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La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm) from Lena, WI
La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

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Farm Name: La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

Year Farm Established: 1946

Location: Stiles, WI

Years I’ve been farming: 69 years

Animals I raise: None, except wildlife.

Crops I grow: Vegetable gardens, flowers, rye, and pastorage.

Hobbies I enjoy: Feeding and providing habitat for wildlife.

The proudest moment on my farm: For the first time in over 60 years, bobwhite quail was sited on our land.

Pets: Just all sorts of wildlife who visit us daily.

Farm Motto: "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well." -- Blessed Julian of Norwich


Farm Blog
DescriptionDate & TimeEditDelete
  I Hate Change (Part II) The Sacrifice of Mary
As a Roman Catholic, I share the Church's devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Gospel of St. Luke tells us more about Mary than any other Gospel. This is because we believe Luke, who had never seen Jesus, had consulted Mary (who lived until c.48AD) for his Gospel. Key aspects of Luke's Gospel concerning Mary are the prophecy of Simeon: "... And thy own sould a sword shall pierce..." (Luke 2-35) and Luke 2-51: "...and his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart."

The point here is every parent can understand the suffering of Mary. This is why she is so revered by Catholics. My mother-in-law, Regina Lotter, told my Ruthie, "... children will break your hearts." Indeed, I had to laugh at a Facebook post that said the same thing; that the very fact that children grow up and become independent adults is an act of utmost betrayal. Hardly a fair assessment, isn't it? Certainly we've done the same to our parents and they've done the same to theirs. This is why I've used the example of Mary. In order to prove that we really love our children, we have to let them go freely and without guilt. Mary did so, and according to Luke, was among his most loyal followers; perhaps the only one who really expected his resurrection. It is also a tradition among Catholics that although scripture tells of Mary Magdelene as being the first to see Jesus at around sunrise; it was obvious that he'd been out of the tomb for awhile. We Catholics like to think that he had went first to see his mother and I am made to think that because of the intensely personal nature of this visit and her own modesty, Mary had kept this to herself.

As Mary had freely given up her Son to violence and death, and as we parents should freely give up our children to go their own way, I am made to think that we must do the same for all the loved ones in our lives. We may be replaced in their affections, or even forgotten; but I am made to think that what really matters is that we were there for them during the times that they really needed us. Love is never wasted, even if it isn't always reciprocated. More on this next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

02/06/2016 08:09.54 PM Report This Comment  
  I Hate Change (Part I)
I hate change. It's immature on my part of course. I know that I should be shouted at to "grow the hell up!"; but I can't help it. I'm convinced that a lot of Countrymen and women feel the same way. The simple fact that we Countryfolk hearken back to the old ways is evidence of this. It's not so bad, is it? Of course, our love for the old ways comes at a high cost. We are constantly having to deal with the "cognitive dissonance" of evaluating new ideas and developments and then deciding which we should use and which we can discard. Now don't get me wrong; I'm all in favor of progress. In agriculture alone, change has enabled farmers to readily feed a steeply increasing world population The development of new medicines have done away with so much needless pain and suffering, both for us humans and for the animals that we depend upon for our livelihood and that we've grown to love.

The change that I hate is that which afflicts the heart; children growing up and away; elders growing old and passing away; and friends and loved ones who grow estranged over time. At this time in my life I must confess that for me all memories are sad. The bad memories are sad enough in and of themselves; but the happy ones are tinged as well with sadness because they have passed and are no more. My Punky, Amanda, was here for a visit this week at La Ferme Sabloneuse and she stayed in our home. Last night, her last before heading back to her soon-to-be husband Matt in Nebraska, the four of us went out for dinner. It was the last time that we'll go out as a nuclear family. The next time we see Amanda, it will be for her wedding and after that she will be Mrs. Porier. For all practical reasons things will be the same as they were; but now she will have her own life and God willing, her own family. So last night, probably the last she will spend under my roof, I took out "The Little Quiet Book" which I'd read to her countless times at bedtime and I read it to her one last time. It was done jokingly, but both Punky and I knew that I was doing it as a sort of ritual. It was done in homage to our past and also perhaps to proclaim that I will always be her Daddy and she will always be my little girl, my Punky. I hate change; not because it is necessarily bad, but because it causes irrepairable damage to my heart and soul. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/30/2016 06:36.07 PM Report This Comment  
  Heirlooms or Hand-me-downs, Part III
In these blogs I've written about my grandmother Emma Truckey and how important she was to us all. I was overseas serving in the Air Force when Grandma Truckey passed away so I don't know how her things were divided. I do know that anything that this grand old matriarch had made or owned is of great importance to us, her descendents. At the Homestead was a framed piece of art sewned by Grandma. It is a simple image of a deer drinking from a creek; created by yarn sewn into a white background of muslin. Of course to my family, it's priceless. As owner of the Homestead, Big Brother Tommy has rightly laid claim to this piece and for my part, I have no problem with this. I myself had kept Grandma's last letter to me that she sent just months before her death while I was in the Philippines.

I certainly can't begrudge any of my siblings for desiring heirlooms. I made a point of bringing Pa's 1915 Iver Johnson to my house many years ago. Of course, I had asked Ma for permission and since she knew how much I loved to hunt with it, she readily assented. Now this brings me to the subject of the Farmall tractors. Quite a few years before Ma became afflicted with Alzheimers, she told me that she wanted me to have Pa's 1938 Farmall. I was honored to accept it, although it remained in the tractor shed at the Homestead. Some years later, in 2013, Eldest Brother David, seated alongside of me and Tommy on Ma's porch, told us that he was dying and that he wanted us to have his Farmall as well. Tommy and I were nonplused, but we humored David and said okay. Malheureusement, the foreseeing of Eldest proved true and as I'd posted almost two years ago, we put the two tractors together under the same tin roof at the Homestead.
There is no talk of "what's yours and mine" between Big Brother and me. Even before David got sick I'd told Tommy that Pa's Farmall was as much his as mine and that I would never sell it. When both the tractors were housed under his tractor shed, Tommy told me that they belonged to us two and that they'd never be sold. Good enough. Precious heirlooms? Hardly, but as I'd said before, they are priceless in our eyes. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/24/2016 09:27.27 PM Report This Comment  
  Morning Planets
This post follows the heels of my last about the evening constellations one can see in the dead of Winter. I was just thinking Monday of doing a blog on the planets I've been seeing early in the morning when I saw Brad Spakowitz, the late-night meterologist on our Channel 2, talk about the same thing. With his information in mind, I searched the Skyandtelescope website and found out just what I needed. The image that I'd posted on the Facebook intro to this blog shows where all planets line up, with the stars Antares and Spica to boot. (You may remember that I'd posted a week or so ago on Facebook that I'd mistook the red giant Antares with reddish-surfaced Mars.) To makes things easier for you and me, I'll simply quote the Skyandtelescope website:

"Venus is obvious as it lingers above the southeastern horizon. It's actually in decline, not nearly as high up as you saw it toward the end of 2015. But Venus has no equal for brightness among the night's planets and stars. Way over to the right, on the southwestern side of the sky, is Jupiter. In between are four bright beacons: not far from Venus are Saturn and, below it, the star Antares. Shift your gaze farther right to sweep up Mars, then the star Spica, and finally Jupiter." (Skyandtelescope.com)

As for Mercury, I'll copy, paste, and paraphrase the following: "By Friday, the 22nd, find a clear view toward southeast and look 5° above the horizon. That's about the width of your three middle fingers held together at arm's length. It's along a diagonal from Saturn through Venus, about as far from Venus as Saturn is. Day by day, Mercury will appear a little higher up and a little brighter. By month's end, it'll be easy to spot." (Skyandtelescope.com)

So yesterday morning, as it was still clear outside, I could easily spot the four primary planets in the sky, as well as Spica and Antares. I eagerly await the opportunity to see Mercury as well in a few days! My PFRs (Precious Few Readers) may remember how I crowed about seeing Mercury in the Southwest evening sky around this time last year. Well, for astronomical reasons that I cannot comprehend, Mercury will be visible in the East in a few days and I can promise you that I will be just as enthusiastic as I report this. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/20/2016 07:11.07 PM Report This Comment  
  Dead of Winter, 2016
Maybe I've said this before, but one of the few redeeming features of January is the star gazing. If, like tonight, you can brave the sub-zero temperatures and venture outside long enough for your eyes to become accustomed to the darkness, you'll be rewarded with a marvelous selection of constellations. Tonight I bundled up and walked over to the Homestead to have a cup of tea with Big Brother Tommy. We talked for awhile and as I left his house I made sure to turn off his porch light in order to see the stars better. Before, when I'd left my own home, I had done the same. I think that the Truckeys are the only people around here that do not have one of those mercury-vapor floodlights that are seen at most homes in country. I detest them because of the light pollution they cause. It's not like the Truckeys have anything on their land worth stealing and I certainly am not afraid of the dark. (I'm not a prideful man, but I'd match myself against any common criminal on my own land in the dark.)

Anyways, on the way home from Tommy's my way was illuminated by a glorious half-moon, bright enough with the clean, white snow to make excellent visibility, yet not too bright to wash out most of the stars. And how easy it was to locate the current "stars" of tonight's pageant! High above in the East, almost at the sky's zenith, was Capella, one of the first stars visible after sunset at this time of year. Below Capella were Castor and Pollux, the Gemini (twins). Of course the most impressive of constellations to my mind is Orion. Visible from August until almost Springtime, it incorporates the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, one of the reddest stars and the only one retaining its Arabic name, Betelgeuse, and a nebula (the middle point of light in Orion's sword sheath. High in the West I could see the great square called Pegasus and the former and future North star Vega. Along with all these are the "usual suspects"; constellations that can be seen throughout most or all of the year, Cassiopeia, the jagged, double pointed constellation, Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, a small cluster ranging from six stars visible to most of us nowadays, seven, where and when there is less light and air pollution, and many more stars when seen through a binoculars or telescope, and finally the trusty Big Dipper, only at this time of year at this time of night seen in the East.

So this was what I saw tonight while standing outside my home at La Ferme Sabloneuse. It was well worth the discomfort of standing outside in the cold. As I had mentioned in the past, my literary muse Hal Borland wrote something to the effect (and I paraphrase) that "Winter speaks to us of the eternal; the rocks, the wind, and the stars"; and I am made to think that even if you and I are only on this earth for a short while, the atoms that make us up are part of an everlasting universe and our souls go on to be a part of a grand design. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/17/2016 08:12.56 PM Report This Comment  
  Heirlooms or Hand-me-downs, Part II
Now there were many types of heirlooms and hand-me-downs at The Home Property of La Ferme Sabloneuse. I've already posted in the past about Grandma Truckey's black cap raspberries and Grandma Lotter's lilacs. The lilacs originated from my Ruthie's grandmother Ceil's property in Green Bay. Shoots from there went to Ruthie's mother's home in Oconto Falls and from there onto the Home Property in the 1980s. Since then we have sent lilac shoots to other properties. The irony is that whenever I deliver mail to the part of Green Bay where Ruthie's Grandma lived, those original lilac shrubs are still thriving.

Of course when most people think of heirlooms they think of valuable items like jewelry, furniture and any other material thing that descendants seem to covet. There's an old saying that you don't really know a person until you share an inheritance with him or her. I think that we all can recount stories of siblings turning against each other. My Ruthie tells the story of when her father George came home from service in WWII with his new bride (Ruthie's mother Regina) to take up residence in the tiny farmstead where his father and mother had spent their brief retirement and had only recently passed away. When they pulled into the yard of the farmstead, they were greeted by the sight of George's siblings emptying the house and barn of valuables.

Now while Ruthie's grandparents were undoubtedly prosperous, it amuses me to reflect on how even with us under-achieving Truckeys, certain objects were considered of value, even if they seemed to be worthless to others. An example of this is Pa's Kentucky rifle. I've related in a past blog how Pa had built both a .45 caliber rifle and pistol from kits and we sons had shot them many times. Before Pa died, he told me that he wanted me to have those guns. However, when Eldest Brother David felt a keen desire to use these weapons he made a point of asking me if he could have them. As for me, in addition to the love and respect that I had for David, I also knew that he would derive much more enjoyment from them than I would; so I told David that they were his and he spent quite a few years playing with them. Now that Eldest has passed as well, the Kentucky rifle and pistol remain at Belle Soeur Susie's. They belong there; because they are his. If I want to use them I can always go over to Susie's and pick them up. She understands. I am made to think that as long as an heirloom of the Truckeys are with any member of the Truckeys, then it is still ours. More about this next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/13/2016 07:53.54 PM Report This Comment  
  Heirlooms or Hand-me-downs, Part I
Over three years ago Julie Murphree, ("The Farmwife") and I were posting about "heirlooms"; those things of great importance that are passed down from one generation to the next. Of course the subject started with plants, shrubs, and trees. To my mind, (and I am positive Julie feels the same way) passing along growing things from your own land to a younger person, (family or friend) is knowing that a part of yourself will be a part of that person's life and surroundings long after you are gone. At least that's how I feel about the heirlooms that I've given and received over the years. Of course, as I'd said way back then, many urban folks don't hold such things in the same regard as we country folks. I have to remind myself of this when I ask how the "passalongs" I've given someone are doing and I'm given a blank look in return because that person does not remember.

Now my good friend Roberta had posted a wonderful photo of some bittersweet berries growing on her property in Southern Wisconsin. I told her how my Pa had found some of these many years ago near our place. So 'berta, being a Countrywoman herself, sent me some bittersweet seeds along with some Lavender and pepper seeds as well.

I cannot tell you how much this gift of 'berta means to me! I've already told her that I will research the best possible way on how, when, and where to plant these heirlooms. I hope to find a place along the edges of the lawn next to our house for the bittersweet and a place in one of the flower beds of the Home Property where the Lavender can establish themselves. As for the peppers, I just might "pass along" those to Amanda to plant in her own vegetable garden in Nebraska. She loves peppers of all kinds and it will do both 'berta and me good to know that Punky will make good use of 'berta's heirlooms. More on "Heirlooms or Hand-me-downs" next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/09/2016 08:42.52 PM Report This Comment  
  The Last Homely House Finale, Part III
When Ruthie's Aunt Margaret passed away, Ruthie and I helped Margaret's son by cleaning out her house so that it could be put on the market. As payment he gave us Margaret's beautiful china cabinet and a massive maple dining room table. This was the windfall of windfalls to our eyes. From what Ruthie tells me, they can't even afford to build them that way now. Anyways, it's the table that I'm proud of. We had to shell out $250 to have it refinished but the result was worth it. It runs the length of our small dining room and when we put in all three leaves it stretches to eight feet long and seats eight people. This table has played a big part of fulfilling my dream of a home where all are welcome and no one goes away hungry. It reminds me of the description of Badger's dining room in "The Wind in the Willows":

"In the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chair stood pushed back, were spread the remains of the Badger's plain but ample supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke and talk in comfort and contentment." Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows"

Now while we couldn't feed scores of weary harvesters, Ruthie and I have been able to feed my entire Navy communications unit back when I was its Leading SCPO (Leading Senior Chief Petty Officer). Nowadays, when we know people are coming for supper Ruthie can whip up a "plain but ample supper" like beef tips over mashed potatoes or baked chicken over rice and peas. It sparks a wholesome pride in me to see people I care about sitting (or lying) with full tummies and contented and peaceful countenances. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

01/02/2016 06:55.48 PM Report This Comment  
  The Last Homely House Finale, Part II
In my last blog, I related how the restful views from atop the Home Property emulated Tolkien's ideal of Rivendell, (if only in my imagination). On this night I am reminded once again how Ruthie's and my house has become an enclave of tranquility in a stressful world. Lord knows how many times while at work or dealing with traffic and road construction on the drive home I told myself that there was a nice long couch waiting for me in the living room and soon I would be lying upon it, listening to Ruth telling me about her day. I especially love it during Advent and Christmas when I'm able to turn off all the lights except the Christmas ones and doze in the semi-darkness.
What I have really found to be gratifying is that our home has become just Grandma Truckey's in that others have found it to be a place where they become drowsy and and can fall into a peaceful sleep. My Ruthie watches a delightful two-year-old named Josie. Her mother can never believe that we can get Josie to take a two to three hour nap each day. We tell her that it's because we are so boring that the poor child has no choice but to fall asleep; but I suspect the real reason is that with Ruthie as devoted and protective as a mother bear, Josie knows that she's safe and secure here. On days where it's just Ruthie and I home, it is so pleasant for us to sit in the living room on a Winter's afternoon with the season's low-angled sunshine coming in almost horizontally through the bay window and just take turns dozing and talking. With the TV off, the only sounds one can hear is the ticking of the hands of the mantle clock and the occasional bird at the feeders by the window. No wonder Josie falls asleep!
Now my Punky, Amanda, and her man Matt, have been spending quite a bit of time here lately. They were home over Thanksgiving and now home once again for two weeks at Christmas and New Years. They're actually staying at Matt's parents but Ruth and I have found that these two young'uns like spending afternoons and evenings here. As for me, I find it rewarding to see Amanda and Matt sleeping either side by side on the couch or stretched out unconscious, each on a different chair. There was even one time after supper where Matt was in the recliner, Amanda stretched out on the long couch, and I was ensconced on the short couch with my legs dangling over one arm. All three of us were sawing logs, much, I'm sure, too Ruthie's chagrin. Throughout all my married life, I have always considered myself first and foremost as a provider, even priding myself on the role, (if I can be forgiven for this conceit). Now, as I enter old age, I have to repeat that I am gratified that Ruthie and I can provide a refuge of peacefulness for the young. (More on The Last Homely House Finale next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

12/27/2015 07:56.28 PM Report This Comment  
  The Last Homely House
I can smell the soup from here, Gary! What a welcoming place y'all have created. Hope I can reserve a chair there, some day!

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

12/27/2015 06:44.08 AM Report This Comment  
  The Last Homely House, Finale, Part I
Even before we were married, I had told My Ruthie that I wanted our home to be like Grandmo Dort's, a "Last Homely House"; where on the weekend there was soup on the stove, and a welcome for all who came. Much to my satisfaction, our house has become a combination of The Last Homely House, Grandma Dort's, Grandma Truckey's, and even the Badger's home in "The Wind in the Willows". After almost 30 years of living on the Home Property of La Ferme Sabloneuse, My Ruthie and I have landscaped, planted, and cultivated the land until, though still a work in progress, it is a shady place of rest, especially if one is seated on the Garage Porch or in a lawn chair under the maple next to the Home Garden. More than a few visitors have remarked what delightful places they are to sit and view the gardens. Sitting upon a hill and looking out over a green and lovely valley, I fancy to think of our home as a tiny version of The Last Homely House.

Whenever My Ruthie gets to cooking, there is usually more than we could ever eat ourselves and even freeze. As a result, on Sunday nights, you can often see me walking over to Big Brother Tommy's abode at The Homestead. He can count on gifts of chili, sloppy joe mix, and several kinds of soups and casseroles. Our neighbor across the road is chagrined at just how well Tommy has it with me as his personal gardener, Ruthie as his personal chef, and Belle Soeur Susie has his house cleaner. Of course Susie has been the recipient of a number of dishes as well. Some years back, when my cousin Raymond Younger was building our garage, we would invite him in for lunch. I would joke to him, "C'mon in! We're having soup! If you want to join us, we'll pour another cup of water into the pot!" Raymond has always remembered that. On other days, Ruthie made him some thick baloney sandwiches and potato chips to munch on while he worked. To this day, Raymond jokes that he always made sure to start working on our garage around lunch time because he knew that he'd be given a good meal. (Part II to come. --Gary)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

12/26/2015 06:39.30 PM Report This Comment  
  Horses and Grandma Dort, Part III
Not all that much long after, Grandma Dort left this world and went onto her next ethereal journey. Those two horses are long gone and galloping young again in the heavens. My friend now lives not far away, but with her own house, soon to be three children, and a different set of dogs and horses. My friend's house now belongs to a stranger. Grandma Dort's house sits seemingly dark and empty, the gardens overgrown and without much hope for revival.

When I return home throughout the year, it is inevitable that we must pass by these two properties, now owned by strangers, knowing that it is not my place to have a welcome there. Those two places represented a sense of childlike innocence, where lessons were learned gently and (mostly) safely without reproach, anger, or worry. Hot, hazy summer days, the smell of horse, cool fall afternoons and the aroma of tea bring me back in a heartbeat to that north end of the road. As I drive past now, every time a hard lump thickens in the back of my throat. I always turn my sight to see if I can catch two young girls playing with two old horses in the yard, or an older lady wearing an apron walking amongst her shady flowers. -- Amanda

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

12/23/2015 05:45.28 PM Report This Comment  
  Horses and Grandma Dort, Part II
As I mentioned before, Grandma Dort lived only a stone’s throw from my friend's property. When I was very little, I was secretly convinced that this was where the faerie realm was. As soon as you entered the driveway onto her property, it seemed that the world stilled and calmed. It was always cooler and damper with the large white pines surrounding everything and her flower beds grew somehow organized and unruly all at the same time. Hummingbirds and butterflies seemed to waft on the gentle breeze. If a tiny faerie had ever been caught peering out amongst the blooms, it would never have surprised me.

Inside Grandma Dort's house is a hazy memory of the scent of tea and lemon, fresh cookies and bread, and the smell of comfort. Never do I remember being talked down to or being frowned upon. Even as a child, my opinions and thoughts were something of value, and my conversations were taken seriously. Children were precious in her house and never taken for granted. Many a time I remember her tapping me on the nose with a smile and leaving a flour print dusting. The sense of safety, calmness, and relaxation seeped into you throughout the house and small grounds. When one left, one missed it almost instantly. It was something of a magical experience that still lingers with me today.

One of my most cherished memories combines both my best friend and Grandma Dort one late summer afternoon. On a whim, we decided to ride two horses over to Grandma Dort's house. All it took was one happy shout from us announcing our arrival, and Grandma Dort appeared. She, of course, was wearing her standard apron dusted with flour and whatever other goodness she was making. There were no harsh words for us obviously interrupting her afternoon baking. I don't remember our conversation that afternoon, but while we were chatting, our horses took a sudden interest to the floury sugary goodness that still covered Grandma Dort's hands. Instead of annoyance or anger, she simply laughed her quiet chuckle, and held out her hands. Those two horses gently licked her hands clean of the dough. When they were done, she took each horse's head and placed one soft kiss on each nose, and then we went on our way. (Gary's note: Part III to come next Wednesday.)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

12/19/2015 07:52.08 PM Report This Comment  
  Amanda's Guest Blog Part I
Horses and Grandma Dort, Part I

When I was growing up, Grandma Dort lived only a couple hundred feet down the road from where my best friend lived. “Back in my day” (I feel I shouldn't use that term because of how low digit my age really is) their houses were located on the north end of our road. (Since then, and in the name of city planning and progress, that north branch of the road has been renamed. In my mind however, it will still always be called Pioneer Park.)

My summers growing up were filled with my near-daily short bicycle ride to my friend's house, where we spent summers as only children and young teenagers without care can. We rode our bikes, ate countless pizzas and ice cream sandwiches delivered by the Schwan's man, her grandmother's homemade jar pickles, ran with reckless abandon through the woods, and enjoyed being young. The most important 'feature' you might say, was that she had horses.

Needless to say, I was one of those horse-crazed young teenage girls. I lived and breathed horses at her house. To the people who say that animals have no souls or worth in the world; they are dead wrong. Those horses taught me hard, dirty work, patience, how to sit on a fence and just watch them graze lazily on the lush grass the fertile ground provided. We mucked stalls, brushed and bathed dirty coats, lugged endless buckets of water and feed, attempted (laughably) to show-braid manes and tails. We slept in the barn. We witnessed births. We witnessed death.
And oh, did we ride, both English and Western. We pulled up our stirrups and raced like we were in the Kentucky Derby. We set up barrels and pretended we were competing in the NFR in Vegas. We made jumps, dressage rings, and rode through the woods like we were the favorites at Rolex. We fell off, we had injuries, we got back on (sometimes when we probably should have went to the hospital instead). I spent summer after summer practically living at her house. Her parents were my parents, her horses were my horses, her dogs were my dogs, and I still remain extremely close to her. (Gary's note: Part II to be posted next Saturday)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

12/16/2015 06:53.21 PM Report This Comment  
  The 1915 Iver Johnson
Today was the last day of the various gun hunting seasons here in N.E. Wisconsin and I am made to think of the various firearms that have been important to me. Today, if I'd had the time, I would've taken an afternoon walk with my 40-year-old Winchester 94 Trapper's Model. This is a cut-down version of the famous Winchester 94 30-30. It holds six rounds in the tubular magazine and is a lever action rifle. I bought this rifle over 40 years ago for $80. Nowadays it sells for almost ten times that amount. It's a simple deer rifle, known as a "brush cutter", which is supposed to mean that the 30-30 round will cut through foilage and twigs without being reflected. This, of course, is nonsense. Even the slightest twig or a few leaves will deflect a bullet traveling at over 200 feet per second.

I don't claim to be a good hunter, but every deer I've ever taken was with that 30-30. As I've related in a long-ago post, Wild Bill Beaudin himself took the time to sight it in for me. I haven't adjusted the sights since (although with all the misses I've had over the years I probably should).
The other firearm is the title of this post, the 1915 Iver Johnson 20 gauge shotgun. It is my favorite gun. The "break-open" single shot shotgun is engraved with these very words, "Iver Johnson, 1915". This means that the gun is a century old. Pa told me that he bought it from my Uncle John Larson for $15. I started using it in 1972, first for deer season and later for small game hunting. Over the years I've taken partridge, rabbits, squirrels, and even a woodcock and mallard duck. My first two years deer hunting at the age of 13 and 14 I carried the Iver Johnson. Heck, one deer season I carried both deer slugs and nr. five shot in case I came across small game while deer hunting. (This was illegal of course, but that year I shot a squirrel while on the hunt for deer and put it in the freezer to await more of its kind for yet another "squirrel feed" dinner made by my long-suffering mother.) Since then, I've been told that modern day shotgun cartridges may be too powerful for a hundred-year-old shotgun. I disagree, based on just how many times I've fired this gun over the last 44 years.

If I had to live on my own in the wilderness and could only pick one type of firearm; I would pick my beloved Iver Johnson. This 20 gauge has just enough power for a close-up shot on deer and is small enough not to obliterate all the various types of small game that one would need to harvest in order to make it through the Winter. I love Pa's century-old Iver Johnson. -- Gary

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12/13/2015 07:08.27 PM Report This Comment  
  The Last Homely House, Part III
Grandma Dort, just like Grandma Truckey, lived on the other side of Devereaux' Crick which was set in a forest dominated by oaks. To visit either grandma, you had to go "over the river and through the woods". When I was single I would take along Pa's old 20 gauge and look for game as I crossed through the woods and across the crick. There were more than a few squirrels, grouse and rabbits I harvested while on my way to Dorothy's. Later, when Amanda was a small child, I left the shotgun behind and held her by the hand as we walked through the fields. When we got to the deep ravine where the crick winded through, I put her on my back and carried her down one side, found a place where I could ford the crick without getting too wet, and then up the other side to Dorothy's.

I had related in a past blog how Grandma Dort was the one who informed us all that what we called Indian paintbrushes were actually orange and yellow hawk weed. I also remember the time that I saw a tiny lady's slipper alongside the town road on the way to her house. It was growing where the township employees had cut down the brush the previous Winter. I knew that this once-in-a-lifetime blooming of this delicate member of the orchid family would never be repeated in following years due to the re-growth of the brush, so I picked it for Grandma Dort. Oh how she reamed me out for doing so! I didn't have the heart to defend myself. I suppose if I'd been smarter, when I spied the tiny lady's slipper, I would've walked back home, got my truck and then transported her to where the precious flower was growing. (Alas, this proves just how much of a fool I was that Grandma Dort refused to suffer gladly!)

When Grandma Dort finally felt that her life's journey was approaching its end she sent her grandson Mike over to our house with her old teapot and cups. She wanted me to have a keepsake of hers. You can imagine just how honored I felt! It was as if I was accorded the same status in her eyes as her own grandchildren. When Dort finally passed away in her 80s, my son Andrew, who was only about five years of age, cried at the news. As for me, I made sure to dig up some orange hawk weed and transplant them on her grave. -- Gary

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12/09/2015 08:55.35 PM Report This Comment  
  The Last Homely House, Part II
There was another grand old lady that we all loved, Grandma Dort. Dorothy LeFebre was a magnificent lady who was both ahead of her time and still in touch with her French Canadian Metis past. Oh she would set you straight if you popped off with an opinion that she found lacking! Grandma Dort did not suffer fools gladly; and since I was often foolish she would set me straight on a number of occasions. Still, she treated me like one of her grandchildren and I spent innumerable Sunday afternoons at her home. She always had a tea kettle and a pot of soup warming on her stove and a loaf of freshly baked bread on her cutting board. How I loved to make a "cuppa" tea and munch on some warm bread while I drank it at her kitchen table. In the Winter, Dorothy would have a large jigsaw puzzle on a folding table in a sitting room next to her parlor. Her grandchildren, if they wanted, could help her with it if the weather was too bad to play outdoors. I would love to sit in that chair at that tiny cluttered kitchen table and listen to her wisdom, and from time to time get her ire up by teasing her. Later, when I was grown and married, I would bring Amanda and Andrew to visit her. Andrew would play with an old wooden train set she had and Amanda would work on the jigsaw puzzle.

Grandma Dort's house was set among mature white pines which provided shade the whole year around. She never had a need for air-conditioning in the Summer. I also remember her showing us three a tiny hummingbird's nest visible from her kitchen window in the large white pine on the West side of her house. It seemed that Grandma Dort's house was a place of refuge just like Grandma Truckey's. Whenever I would visit, whether as a child or as an adult, there were almost always some of Dort's grandchildren and great-grandchildren there to add to the enjoyment. I've never known of a more devoted and loving set of descendants! They were on par with Grandma Truckey's brood; (only I am forced to admit that the LeFebre bunch were probably more respectable to the outside world). More about Grandma Dort's Last Homely House next time. -- Gary

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12/05/2015 06:56.57 PM Report This Comment  
  Beautiful!
I can't wait for the next installment! I can just picture Grandma Truckey's place. How peaceful.

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12/03/2015 04:03.27 AM Report This Comment  
  The Last Homely House, Part I
The term "The Last Homely House" is from H.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Ring" trilogy and "The Hobbit". It was the term for "Rivendell" or "Imladris"; the hidden valley where Elrond Half Elven maintained a refuge for weary travelers from all the free peoples of Middle Earth. As Tolkien wrote: "His house [Elrond's] was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley." I've selected this title because it applies to the places of refuge that I've enjoyed in my life.

I had already related a couple of times how Grandma Truckey's little house, nestled under the giant cottonwoods in Sleepy Hollow was a refuge for all who needed rest and nourishment. If you sat in her parlor for awhile, you fell asleep. As I've said before, it was like the angels guarded the place and when you were there, you felt safe. Big Brother Tommy just last week reminded me how in the Summer he and I, Donna and Wayne, would spend the night there and Tommy recalled how the drone of the passing cars and trucks on the highway just a few yards away and the gleam of their headlights on the ceiling would lull him to a happy slumber. As for myself, I would wake up in the morning and the first thing I would see was the shadows of the cottonwood leaves fluttering on the bedroom ceiling. More on this topic next time. -- Gary

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12/02/2015 07:05.03 PM Report This Comment  
  Once Again...
The last Stacking Firewood and Farewell to Autumn are wonderful posts, as usual. But, oh! It's my turn! I want to use a couple of quotes from the Firewood post. I love what your Pa said about David's firewood stack, and it so reflects any job that isn't well done. Thanks for some inspiration, Gary!

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11/29/2015 06:08.22 AM Report This Comment  
  Farewell to Autumn
Thanksgiving Day was warm and rainy, with temps in the forty's for most of the day. That evening, the winds began backing up to the North and picked up speed. By morning there was snow on the ground. Both Friday and today were colder than any day so far this season. These last few days reminded me of Robert Frost's poem, "My November Guest". I've quoted two stanzas which most describes the very end of Autumn:

"My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why."

When I last walked through the apple orchard I gave the trees a good look over and I think that I can skip the pruning for one Winter. When I walked through the Norway pines and spruces bordering my back yard however, I am more convinced than ever that the first order of business this Winter is to limb a good number of conifers in order to clear a path from the "Home Hill" down to "The Cumberland Gap". I also have to clear away the spruce limbs that reach over the East wall of the chain link fence of "The Home Garden" and threaten to interfere with the electric line I lay out every Summer at the top of that fence to deter raccoon from raiding my sweet corn. Winter is upon us and in spite of my love for Autumn I am moved to say, "Let's bring it on!" -- Gary

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11/28/2015 06:07.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part IX.
It is finally time to return to the subject of firewood. It's at this time of year that I think of splitting blocks, pruning apple trees with Big Brother Tommy's chainsaw, and trimming the spruce and Norway pines that are encroaching on the chain-link fence of the Home Garden. One of my customers told me that he paid $40 for some Norway pine boughs to decorate the front of his house. I told him that when I trimmed my pines I'd bring him some boughs for free. I hadn't known that I had a fortune of pine branches in my back yard!
In this thread about cutting firewood, I've covered just about every aspect of it except stacking wood. I'm horrible at stacking. I've found that I need to have some sort of upright at both ends of the pile and a wall to "back the stack". My brother David had the same problem. Once, when he'd just come home from the Air Force, he chopped up some small poplar logs and stacked them against the outhouse. My Pa, when he came home from work, took a look at the sorry wood stack and remarked, "This was done by a man who had very little ambition." This reminds me of the time Pa outfitted an old snow sled to contain his little chain saw and accouterments and used it to transport what he needed to cut up and split an old oak tree at the far end of the Valley Garden. After he was finished; all that Winter, in the late afternoon every sunny day, I would admire the deep, rich, reddish glow of beautifully stacked oak reflecting the Winter sunset.

In 1987, when I delivered mail in West De Pere, I became friends with an old German named Gustav Stemke. He was an amazing man! He was born in 1910 and was called up to serve his country during WWII. He was a devout Christian and abhorred the abominations he saw during his time as a German soldier during the war. He was taken prisoner in France in 1944 and was later able to bring his wife and three sons to the USA. That old German woodcutter could make a free standing stack of wood blocks that was a thing of majesty! I only wish that I'd had the foresight to ask ol' Gus to teach me how to do this. I'm guessing that it would have taken more time for him to teach me than what the both of us had. As for me, I admire a good stack of fire wood. To me it means "warmth against cold, light against darkness". As for me, I love a good wood fire as the sun sets in Winter, bringing hope and promise of a new season of growth to come. -- Gary

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11/25/2015 08:20.53 PM Report This Comment  
  Late November, 2015
Each year at this time of year, I write about how much I love the very tail end of Autumn: those few weeks before permanent snow cover when both the trees and ground are bare, the wind is raw, and spits of snow fill the air. Late this week our first real taste of cold weather has arrived. Wednesday was the last mild day and also one of the windiest in a long time. That night, before tuning in, I just had to sit outside a bit and hear the high winds moan through our Norway pines. There was just enough light from a young moon to brighten the clouds to where I could see the tree tops in contrast; swaying against a dim-gray backdrop. By Friday the cold front had come in and it was only in the 30s. By nightfall the birdbaths were icing over again. Tomorrow I will have to set up the heated birdbath on the Garage Porch and keep it filled until next March.

Just the other day I had mentioned the silence of November, except for the wind or the occassional call of a predator at night. These last few days however, I found that I noticed with the cold air the absence of scents. I don't have to tell you of all the rich and fragrant smells of Spring and Summer. Even Autumn has those wonderful scents of ripeness, with the sweet smell of crisp leaves, crisp apples, and the faint smoky aroma of wood and garden fires. Autumn to me also means the smell of the types of firewood itself; cedar and apple wood needs no explanation, but oak has a smell as rich as the orange grain of its split blocks. But I digress. It is by this time of the year that the cold has killed all growth and the Arctic winds have brought down air that has no scent at all. I can tell you from long experience of working outdoors throughout many Winters that I can smell the difference in the air when a rare Winter warm front comes this far North carrying air from the still-vibrant South; but when the Arctic cold returns from the ice and tundra of northern Canada, the air is as clean and pure as one can find in this day and age.

Deer hunting season is on! So tomorrow afternoon I will sit in front of my poncho wind-break at the corner of the woods under the power lines. I will be sheltered in part by both the poncho and a young white pine. I expect that it will be pleasant enough, dozing in the weak sunshine of a cold late-November day with a thermos of chicken broth and a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. I can expect to hear the wind sighing through the boughs of the pine and rippling the poncho cover. I expect also to hear the cliche'd "raucous" calls of the blue jays and crows and hopefully the tittering of my favorites, the chickadees. If my dozing and musings are interrupted by any deer I will be sure to let you know. --Gary

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11/20/2015 08:04.55 PM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms XIII, Grandma's Place
When Pa came home from the War, whether he knew it or not, he found what we here and now would call a veritable "happy place". At Grandma's place they had a lot of chickens and great soil for a vegetable garden. As for milk, every morning there came by, as my Eldest Brother David remembers, "a dilapidated wagon driven by an old man behind two old horses." As I'd written before, Pa would help out at John Duame's farm next door and between that and pumping water for the steam locomotives at Oconto Junction, made enough money to support his young wife while they both lived with Grandma Truckey. Again, as I'd written before, Pa loved to hunt and there were plenty of squirrels and rabbits for the Truckey table. In the evening, Charlie Housman's "Sleepy Hollow" was just a two-minute walk away. Pa would walk over and have a few glasses of beer (at 5 cents apiece) with Charlie. I am made to think that he probably only had to pay for half of them. I suppose Ma must've accompanied him a time or two but soon she had other things to think about. She was expecting her first-born son, my Eldest Brother David. Still, I'm guessing that she and Grandma Truckey had pleasant evenings sewing and talking about babies throughout the Summer of 1946.

A few years later, when Pa and Ma built their own homestead at what I now call "La Ferme Sabloneuse", the chicken coops were torn down at Grandma's place. She still had a scrap of ground turned over for a vegetable garden and even I, as the youngest of her grandchildren, remember seeing that patch of dark, fertile earth every Spring. Even later, as a teenager, we would bring our garden produce over to Grandma's and I also remember helping her to cut up radishes. In her 80s and 90s, Grandma Truckey had a surfeit of fresh vegetables and meat from her children and grandchildren. Every one of her children would see to it that the best of whatever they had would go to her house. (As for myself, I am proud to say that every Spring I would pick a bouquet of Mayflowers and bring them over for Grandma.) To this day, it makes me happy to think of how after such a long and arduous life of self-sacrifice, going without, and not to mention doing whatever she could to help others along the way, Grandma Truckey was able to enjoy many many years of having her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren coming to visit her and seeing to her every need. -- Gary

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11/18/2015 07:03.32 PM Report This Comment  
  More on Late Autumn, 2015
I'm all caught up on my raking! Last Sunday My Ruthie helped me rake and hall away an enormous amount of leaves from the yellow maple in our back yard. I was also able to haul away a couple of tarp-loads from the oaks down the South side of the Home Hill. On Tuesday I was able to finally complete the increasingly difficult task of clearing away the aforementioned oak leaves. I've hauled so many loads down to the Valley Garden that I'm afraid that the leaf mold may cause more harm than good. I'd noticed earlier this year that the hairy vetch and rye hadn't grown well we're I'd spread the maple leaves the year before. When I mentioned this to My Ruthie, she came up with a great idea. She told me that her Dad used to put all the leaves in one big pile, put chicken wire over it to prevent anything from blowing away, and then burn it all down for some ash (or maybe potash?). Come next Autumn, I'll have to leave the hose out a little later in the year and give it a try.

I don't have to hunt alone this year! My "Nephew Dave" Truckey, first-born son of my Eldest Brother David and first grandson of my Pa Dave Truckey, said that he'll hunt with me. Tomorrow he and I will set out some more corn and pumpkins at the two prime deer stands that his father had set up many years ago. We'll also site in our Winchester 30-30s and coordinate our hunting dates. I'd set up a new stand according to my tastes under the powerlines at the Homestead. I've been made to think that the deer are conditioned to notice if anyone is present in the tower that Eldest had set up some 25 years ago. That tower was designed by my brother to be a shooting platform for the scoped 30-06 Remington pump rifle that he'd inherited from Pa. As for me, my little "trapper's model Winchester '94" requires a closer set-up. I set up my old Navy poncho as a wind-break next to a white pine on the Southwest corner of the woods overlooking the open ground under those powerlines. I hacked off some branches to give me a clear field of fire without compromising my position (I hope) and placed a green plastic lawn chair where I can cover over 180 degrees of view.

Ah, the quiet of November! Now when I step out onto the front stoop at night I hear only the wind in the trees. Up to a week ago, I could still hear the katydids and a few crickets on a warm night. Now there is silence. From now until next Spring I can expect only to hear the hoot of an owl or the yap of a coyote. It is late Autumn here at La Ferme Sabloneuse and in spite of the impending approach of Winter, I find that I love this time of year. -- Gary

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11/13/2015 07:34.12 PM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms, The War Years, Part II
Three of Grandma Truckey's sons served in WWII. Pa was a truck driver who spent his time overseas transporting supplies to the front in New Guinea. Uncle Nap served in Europe as a military policeman. His daughter, my cousin Pam, says that he made sergeant and actually got to meet General Eisenhower. Immediately after the German surrender, he guarded the top Nazi officers until they were transported to Nuremberg. He actually spoke with Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz as they were waiting for the transport airplane. Uncle Nap told me that he saw the daily issue of morphine tablets for Hermann Goering. (This was when the Allied doctors had just started to slowly wean Goering off of his addiction.) The medic told Nap that this daily dose would kill an ordinary man.

It was Uncle Amos who'd seen the most action. He told me stories of how he spent the better part of an afternoon behind a M2 50. cal. heavy machine gun, trying to kill a sniper who was hidden in the canopy of the jungle. He'd shoot for awhile, then let the machine gun barrel cool off. He tried to warn a lieutenant and two other men who were going out on patrol about the sniper but the officer told him to mind his own business. Sad to say, all three men were shot by the sniper. Late in the afternoon Uncle Amos, after firing yet another burst, saw a tree bough bend suddenly. The next day another patrol found the dead sniper lashed to the branch.

Now on the home front, Ma spent those years lived quietly with Grandma. They had those two famous tomcats, Toodles and Tommy, and a bunch of chickens. The neighboring property was a tavern called "The Sleepy Hollow". It was aptly named, as Grandma's lived in an small valley that was bordered by three raised road beds. Charlie Houseman, one of Pa's best friend, ran the bar and lived in back. It was Charlie who convinced Ma to be a saloon girl. Actually it wasn't as bad as it sounded. Ma was a lovely young woman, as my most recent photo shows. Charlie told her that she could drink for free if she just sat at the bar. He knew that the men would stop by just to look at her and maybe talk a little with her. So Ma would bring one of the cats and sit on a stool and sip a sloe gin for an hour each night. It was a simpler time back then and Charlie looked upon Ma as a daughter so she was in no peril. Still, it was fun for us boys to tease Ma about this. I think that for an old lady in her 90s, it was nice to be reminded that she was once good-looking enough to be a tavern keepers draw for customers. -- Gary

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11/10/2015 07:34.45 PM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms, Part XI, The War Years.
Last time on this thread I started to talk about Grandma Truckey's farm. During WWII, my Ma, after having married Dave Truckey, went to live with his mother, my Grandma Emma Truckey. Pa was called up late in 1942 and until he came back at the tail end of '45, Ma and Grandma Truckey made the best of things throughout the war years.

Eugene Debbs had been imprisoned during WWI for saying, "The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles." So it was in WWII. Some 16 millions Americans were called into military service from all walks of life. The elites were put into officer programs, the poor were enlisted. To the government's credit, knowing that these conscripted soldiers would be leaving behind families without bread winners, increased the G.I.'s pay to where he was the highest paid soldier of all the combatant nations.

My Uncle Amos was like most of the young men of his generation, c'est-a-dire (that is to say) he was poor as a traveling rabbit. He worked the CCC camps for $25 a month and sent most of that home to Grandma. He joined the Wisconsin National Guard because it paid him a dollar for each Tuesday night's drill at the Oconto armory. During the buildup before WWII his company, as part of the 32nd Infantry Division, was called up in October 1940. As a PFC, Amos made $36 a month. After Pearl Harbor, Congress voted a substantial pay increase for the nation's service members and Amos' pay jumped to $54 a month. Uncle Amos told me that this 50% pay increase was mind-boggling for a poor country boy.

As for Pa and Ma, when Pa was a PFC overseas in New Guinea in 1943 his base pay was $54. When you add $28 for a dependent (Ma) and 20% for overseas pay, Pa made $92.80 a month. When he made Tech 5 (the equivalent of corporal) his pay was $107.20 a month, nearly all of it he allotted to Ma. As you can imagine, for a formerly destitute orphan, Ma knew how to save. By the time Pa came back home, Ma had saved several thousand dollars for her and her husband. It was enough to buy some land and build a house. More on "The War Years" on Veterans Day. -- Gary

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11/07/2015 07:50.01 PM Report This Comment  
  Late Autumn, 2015
I am learning to love "late autumn" almost as much as I love Autumn at its colorful height. Unfortunately, it only takes a week for the season to transition to the "late" stage. Right now, most of the deciduous trees are bare, except for the yellow birches, poplars, and yellow maples. (I am made to believe, by this pluponderous amount of evidence, that yellow leaves take longer to separate from their twigs than red leaves. Funny that it took me all this time to figure this out.) Of course, I hadn't mentioned the oaks. As I do every year at this time, I notice how the red oaks turn into such a lovely burgundy color.
While driving around last Sunday I noticed the tamaracks, (whose needles, by the way, are yellow as well). "The word "tamarack" comes from the Algonquian name for the species and means 'wood used for snowshoes.'" (Wikipedia) In Europe, they are called larches. They, like the birches and poplars, stand out like bright upright candles in the otherwise dimming landscape.
As for me, the number one task right now is raking leaves. I had hauled many, many tarp loads of maple leaves away from "The Truckey Tree" and this year, I spread them all on some bare sandy soil under the powerlines roughly in front of Eldest Brother David's favorite tree stand. I've said this before, there's no fertilizing virtue in these leaves, but at least they provide humus to the sand and that has to be some improvement. But now I've started to rake the large, thick, and moist red oak and yellow maple leaves on the Home Property. There's a nice stand of red oaks right in front of the garage porch and two beautiful yellow maples next to the Home Garden. They've all grown so nicely that in the last few years I realized that if I didn't rake up and carry away the leaves, they would mat down and kill the grass. I found it ironic that these trees, whose shade encouraged grass growth, in turn would inhibit it over the Winter. A few windy and rainy days have pretty much cleaned off the red oaks, but I'll have to wait another week or so for the maples. I won't complain though; it's nice to still see some tree color in the first week of November.
Now it depends on the wind whether I haul the red oak leaves down the Home Hill South to spread on the Valley Garden or haul the yellow maple leaves down the hill North to the sparesly-grassed areas of the hayfield I share with Belle Soeur Susie. Late in the day last Sunday, the air was still so I hauled a couple of tarp loads in each direction. I know that I've only begun my work here on the hill-top, but it's not really work at all. For this ol' Countryman, it's a chance to play in the leaves. --Gary

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11/04/2015 07:34.05 PM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms, Grandma Truckey's Farm (Part I)
I don't know if Grandma's tiny plot of a some two acres or so could be called a small farm, but she had a vegetable garden and kept chickens and as good a definition of a "small holding" as any, "a mon avis". After her husband was struck and killed by a car in 1934, Grandma, as a widow with a child or two at home, was "on relief" as the saying went back then. She was given a few dollars a month by the government and managed to get by on that. She put all her worries and needs "at the foot of the cross" and trusted in God to provide. Sure enough, she not only lived until the ripe old age of 98, but she also was able to provide food, shelter, and emotional/spiritual support for both her extended family and her neighbors.

I've told stories about my Grandma in many previous blogs. Suffice to say here, if you were in dire straits, you went to Emma Truckey's house. During The Great Depression, she always had relatives staying with her. The sad fact of the matter is that being on relief, she was probably the only person around who had a tiny bit of cash and could buy enough provisions to bake and cook. In short, things were that tough.

So in 1942, my Ma met my Pa. Cousin Brenda (Vivian's daughter) told me that it was her father who'd introduced the two. In retrospect, from the world-weary view of this tired-out old man, my mother needed someone to take care of her, and my father, knowing that he would be called up to serve in the war, wanted someone to wait for him. Ma told me that she married Pa because he made her laugh, and to be honest, he was a dark, muscular, and handsome man. When Pa was conscripted into the Army, he was 33, Ma was 22. She went to live with Grandma Truckey for the duration of the war. A strong-willed woman like Grandma Emma couldn't have been easy to live with but she had a kind heart and Ma was determined to fit in. They must've gotten along alright because until the end of Grandma's life, Ma always treated her with respect and we children revered her as the saint she was. More about Grandma's Farm next time. --Gary

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10/31/2015 07:18.33 PM Report This Comment  
  Final Chapter on the Brabant Farm (part II)
Ma was finally able to land a job keeping house for an old widow and her two bachelor sons. She made just a few dollars a week but she had no expenses and squirreled away all her money until she had $600 in the bank. Another brother of hers got wind of this and coerced her to accompany him to the bank and give him all her money. He said that he needed a new car and would pay her back. Back around 1940 $600 bought a pretty good automobile. Needless to say, her brother never paid Ma back. Throughout the years my Ma always maintained contact with all of her sisters and spoke highly of each and every one, but she never visited or talked to any of her three brothers. Growing up, I wondered why. It was only in the last dozen years or so that I learned the truth.

Sometime around the year 2000, I had the day off and went to see Ma at The Homestead. When she heard that I had to go to the hamlet of County Line to pick up a Farmall A tractor part for Eldest Brother David, she surprised me by saying that she wanted me to take her to see her childhood home. Surprised? I was stunned. For all these years, she never desired to see the Brabant homestead and her old haunts. So dutifully I helped her into my little Ford pickup and on a clear Autumn afternoon, I drove her to see her old home. First, we went to County Line, where I bought the needed tractor part, and then we drove all over northeast Oconto County. We finally came up to the old Brabant homestead. The only building still extant from a century before was the farmhouse and it had been remodeled to the point where it bore no resemblance whatsoever to the house that Me grew up in. As for the apple orchard; there was still one lone tree in the front yard. Ma took a good look at it all and then told me to take her home. I was happy and proud to take her on one last visit to the Brabant homestead; but looking back as I write this, I am moved to say that it was a visit steeped in sadness. -- Gary

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10/28/2015 07:17.28 PM Report This Comment  
  Final Chapter on the Brabant Farm (part I)
At one time, based on how highly my mother spoke of her father, I thought that she'd had a happy childhood. Later on, however, Ma told her kids the truth. The sad truth was, Amos Brabant could be a violent man when he was drinking. On a few occasions, he hit his wife. It got to the point where Victorine left her husband to live with relatives. When she came back, I am made to think that my grandfather got the message and toned things down a bit. Nevertheless, my grandfather was also a grasping man, as were his sons. Ma said that her oldest sister Gert "worked out", cooking and cleaning for another farm family. When she came home to visit on Sundays, her Pa took her money. Ma also told me that she learned that if she had a few coins, it was best to keep them out of sight. At various times, both her brothers and her father saw her playing with her money and took it from her for their own use. Malheureusement, things got worse. My mother's mother, Victorine Brabant, died of complications of high blood pressure in 1934. My Ma was 14. She was the last kid home so she kept house for her Pa as best she could for the next three years. One night in 1937 her Pa came home after a night of drinking and in the pitch-dark fell down the cellar steps and fractured his skull on the cement floor at the bottom of the steps. Ma found his body there the next morning.

Ma's eldest brother was in charge of the estate and as Ma told the story so many times in her old age, he put a sheet of legal paper in front of her and told her, "Sign this or I'll put you in the nut house!" Ma, being but 17, with an eighth-grade education, signed the paper. A few days later she was turned out on her own. Her sisters, God bless them, did what they could for her. The afore-mentioned Aunt Gladys Shallow, in the process of producing 15 kids of her own, was the first to take Ma in despite her family's own precarious position. Ma said that as she was washing dishes in Gladys' kitchen, she saw her Pa's cows, which had been sold at auction, being driven down the road in front of the Shallow farmhouse. (Please scroll up for part II) -- Gary

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10/28/2015 07:14.00 PM Report This Comment  
  Excellent!
What a wonderful way to spend the early morning hours - catching up on your posts! As a Southern girl, I can relate to the KKK stories, even if ours were more race related that religious. Either way, they are scary! Have you ever read Passalong Plants by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing? It is a great (often hilarious) account of plants that are commonly shared, and written with that lovely Southern voice. If not, it's one I highly recommend!

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10/25/2015 03:05.58 AM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms, Part IX The Brabant Farm
I would like to write that life on the Brabant Farm was an idyllic existence, and indeed it could have been, with the proper diligence and faithful discipline; but malheureusement, the usual hindrances of rural life at that time: lack of education (or just downright ignorance), superstition, fear, alcoholism, and just plain meanness and violence born out of desperation caused so much unnecessary suffering. My grandfather Amos had a predilection for drinking and fighting. He liked to go to dances and listen to the music. One time, a neighbor by the name of Ahlen, who was Lutheran, started making comments about Catholics. Amos, being a staunch son of the Church (I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek here) took exception when ol' Ahlen said, "The Lutheran Church is a flower bed while the Catholic Church is a bed of thistles."

My cousin Junior says that it took quite a few men to pull scrawny old Amos off the prostrate form of Mr. Ahlen. Amos was quoted as saying, "You can wipe your ass with flowers, but try doing it with thistles!" Now you have to realize that in Wisconsin after WWI, there was a lot of anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant sentiment. Not too many people know that Wisconsin in the 1920s had the largest membership of the KKK than any other state in the US. The Brabants actually awoke one night to see a cross burning in their front yard, (which makes this French Canuck Catholic proud, by the way). Amos Brabant, who spoke French as a first language, and wore his faith on his sleeve, was probably a fairly visible target.

Ma told us that the upper story of their house was never finished. The interior walls were never built. Blankets were hung between the "rooms". The only heat came up from below through the stairwell or from the stove pipes. Later, when Ma was the only child at home, she slept on a cot downstairs next to the living room stove. It always seemed sad to me that neither her Pa or her brothers had the ambition to try to improve their living conditions. Sadly, things got much worse. The final chapter on the Brabant Farm next time. --Gary

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10/24/2015 07:59.28 PM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms, Part VIII More on the Brabant Farm
My Ma told us many stories about her childhood on the farm. My cousin Junior Shallow shared a few more. Some of these memories were pleasant, others not so much. I've mentioned that Ma remembered the apple orchard next to the house and what a Godsend that was each Summer. Ma also remembered the dogs, cats and chickens on the farm. When she was little and slept upstairs with her big sisters, her ma would let the dog in the house in the morning and tell him "Go wake up the kids!" The dog would then run upstairs and jump on each of the beds until the kids were all awake. Ma said that the cats and dogs were allowed in the house. When they were in the house together, they never fought; but when they were outside, the cats were free game and the dogs would always chase them.

One cat's name was "Shit-ass". This was because it suffered from chronic diarrhea. (Don't ask me why it was even allowed in the house. Remember, this was circa 1930. I'm thinking that their ma was soft-hearted and wouldn't let Amos kill it, much to his disgust.) Now Grandpa Amos was actually a pretty good fiddle player. He liked to play in the evening or even in the afternoon if he had a few minutes before going out to do chores. One afternoon, when their ma was gone visiting, my mother and her sister Mazel were upstairs, listening to their Pa playing fiddle, then they heard Shit-ass meowing loudly in the parlor. The fiddle music stopped suddenly, and they could hear their Pa walking out of the house. Ma whispered to Mazel, "I bet he killed Shit-ass!" A little while later they heard their Pa come back into the house and resume his fiddling.

The two girls had to satisfy their curiosity and came downstairs. When their Pa saw them he paused in his playing and said simply, "I killed Shit-ass." Ma and Mazel laughed about that for the rest of their lives. More about the Brabant Farm to come. -- Gary

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10/21/2015 06:34.13 PM Report This Comment  
  Still More on October, 2015
I started cleaning up this year's Valley Garden yesterday. It was a good day to do this. A cold front had passed through the previous evening and yesterday's temps was in the high 40s with a heavy Northwest wind. Still, it was sunny and a man could work outside with just a flannel shirt and a cap and still keep warm. The first order of business was to use a corn knife (or sickle) to cut down the cornstalks and carry them off to augment the brush piles bordering our small, ancient orchard. I wasn't doing too well yesterday, tired and stressed out from work and from being part of our church's pro-life march the day before; so after cutting down half of the corn patch and hauling it away I found a wonderful resting spot. It was in the dry soft grass next to my favorite apple tree, a wizened Honeycrisp tree that was hollow at the base, yet still defied death and still produced a good crop of sweet Winter apples. The sun was shining warmly on that spot so I sat at the base of the old tree and pulled my cap down over my eyes. It was a slice of Heaven on earth! Still, I had work to do and as I was cutting some more stalks, Big Brother Tommy came down to help me. We hauled the rest of the cornstalks and then I showed him my resting spot and both of us hunkered down against the old apple tree trunk. It must have been quite a sight; two chunky old men in dungarees and flannels loafing in the late day Autumn sunshine.

So today my son Andrew was free to help me all day. What a windfall! He's great fun to work with. Andrew and I cut free the wire fencing from the fence posts and then stretched out and rolled up the 100 feet of it. Next we loaded up all the lumber and wire and hauled it to Bill's Shack for storage. Now yesterday, as Tommy and I were pushing the giant sunflower plants away from the fencing, I'd noticed that the sunflower heads were all nearly intact. I asked My Ruthie what we should do with them and her idea, brilliant as usual, was to hang them from the chain link fence of the Home Garden and let the birds have at them. So late this afternoon, after I had spent another tank-full of gas cutting brush, I tied up the big sunflower heads to the fence while Ruthie cleaned up the front yard. It was a cold sunny day but it was perfect weather for cleaning things up in preparation for the coming Winter. -- Gary

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10/17/2015 08:03.50 PM Report This Comment  
  The Peak of Autumn, 2015
Last Sunday it was Autumn at its peak here at La Ferme Sabloneuse. It was a beautiful fall day. The temperatures was in the 70s and so I made a point to take advantage of the height of color and the bright sunny day by using her camera to take photographs around the farm.
I was able to get a start on spading over the raised beds in the Home Garden. There's eight of them; four of which I used this year for produce with the other four used to hold the perennials that we'd transferred from the flower beds from the house. Unfortunately, like many jobs that a Countryman or woman undertake, each can take on a life of their own. I was able to lift out and transplant the perennials but after doing so I found that I needed to put more black dirt in those bunkers. So, instead of hauling a truckload of manure for use at La Ferme Sabloneuse, I spent the evening filling, pushing, and then emptying about a dozen wheel barrow loads of soil for the raised beds. I was also able to expend the tiny plastic gas tank of the two-cycle brush cutter. Again, as I mentioned before, I was able to find and cut around a number of small maple seedlings.
As it turned out, I was able to give a number of seedlings to friends and neighbors. Some three years ago, in one of my earliest blogs, I'd written about "passalong plants"; those young trees, shrubs and perennials that we Countryfolk love to give to others. Now with most urban people, I find that it's a case of pearls before swine. Non-Countryfolk view such gifts much like the "mathoms" of the Hobbits; something that would otherwise be thrown out if not given away. Once these gifts are planted, they, and the givers, are soon forgotten. This is not the same with Countryfolk. We give a bit of ourselves when we give what's been grown on our land; and, if you'll pardon me for my vanity, we want to be remembered for our gift. On my property, I remember that it was my Pa who'd planted the oaks some 40 plus years ago that now grow tall and feed the deer and squirrels. I remember my Grandma Truckey when I see the black cap raspberry blossoms and I remember my mother-in-law Regina Lotter when I see the lilacs bloom every Spring. To give an even more extreme example, I am the only person who remembers that the beautiful white pines growing on Grandma Dort's old place, now inhabited by people I don't even know, were planted by my Uncle Earl Truckey back in the 1940s.

In turn, I would like to think that when these maple seedlings I've given away have grown to really beautify the properties of their recipients, "Old Man Truckey" will be remembered as the Countryman who passed them along. -- Gary

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10/13/2015 09:09.17 PM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms, Part VII The Brabant Farm
My mother, Ariel Brabant Truckey, was the youngest of what I think were nine children born to Amos and Victorine Brabant. They never had electricity on their farm. I remember back when I was an adolescent in the early 1970s and we were watching "The Waltons" on TV, Ma would be irritated at how the Waltons could afford electricity during the Great Depression. Neamoins, her family managed to survive on 80 acres near the Bay of Green Bay. Ma said a number of times that if it hadn't had been for the apple orchard on their farm, they never would've survived. She told me that as a child, she ate apples nonstop as long as the trees produced them.

The Brabants were in debt. This hung over the family's head like the Sword of Damocles. The mortgage stated that the farm had to have at least 8 milking cows. My eldest cousin Junior Shallow, who was born in 1927 (just seven years after Ma was born) and is the only person alive who had actually known my grandfather, told me that the Brabant's usually had 13 to 15 cows in production, all of course milked by hand. Ma told me that her pa, Amos Brabant, had a regular job in Oconto working at Stock's Lumber Mill. Despite the dire financial straits, he owned a Ford Model T, and later, a Model A. While he "worked out" according to the old farm expression, his sons worked the farm and also set up trap lines in the marshes bordering the bay and skinned muskrats and the occasional fox to augment the family income. The family had a team of draft horses that was used for all the field work.

My cousin Junior told me that Amos fed his cattle on hay and corn silage. The Brabants never had cob corn or shell corn to use as feed. Belle Soeur Susie's brother Randy Monette, the eldest of the Monette children, informed me that this was because the farm was so close to the bay, that the Brabants' field were never dry enough to plant until well into June and therefore their corn never had enough time to ripen before the end of the growing season. The result was that the Brabants green-chopped their corn in September and used an old-fashioned silage pit to store it. (Randy Monette and Susie knew full well about farming close to the bay. The Monette Farm was even closer to the bay and they faced the same problems, but I'll tell you about that in due time.) More on the Brabant Farm to come. --Gary

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10/10/2015 08:18.53 PM Report This Comment  
  More on October, 2015
Because I'd been helping My Ruthie work on the retaining walls of her flower gardens, I've fallen behind with my fall chores. The tasks staring me in the face include spading over the raised beds, taking down the wire fencing around this year's Valley Garden and storing them away for the Winter, hauling one last load of manure to put on those raised beds and then leave the rest in a pile to be used as needed next Spring. The most pressing task though, is cutting down this year's growth in the acre of land in front of the house at the Home Property. This is the acre that we'd like to turn into a part of our front yard, with a green lawn and bunkers of perennials, with red maples and white birches interspersed throughout.

As I mentioned last year, I use a gas-powered weed whacker, only when I cut brush I put on a little three-bladed saw attachment; and like last year, I cut down any and all new growth except for red maple seedlings. This is the time of year to do this culling because the leaves on the tiny maples have all turned red, making them easy to spot. Hal Borland made a beautiful quote about maples that I can only paraphrase from memory, "Like little children being sent to bed early, young maples turn color before their elders".

I know already that taking down the wire fencing in the Valley Garden will take a few hours. I will have to pull off all the dead pumpkin and squash vines and push any leaning sunflower trunks (not stems, trunks!) away from the fence as well. This year, per Big Brother Tommy's suggestion, instead of storing the fencing equipment in the tractor trailer and leaving it in the Wooden Shed for the Winter, I will haul it all to Bill's shack just a few dozen yards away.

This weekend promises clear, warm weather, and I have the Columbus Day holiday on Monday on which to work. I'll keep you posted on my progress. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

10/07/2015 08:41.41 PM Report This Comment  
  Small Farms, Part VI (More on the Bell Farm)
My cousin Brenda told me that the Mexican family they'd contracted to go on halves with the cucumbers were wonderful people who came up Summer after Summer. The Bells would clean out the garage and the family would make their residence there until the cucumbers were done. They would use the outhouse (nearly every small farm back then still kept the outhouse in operation as a second bathroom) and they had use of the outside pump for water. You must remember that this was in the 1950s and 60s, before regulations designed to improve living accommodations for the migrant workers made it impossible for small farmers to hire them and therefore put the migrants out of work.

The Dominquez family, like most of the Mexican migrant workers of that time, outfitted an old truck to make it a primitive camper. They would work their way North during the Spring and Summer and make enough money hoeing and harvesting to live well back home in Mexico during the Winter months. The Dominguez family loved Aunt Vay's home-baked bread. (The Brabant girls all knew how to make wonderful bread. Vivien and her sister Gladys Shallow, were renowned for their baking and when my own Ma would bake bread, it would be the highlight of the week for us boys.) Brenda, in turn, loved the Mexican flat-bread that Mrs. Dominguez made each morning. Each morning, a trade was made and all were happy. This reminds me of the story my eldest cousin, Junior Shallow told me. Junior is 88 years old. (Only in the country can you find an 88 year old man who goes by the name of "Junior") He said that his mother Gladys would make her kids fried egg sandwiches made with her homemade bread. (The two things that all the small farms had enough of during the Great Depression were homemade bread and eggs.) Junior's cousin, who's family was "on relief" and received a large ration of peanut butter each month, always had peanut butter sandwiches. Needless to say, Junior never saw a jar of the stuff at his house. It was another classic trade. Each got what he craved and got rid of what he was sick of.

Another neat story that Brenda told me was about the time she came out of the back door one morning and spied a giant pine snake on the concrete slab at her feet. She screamed out just as Eduardo, the head of the Dominguez family came out of the garage. Eduardo told her to stand back, and then he drew out his belt knife and threw it, skewering the snake right in the head. I have plenty more about Small Farms to come. --Gary

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10/03/2015 06:41.08 PM Report This Comment  
  October, 2015
Now tomorrow is the the first of October, but today, because it was my day off, seemed like the first real day of Autumn, 2015. What made it even more so was the fact that last night was the first frost of the year. This morning there was frost on the rooftops. This meant that down in the Garden Valley, there was a killing frost and I could harvest the pumpkins and acorn squash.

I had spent a good part of the day laying down sand for the base of My Ruthie's walled flower gardens. This evening, early evening if you looked at the clock, late evening if you kept track of the Sun, I brought up the acorn squash and pumpkins from the Valley Garden. Supplied with my Buck knife, a side-cutter, and my trusty wheelbarrow, I made numerous trips down and up the Backyard Hill and hauled the produce. I also cut the wires around the two pumpkins that had bisected the fencing while growing and brought those up the hill as well. I also pushed some of the dying sunflower plants off of the fencing and then pushed them the opposite direction.

It was a good evening. It was cool and clear and I had to wear my "de rigour" blue flannel shirt over my T-shirt as I worked. I brought up two wheelbarrow-loads of "calabazas" (Spanish for gourds, squash, and pumpkins). It is a part of Americana to display cornstalks, pumpkins, squash and gourds as images of the Autumn harvest, and so at the end of this evening, as the sunlight lit the tops of the poplars, I cut the calabazas off the dead vines and hauled them up the hill to my house. In between trips I also helped My Ruthie haul stone blocks to her garden wall. At the very end of the evening, I sat on a lawn chair in the back yard and watched the blue Autumn sky turn to black until the first stars came out. Like I'd said, it was a good evening and a good virtual first of October. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

09/30/2015 07:50.38 PM Report This Comment  
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