occasionally I will exchange many emails to arrive at what I have on hand and what they want for thier home.  Usually it goes something like this:
"What color do you want?"
"What color do you have?"
"What color do you want?'"
This conversation takes 1 1/2 minutes.  But occasionally I get a person who is probably lonely and wants something special.  This was a very interesting discourse and I am still laughing about it so thought I would share it with you.  Names have been blocked to protect the sender.

Dear loumercer3,

my question is this simply: I bought one of the kind that does not have a bottom, but the seeds just fall out the bottom part so no good. It is like a see through mesh and white color. To me non mesh kind is dumb, as you cannot see the birds through them. The mesh does not get torn and is fine to me. Yes maybe not as tough, but I have had no problem and it was half the price - just no bottom part. SO, can you make me a see through mesh kind with a bottom? => I do not care if the boittom is solid material as you do not see it really. I just want the mesh kind, to be able to see the birds better. Others that are mesh are colored, BUT the sheer white looks the best (more neutral and see through) and sellls the most.. If I invented these I would make it as clear as possible, not even white. And have a bottom on them. I do not understand why I see none on the whole eBay like that. So le me know if you can make me this and is it extra cost? I need this size. Thank you, William

I replied:

Dear bazmart,
I do not sew net, mesh or chiffon which is what you are describing.  First it is very hard to sew, does not hold up well and I worry about tiny toenails getting hung up in the net.  Sorry.

He sent the same email
Dear loumercer3,

Once more:      my question is this simply: I bought one of the kind that does not have a bottom, but the seeds just fall out the bottom part so no good. It is like a see through mesh and white color. To me non mesh kind is dumb, as you cannot see the birds through them. The mesh does not get torn and is fine to me. Yes maybe not as tough, but I have had no problem and it was half the price - just no bottom part. SO, can you make me a see through mesh kind with a bottom? => I do not care if the boittom is solid material as you do not see it really. I just want the mesh kind, to be able to see the birds better. Others that are mesh are colored, BUT the sheer white looks the best (more neutral and see through) and sellls the most.. If I invented these I would make it as clear as possible, not even white. And have a bottom on them. I do not understand why I see none on the whole eBay like that. So le me know if you can make me this and is it extra cost? I need this size. Thank you, William

And I replied.
Dear bazrmart,

I am sorry, but this is the issue...I will not under any conditions for any price sew a mesh seed catcher either with or without a bottom.

Lou Mercer
And he replied:

Dear loumercer3,

ok thanx for reply. Here is the deal. Only you and 1 other seller make these in bigger size and they said (nicely I may add) that they could not also. My wife has an older singer sewing machine left to her by her mother. She got if fixed for $100 (it is the real good kind everyone wants that is like one of the best old kind). BUT, she won't do it as too lazy (poor me). SO, I will just sew a bottom on it by hand myself. And I think I may find a way to have them made myself (plenty of Guatamalen people in Florida who will work cheap. And be your competitor on eBay (no I am not kidding). Again, you can see the birds through them, so I will bet people will buy them way more than the others. Like I say, the white mesh looks the most see thru more than the color ones, and it sells the most by far. So if I make it even more see thru and add a bottom I will take a good market share. Have a nicer day!

And I replied:

Dear bazrmart,

I wish you much luck in your endeavor. I am 73 years old and would like nothing better than to retire and move up in the mountains away from wifi and all its's entanglements. Too bad your wife is lazy, but like you said, lots of cheap labor around. I think I will raise my prices and help you out.


 So there you have it.  I may have been a bit strong in my reply, but such is life!  As of yet, I have had no answer to the last email and if I am really lucky he is now out searching for a Guatamalen with a sewing machine who is interested in replacing his lazy wife!  LOL

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

So it is off to Los Pobres in my new car.

So I got a new (to me) car and what better way to break it in than to go by Nancy Martin's and pick up a load of stuff Ross Barnhart had ear marked for Los Pobres.  I had about decided that it would take 2 trips when Ross showed up and taught me how to cram it full!
This is the passenger seat.
This is the drivers seat and the only one not crammed full.  That is my purse taking up residence.
Here is me and my load buckling up for safety and since I could not see out I was pretty sure I would wind up in jail. 
This was the view from the rear of the vehicle. 
Side window. 
And away we go!
And now we are coming back.  This is a memorial alongside the road .  Been there several years.  Kind of hard to drive 60 mph and get very good pictures!
But look at that empty passenger seat.  Doesn't it look inviting?
So the new vehicle has now been properly introduced to it's future as a work horse for Los Pobres and wherever else the open road calls me.  And guess what?  The gas mileage appears to be about 42 MPG.  I can live with that!