Monthly Archives: August 2015

Cutting the “Grumpy” Out

Some of the most exciting times of our lives as farmers have centered around the bovines that Certain Man raises for meat.  As noted in the last post, there was considerable excitement when one such animal jumped the fence and gave all of us a run for our money.  In another post, I may tell the story of the night we had that supper when we invited everyone who helped that day to a mystery supper — but there has been another story brewing over very recent happenings at the very same farm involving the same sort of animal.

Certain Man has gotten little Jersey bulls over the last couple of years because they were not as hard on his pocketbook as the ones of the Holstein lineage.  These beautiful little critters are smaller than their big boned counterparts, and CM was loathe to deprive them of their manhood, contending that they would “convert better” if they were given some time before becoming steers.  This has always been a point of concern to his wife, especially since there were times in the past when the intent was to wait until the last possible minute — and then, somehow, it got “too late” and then the last couple months of the lives of our two year meat projects were spent “being careful” whenever Certain Man was in the same pen or even pasture as the bulls.

And this happened again this year.  Our yearling Jersey bulls had escaped the precautionary operation and had matured at an alarming rate.  One of the three was docile.  He was actually the smallest of the three, and he spent his time quietly going about his business, eating grass, not paying much attention to anything.  The second of the three was suspiciously bossy, occasionally acting like he wanted to start something, and he wasn’t to be trusted too far.  The third one, the biggest and oldest, was a basket of fury and hormones and aggression.

From the time he was a small calf, he wouldn’t take much from anyone.  Spunky, feisty and strong, he grew worse as the months passed.  By the time he was nine months old, he was the boss of everything, even the older steers that were about to go to market.  But this spring and summer, he became incorrigible.  He would bellow and snort at anything that took his attention that was out of the ordinary that he didn’t approve of.  He would bang his horns against the fence and against the side of the barn, tearing holes in the tin on the side of the entrance to his pen.  He would dig big holes in the pasture and loudly make known his displeasure with anything and anyone.

“You need to do something about that bull,” I would tell Certain Man.  “He’s going to hurt someone!”

“I know,” Certain Man would say.  “I really need to do something, but I am pretty sure it’s too late to band them.  I think I’m going to see if Billy or someone will bring his chute down here and give me a hand.  I think I’m going to need to get the vet.”

And then more time would go by, and someone would mention something about that “bull sounds really cross!”  or “What in the world is wrong with that one of your cows?  He makes a terrible fuss!” or (the thing that really bothered me) “Our kids won’t go out there to talk to your cows any more.  They’re scared of them!”

“Daniel,” I would say on occasion, “I’m really afraid that someone is going to get hurt.  Most of the kids who come know not to get into the pasture, but what if one of them does?  Or what if he gets out?”

“I know,” he would say, impatient at my nagging, but also not sure of what he should/could do.  “I really need to do something.”

And then, one day while he was in the pen, the bull started at him, pawing and snorting.  Certain Man had the handle of a pitchfork at the ready, and he walloped him a good one and caught him just below his horns.  It was a hefty blow, and the bull backed up, shook his head and came at him again.  This time Certain Man got a solid whack across his nose and brought him to his knees.  He got up and turned away.  As he rounded the corner leaving the barn, CM saw that his nose was bleeding. This particular incident had two effects upon Certain Man.  He began to make sure that his pitchfork handle was always handy and he began to actively plan a time in the very near future when he could take care of this militant aggressor’s basic motivation.  As for the subject at hand, he appeared to be watching for his chances, but was always very respectful when he caught sight of the pitchfork handle.

The bellowing and snorting and pawing and clanging of the horns against anything close at hand was not lost upon our observant granddaughter.  Ever one to be at her Grandpa’s side whenever possible, she was very concerned about the state of affairs in Grandpa’s barn.  On more than one occasion, she complained to me about that fussy bull.  “I don’t like how that cow sounds, Grammy,” she would say.  “He sounds so mad!”

Then came the day when Certain Man’s vet, Dr. Christina Dayton-Wall stopped by to check on the newest member of Certain Man’s herd, a lively, beautiful little jersey bull calf.  She checked him over thoroughly, gave him a vaccination and a shot and pronounced him healthy and strong.  All the while, the belligerent fellow bellowed his protests at the intrusion into his domain.  Certain Man seized the opportunity to tell her about his troubles with the mad bull and asked her opinion about the feasibility of “banding” or whether she thought the present state of affairs would demand a knife.

“No question,” was her cheerful reply.  “They will need an operation.  And I wouldn’t wait much longer if I were you.  There’s no way I’d get into the same pen with those fellows without some kind of protection.  They mean business!”

“Would you do it?” Asked Certain Man. “I have a friend who can bring his chute that he uses for hoof trimming and we could contain them.  I’d like to do all three.”

“I’d be delighted to do it!” said his pleasant young female vet.  (He later told me that he just can’t figure out why the females think this is such a fun thing.  “They’re all tickled to death to help out with this,” he said woefully.  “They just don’t have a clue!”)

And so they set the date for a Monday at three in the afternoon.  But that Monday was still almost two weeks away.  I worried about whether we would make it that long without someone getting hurt.  It seemed like things were getting worse and worse.  Our neighbor, Mr. Fox, who cuts our pasture for hay, parked his tractor in the adjourning shed one afternoon and created an episode of pawing holes in the side pasture, great bellowings and clattering of horns that went on until dark.

“You’ve got yourself a crazy animal there,” Mr. Fox told Certain Man.  “All I did was park my tractor in the shed and he stood at the gate and acted like he was gonna’ come through it.  He acted like he was crazy.  And they have big holes dug in that back pasture that I cut for hay.  One was two feet deep.  Something’s wrong with him!”

That was the night that Charis and I were walking out by the garden, checking on the produce and watching Grandpa doing his never ending work in the shed and barn and chicken houses.  We had also been drawn by the racket in the pasture that just wouldn’t stop.

“Grammy, that cow is really grumpy!” Said Charis, a little apprehensively.  “I don’t like how he sounds.”

“I know, Charis,” I said to her, “He really is grumpy!  Grammy doesn’t like it either!  But do you want to know a secret?”

She looked expectantly up into my face. “Yes!”

“In just a few days,” I told her conspiratorily, “Grandpa’s vet is going to come and Billy Bender is coming to help and they are going to cut that cow’s ‘grumpy’ out!  And then he won’t be so grumpy!”

She laughed.  “Really, Grammy???”

“For real, Charis!” I promised.  “That’s exactly what they are going to do!”

She did a little happy dance and then she went home with her Mama and I told Middle Daughter and Youngest Daughter all about my wonderful explanation.  I was rather proud of myself for being able to explain such a delicate situation to a six year old.  I was surprised when Middle Daughter looked at me aghast.

“Mom!” she exclaimed with consternation.  “That was a terrible thing to tell her!’

I was surprised.  “Why is that so terrible?”

“Because that is what her Mama always threatens her with when she is being grumpy!  She teases her and says, ‘You better get happy, or I’m gonna’ cut your grumpy out’ and Charis is probably really confused about this whole thing.”

I decided not to worry about it.  Some things can just be handled by parents who made the situation in the first place.  Except that a few nights later, walking with Charis, I noticed that she was thoughtful.  And then, there came the question.

“Grammy, what is the ‘grumpy’ that they are going to cut out?”

(Gulp!  I don’t consider this my territory of responsibility!)

(Oh, Lord, what do I say???) “Well, Charis,” I began slowly, but was suddenly struck by a stroke of Providential brilliance.  “The boy cows have a gland that makes them act grumpy as they get older.  The vet is going to come and take that gland out and then they won’t be so feisty and mean.”  And that satisfied our curious six year old granddaughter. Let her Mama answer any further questions.

The day finally came without any damage to the humans that traverse the lands at Shady Acres, and the good vet came to find that Certain Man had done his work (as usual) with careful attention to safety and without fault.  The three bulls were shut in their pens with only one way out — and that was into Billy Bender’s sturdy chute.  Once they were securely restrained, Dr. Dayton-Wall gave a little shot of Lidocaine that they hardly felt and before they knew what had happened, they were out the other end of the chute, steers!

They were strangely subdued that first hour or so.  They grazed a bit, but there was no pawing or bellowing.  As the evening wore on, they were more and more languid. Eventually they stopped trying to motor at all.  The biggest fellow — the most maniacal, lay out in the field like he was dead, just giving an occasional melancholy flip to his tail — lifting it up about six inches and sadly dropping it down again.  There was no noise.  At all.  The pasture around Shady Acres’ barn was almost spooky with the change in atmosphere.  But eventually, they realized that they weren’t going to die after all, and began to graze and gingerly walk about.

“Any bellowing or carrying on?” I asked Certain Man two mornings later.  Dr. Dayton-Walls had warned us to be careful for ten days to two weeks.

“It will take them that long to get rid of the ‘boy stuff,'” she said cheerfully.  “Don’t trust them until you know how they are going to be.  Those guys, particularly the big one, could really hurt someone!”

Certain Man grinned.  “Nope!” he said.  “Not a bit.  No pawing, no clanging against the fences and buildings, no digging, no nothing!  These guys are different animals!”

“Do they seem to be okay?” I asked, suddenly wondering if such an alteration could kill them.

“Fine as can be,” he told me.  “They just don’t act like they care about anything.  They are eating and grazing and just as calm as they can be.”

Several days later, I was outside when I heard a noise.  It was a gentle mooing sound that our steers would make when they thought it was time for Certain Man to feed them.  I had never heard this particular sound from these animals.  I stood in the side yard and thought about what a nice sound that occasional, controlled mooing was.  I thought about how nice it was to not worry that someone was going to get hurt on our farm by an angry animal.  I thought about the meat that we should have to share with our family and others when these steers would be full grown.  I thought about how “cutting a grumpy out” can be so pivotal in the atmosphere of a family farm.  And I thought — well, I could draw all sorts of analogies, here, but I think I won’t.

And that is the news from Shady Acres where Certain Man continues to protect and provide for us in so many ways.  Where whatever it was that happened on that Monday afternoon was final — there was no more aggression on the part of any of the newly altered bovine males.

And where Certain Man’s Wife gives very grateful praise for a job well done.

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Certain Man’s Wife Chases the Bull

This is an old story — as indicated by the date in the first sentence.  The reason I am posting it is that — I have another story about the bovine creatures at Shady Acres that I’ve been wanting to tell — and wanted to reference this story.  Alas and alack!  This story, though in my book, is so old, it never appeared in a blog posting.  Many of you have heard it.  Many of you have read it in my book.  But for those who haven’t — here is one of my favorite stories about life at Shady Acres and the neighborhood that we call home.  Sadly, two of the integral people who helped on this infamous day have gone to their reward.  I would just like to say that I deeply miss my dear friend, here referred to as “Good Wife Joan,” as well as our neighbor, Roland Willey, also a dear friend and trusty neighbor.

Now it came to pass on the very first day of September, in the year of our Lord, 2004, that Certain Man’s wife was complacently enjoying a busy morning of preparing for State Inspection. On impulse, that very morning, she had hired a friend, Alma Miller, to help clean the kitchen cabinets, and CMW was working at cleaning the bedroom that was to be inspected.  It was a beautiful morning.  There was a good breeze, the sky was blue, and all was well.

CMW had other reasons to rejoice.

For several weeks,one of the male bovines that Certain Man kept for meat had been showing signs of aggression, indeed, had charged Certain Man on a number of occasions, with great bellows and kicking up of the dirt. Now this Meany Pest of a bull was only 18 months old.  Certain Man had not had him neutered because he had never had a problem with other bulls when he hadn’t,and he liked it that an un-neutered bull would convert better to meat.  Since he only keeps his meat animals for two years, it had never been a problem. Until now.

This turn of events had been enough disconcerting to Certain Man that he had called the Honorable Allen Beachy and had him come and “band” the two young calves that he was raising for the spring of 2006.  That done, he also called the butcher shop and arranged for the slaughter of Meany Pest.  Immediately.  With the traffic of people and children through the property of Certain Man, he didn’t want to take a risk.  It was too late to tackle the neutering business with Meany Pest.  Unfortunately,slaughter time was a few weeks out, so close watch had been kept until this very morning when Friend, Tommy Eliason had come with his cattle trailer and hauled him off.  CMW drew a great sigh of relief that was matched by her husband.

Now, at the same time that CM had procured Meany Pest, he had gotten another male calf which grew up along side of MP.  What Meany Pest had in aggression, Second Fellow, though also un-neutered,  made up for in friendliness and complacency.   When Tommy Eliason came to pick up MP, Second Fellow wanted to go, too, and tried to stick his head into the truck..  Certain Man and Tommy enjoyed a chuckle at the friendly fellow’s expense.  They had to chase him away.

When Certain Man came in from sending Meany Pest off, he said to CMW, “Now,I locked the other three in the front pasture. Second Fellow is pretty upset, and I don’t want him getting out.”

Certain Man has always maintained fences in proper order, and it is a rare day when any of his animals get out.  He learned the hard way that it is no fun to have creatures running around at night on busy roads.  So he has a high tensile fence that has electric on the inside of it, nearly all the way around his pasture.  He has a four foot high board fence that runs for a short distance between buildings, and he keeps all his fences in good repair.  He has a large back pasture,well fenced, where he allows the animals to run around and graze, but it is behind the chicken houses, and out of deference to CMW, who cannot see back there from the house, he decided to confine them on the smaller, front pasture,where they could get into the barn if they wanted to.

The morning was so pleasant that the windows were open in the house, and all morning, Second Fellow was protesting loudly.  Around eleven o’clock, he sounded louder and nearer, and Youngest Daughter of CM and CMW went to look what was going on.

“Oh, my goodness, MOM, there is a bull out.  A BIG Bull.  Oh, my, it is one of the big ones, Mom!!!”

Certain Man’s Wife went out the back door to the deck, and sure enough, there was Second Fellow, prancing across the yard.  Behold, her heart made a very fast trip to her shoes.  He looked so determined and “bullish.”   She looked around for ammunition, and laid her hands upon a Stanley broom that was conveniently leaning against the deck.  She hollered for Youngest Daughter to call her father, and took out across the yard as fast as her 50 year old body would allow her.  In the past,getting animals back into their pens has been challenging but not impossible,and she had a great deal of optimism as to how quickly she would conquer again.

But something had happened to Second Fellow.  He had caught wind of a heifer in heat who belonged to a neighbor.  He was determined to seek her out.  By this time, Friend Alma had seen the predicament, and had come to join the fray. CMW sent Youngest Daughter out to the cow pen to open the gate.  Youngest Daughter thoughtfully locked the two younger (now) steers in the barn, and opened the large gate wide to the front pasture.  Friend Alma’s young son stood on the deck and yelled.

Second Fellow saw two determined humans coming across the yard, and was suddenly urged to run in the direction of the road.  He lowered his head and charged blindly toward the poorly armed females who were supposed to be directing him in the way that he should go.  Whop! Went the broom, scarcely making contact, but diverting him slightly. Friend Alma and CMW ran to and fro, trying to herd obstinate Second Fellow towards the barn.  Every time they achieved a few yards, down would go the head, and with a bellow, back the bull would charge.  CMW noticed that he was not kicking up any dirt with his bellow, but it did not comfort her heart very much.  It occurred to her that there were many guardian angels standing between the bull and the two inadequately armed females, for time and time again, he would head for them, only to turn aside in the nick of time.  Unfortunately, it was pretty obvious who was winning the battle of the wills despite angelic protection.

After perhaps five or six time of attempting to head him off at the road, kindly neighbor, Eddie,noticed that there was considerable difficulty going on in the yard across the road.  He and neighbor Steve left their task of putting siding on the house and came to help.  One of them had a stick, and CMW had her faithful Stanley broom, but otherwise the crew was unarmed.

Said CMW, “I surely do wish Daniel would get here!”

Said Kindly Neighbor Eddie, “What would he do?  Does he have a secret?”

“Not that I know of,” said CMW heatedly, “but it would be HIS problem!”

About then, Kindly Neighbor Eddie’s wife,Joan, appeared to lend her strong arm, and a shiny  red convertible also stopped.  Friend Bethany had seen the dilemma and decided to help, too.  CMW thought ruefully that RED was not especially the color that she had in mind for the present situation, but there was no doubt that help was needed, so she welcomed the extra body.  By now there were fully seven people in hot pursuit of seemingly demented bull.

They managed to chase Second Fellow up the chicken house lane for a short distance, when he suddenly caught on to the idea that it was not the right direction.  He turned and lowered his horns and headed back out the drive.  Sticks and brooms and bodies had no effect upon him whatsoever, and the posse scattered before him in grave disarray.  He headed out towards the road again, and then turned and trotted along the edge of the fenced woods where he was sure that his intended was hiding.  He bellowed and stopped and sniffed and bellowed and trotted.  Of course, all the traffic on the busy road beside CM’s farm were beginning to take note, and cars were going by slowly while gawking at the motley crew, and some were pulling off to see if there was something they could do.  Chicken trucks and work vans, jalopies and mini vans, town cars and meter readers got all jammed up on the road.  CMW’s face was as red as a turkey gobbler, and not just from exertion.  WHY DIDN’T CERTAIN MAN COME HOME???

Then the owner of the heifer, Neighbor Willey, came forth from his house down the road.  He had probably heard rather than seen the hubbub, guessed what the problem was, and secured offending female far from the site of the battle.  He picked up a sturdy stick and came to help, too.

With his approach, Second Fellow decided to turn around and head back up the fence line towards Shady Acres.  With great difficulty and many yells and whops with the weapons, the Bull was directed towards the back pasture.  CM had been called again, and he informed frantic Youngest Daughter that he was heading for home (in earnest with his state truck and his flashers going). CMW was pretty sure that they would be getting the bull in right before he got there, and that is exactly what happened.  Just before he sped in the lane, Neighbors Eddie and Steve managed to drive him into the back pasture and hook up the electric fence.

Things started to calm down a little then.  CMW was panting and tired, and the neighbors were saying friendly things about how “That’s what neighbors are for…” and CM was going back to bring Second Fellow to the front pasture and secure him there.  CMW was heading out towards the barn when she saw Second Fellow come around the edge of the barn at a gallop.  At this inopportune time, she remembered that she did not know how he had escaped in the first place.  It suddenly occurred to her that the two little ones had been inside the fence the entire time he was out.  It didn’t make sense.  A great feeling of dread came over her as she saw him make a straight bee-line for the four foot wooden fence.  Was there a break in it somewhere?  She watched in disbelief as Second Fellow trotted up to the fence and in one smooth motion was OVER it!  If it hadn’t been so terrible, it would have been beautiful. A perfect Olympic jump.

Believe me, there was some shrieking going on then! Certain Man jumped in his truck and headed out the chicken house lane,trying to head him off.  If it had been his own pick up instead of his work truck, he said that he would have run into the critter, but since he needed to be careful with the state’s property, he was unable to stop him.  Once again, out on the road,traffic stopped, and neighbors running and helping.  CMW was inclined to go inside and pretend that she wasn’t home,but she ran and herded and whopped with her faithful Stanley broom until the entire group had successfully herded him to the entrance to the pasture.

Certain Man had gotten out his blacksnake whip and was making good use of it.  Just before going through the gate, Second Fellow made a mighty dash for freedom.  Certain Man snapped him soundly with the blacksnake whip, but lost his footing and fell into a very green, very stinky body of water that was left over from the latest rain.  His efforts to divert the bull were effective, though, and while he picked himself out of the muck, the neighbors closed in and Second Fellow went back into the pasture.

CMW and Friend Alma and Neighbor Willey, and Neighbor Eddie and his Good Wife Joan, took up positions along the board fence.  Good Wife Joan held the black snake whip, CM held the faithful Stanley broom and the guys stood there and looked MENACING. Youngest Daughter went into barn and called cheerfully to Second Fellow with promises of FEED.  Certain Man gave her instructions from the pasture. Second Fellow was drawn by the cheery voice.  He was tired from so much running.  He ambled over and looked in the door.  He went in a few feet.  She continued to coax and call him from behind the feed bunker.  Certain Man sidled over, out of sight, while she wove her deceptive web.  Finally, Second Fellow was far enough in to shut the metal gate behind him.  Oh,NO!  It was hooked to the wall.  Second Fellow acted like he was going to go out again.  Youngest daughter took advantage of the situation to scramble into the pen and unhook the gate so it could swing free, then went back to her wheedling, cajoling call.  Again, the pull was strong, and Second Fellow turned back towards the feed bunk.

Certain Man, muddy and stinky looked at the great mud hole between him and the gate and did not waver a single moment.  Good work shoes and all, he plowed through the mud that was deeper than his shoes and grabbed the gate.  Second Fellow made one final dash for freedom,but CM hollered mightily.  When Second Fellow paused, CM clanged the gate shut, and this time the offending animal wasfully trapped.  Metal bars and chains and cement would need to be moved for him to escape this time.

“Whew!” said everyone.

“That was fun,” said Good Wife Joan.  “Quite a diversion from a boring afternoon.”

Neighbor Eddie and Neighbor Willey did not say much.  CMW noticed that they were looking positively cheerful, though.

“I’m glad I was here!” said Friend Alma.  “I’ve had lots of experience chasing animals when I was a girl!”

“You aren’t half as glad as I am,” said CMW.  “What would I have ever done without help?”

“That’s what neighbors are for…” said Good Wife Joan, again.

“Well,” said CMW, “I am quite certain of one thing.  There is going to be a steak dinner one of these days and everyone who helped is going to be invited!”

That was well received, and the neighbors went back to their jobs and CMW went back into the house to cool off and rest her weary bones. CM, after making double sure of everything in the barn, came back into the house to change his clothes and shoes and to go back to work.  He would have to call this time at home his lunch hour for the day, and CMW felt sorry for him.  But the bull was in, he was cleaned up, and he could get into his air conditioned truck and leave.  That didn’t sound like too bad a deal to CMW.  She needed to keep on getting ready for the coming inspections.  But first, she needed to write a story.

So, that is the news from Shady Acres, where Certain Man is working on a new electric fence that will compliment a particular board fence, Certain Man’s Wife’s face still feels hot and her knees feel weak, and Youngest Daughter is the only one of the children who was witness to the events of this momentous day.

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Certain Man turns 62

Yesterday was Certain Man’s birthday.

I pulled out a brown manilla envelope that his sister, Lena, had sent several years ago containing the copied pages of a notebook that we had found when we were cleaning out his parent’s house when they moved to a nursing home.  It held vital information about my husband that went unknown for half a century.  Literally.

When Ralph Yutzy’s young wife, Katie Kauffman Yutzy, died one May morning in 1958, she left behind five children; Lena (10) Rachel (9) Joseph (7) Daniel (4) and Ruthie (2).She also left behind a grief stricken husband who couldn’t function without her.  He knew she had this information written down somewhere, but he didn’t know where.  And he didn’t remember a lot of the details.  Daniel started school, went through elementary school, went to junior high, and eventually to high school.  When he turned 16, he wanted his license, but they could not find a birth certificate for him.  The bureau of motor vehicles said that he had to have a birth certificate to get his license.  So he and his father went down to the bureau of vital statistics to procure one.  There was no record of his birth.  At all.  So they said that his mother had to sign that he was, in fact, born on August 14, 1953, and that he was her son and that she could swear solemnly affirm that it was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  And then he could have a birth certificate.

But his mother wasn’t living.  And his father didn’t know where she had written everything down.  So they needed to get school records and who knows what else, to verify that he was, in fact, born.  And since there was no record of his birth, the magistrate told him that he could name himself whatever he wanted.  In keeping with his family tradition, he did not have a middle name, rather used the initial, “R” (in deference to his father’s name “Ralph”) in the place of a middle name.  However, there was another Daniel R. Yutzy, the very same age, on the same mail route, and after discussion, Daniel and his father decided to use the initial “J” instead of “R.”  I’m not sure of why, but I am very sure there was a reason.  To this day, Daniel insists that he told them “just the initial,” but when his birth certificate came, It was all spelled out, Daniel Jay Yutzy.  And so that is what it has legally been ever since.

Cleaning out the house, though, in November of 2009, we came across the spiral notebook where Katie had written about each of their five children.  Lena, showing much foresight, copied off the pages that pertained to each individual child and sent the copies to each one.  Yesterday morning, I pulled the copies out to look over the details concerning Daniel’s birth.

Our Fourth Baby. (She wrote.)
Was born at Marysville Hospital;
By: Dr. Herman E. Karrer.
Named Daniel R. Yutzy, Born; August 14-1953
At 11:50 A.M. weigh 9 lbs.  Length 21½ inches

There followed a listing of all the visitors that she had with the new baby, and she made a note that she was sharing a room with “Noah Lovina Beachy”– room 57.  (Lovina would eventually become a sister in law to Katie’s husband, Ralph, when twenty-eight months after her death, he married Sue Beachy, a sister of Lovina’s husband, Noah.  And this baby, now Wilma Troyer, would become a favorite, “almost a twin” cousin to Daniel.)  There were two pages of visitors, including many people from both families.  (Ralph’s parents, Emery and Florence Kramer Yutzy and Katie’s parents, Sylvanus and Lizzie Beachy Kauffman.)

And then there was a list of his childhood illnesses:
Daniel started with the whooping cough in May, 1954, at the age of 10 months.
Daniel had the measles on April 2, 1956, at the age of 2 yrs.
Daniel had the mumps, February 24, 1958, on both sides.

Less than three months after her last entry on Daniel’s page, she was gone, her conscientious records lost in the shuffle of the coming years.  I look at these careful entries and wonder about the woman who loved my husband first, and the woman that he has always wished to know.  He can’t remember what she was like.  His memories are few and sketchy, and the ensuing years were difficult and sad. He learned early to just “put his head down and push through” the unpleasant things in his life.  After she was gone, he doesn’t remember ever being hugged, ever being told he was loved, ever feeling like he was wanted just for being himself — until we found each other. This husband of mine — whose love language is touch, who has sought relationship with his children over having them agree with his every thought, who loves his siblings and his nephews and nieces and their families with unaffected enthusiasm — this man has made choices that have put him where he is today.

I can’t believe that he is 62.  He is strong and resourceful and cheerful and kind.  Most of the time, anyhow. He loves children — especially his grandchildren, gardening, nature, our church, and even working!  And even though he works too hard, he is always ready to drop things to help a neighbor or someone in distress.  I love him intensely, but even more importantly, I have a profound respect for him.  His abilities are endless.  He can figure things out that make me scratch my head.  He isn’t perfect, I know, but he’s one of the most interesting men I have every encountered, and I am never bored.

Happy Birthday, Daniel.

I still choose you.



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Things That Didn’t Happen

She didn’t come for lunch on Sunday.  She wasn’t in church.  I thought about the potato salad, corn, and steaks on the grill and knew that she would really enjoy that lunch.  But she wasn’t there, so I couldn’t invite her home with us.  The memories of when she was there dogged my heart all day.  She would sit in my chair while we finished making lunch and play with Charis.  Silly little games that would have Charis helpless with laughter. Often on the way home, she would confide that the games made her so tired, “But I like playing with her so much.  She really gets into it, and it makes me happy.  I probably overdid it, but it was worth it to see her enjoy herself so much.”  There were no games in the corner chair this week.  Charis rode her bike while her Daddy and Grandpa minded the grill.  She didn’t mention anything about the empty chair.  The young are so resilient, but she sometimes crawls up on my lap and says, “Grammy, do you miss Grandma Yoder?”  (Oh, Girlie!  If you only knew . . .)

Yesterday morning, I came down to the kitchen and opened a window.  The oppressive heat had given way to an unusual August coolness, and the breeze came in with the sound of the mourning doves’ quiet calls.  The hummingbird feeder was empty again, and the jays were flying in for the peanuts on the platform feeder.  It was a good time to call my Sweet Mama.  There was weather to discuss, birds to report, and the pesky jays to criticize. But it was only a passing inclination.  Then there was just the mourning dove’s familiar call and I heard the echo in my stricken heart.

The day was a hard day.  I call it “grief work,” and it is not easy.  It stills my hands, makes it hard to do the things I know I need to do.  It keeps me from even the enjoyable some days because I just cannot get past the sudden, blinding moments when who my Sweet Mama was is now so far gone.  The moments she filled by being herself.

Often on Monday evenings, she would call me.  Monday is the day when it is almost impossible to get everything done, but she was looking forward to Tuesday (when she knew I would spend the day with her) so much that she would often “break down and call” me to see what the plans were for Tuesday.  Sometimes she called just to talk about the day, but often there were things she needed from the store, or prescriptions from Rite Aid that she wanted me to pick up for her before coming.  “I need creamer again — the kind with coconut flavor,” she would say, “if you can.  I seem to be going through it terribly fast, but I’m not the only one who drinks it.  Mark comes in and gets himself a cup of coffee and others seem to like it, too.  Oh, and I need some Tasters Choice.  I’m almost out.  If you see something that looks good, get it for me. I feel hungry, but nothing sounds good to me.”

Last evening, I was finishing up the laundry, came in from picking another five gallon bucket of lima beans, and was fixing supper for Cecilia and Nettie.  Things were in good order in the kitchen, thanks to the help for Middle Daughter and Youngest Daughter, and I was thinking what had to be done yet before getting my ladies to bed.  Suddenly, I thought, “Oh, I haven’t talked to Mama today.  I wonder if she called while I was out picking beans?”

She had not.   I stood in my kitchen as the reality hit me again.  “What is it with this day?”  I wondered to myself as the tears dripped down.  “Why is Mama’s absence cropping up at every turn?”

Because that is the way grief is.  I realize am revisiting these rooms where the memories are filling every crack and crevice and where the changes and losses of the last year and a half of Mama’s life have diminished to almost nothing.  It’s hard to remember how it was, and it’s easy to remember the essence of my Sweet Mama and to long for her to be here, as she was for most of my memories — active, engaging, and always, always interested in what was going on in my life.

And now those things just don’t happen.  And it is the way it is.  This Tuesday (still marked as “Mama Day” on my calendar) came in on the crest of rain and wind.  Cecilia had a fever, Nettie had a dentist appointment.  Youngest Daughter’s car is in the shop.  Middle Daughter is in Dover.  It would have been a dreadfully inconvenient day to have to go to Mama’s house.  I would have had to juggle and shift and maybe even ask her if I could please come tomorrow.  She would have said that it was okay, but I would have heard in her voice that it wasn’t.  “I don’t know why, Mary Ann,” she would say, “But whenever I know it’s Tuesday and that you are coming, I have such a good feeling!  But it’s okay.  Tomorrow will be fine.  I’ll just look forward to that.”

And she would have.  But this morning, it didn’t happen.  Not that she cares from where she is.  Not that she even knows.  If she does know, I think she would say, “Mary Ann.  It’s okay.  It always was okay.  There is so much more to life there than what we think.  It’s okay.  Just put first things first, and always remember Heaven.  You cannot begin to imagine!.”

No, I cannot.  I think about the “City of Light, mid the stars–” and about Mama, being in the presence of Jesus.  I try to think about how she is enjoying the LIFE that she has there, and about what it must be like for her to be with Daddy and her parents and other people she loved so much here on earth.  I think about what it is like for her to “know as she is known.”  There’s no pretense, no misunderstanding, no competition, no jealousy, no inferiority.  And what it is like for her to have a new body; no more pain, struggle or failing health.  No aging.

And even though I cannot just “smile for a while to forget that I am blue,” I can plug into what God said would happen to my Sweet Mama in that very moment that she breathed her last breath here on earth and entered into the presence of God.  And this I choose to believe for all the days full of the reminders of the things that will never happen again.

This is the promise.

1 Corinthians 15:53-56 (NIV)

53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

And while I honestly don’t know what that will look like, I do believe that The Victory is hers.  Already.  Forever settled.  And all these things here are, if anything, but a dim memory.  This is smile worthy.

And so, my heart will bring a sacrifice of Grateful praise.

weet Mama and Charis, just 11 days before she fell.


Filed under Dealing with Grief, My Life

Boys and Grapes and Helping Hands

So this week has been the week that everything seemed to get ready at the same time.

First, there were those wonderful Delaware limas that needed picking.  I picked a five gallon bucket to overflowing and brought them in on Tuesday morning.  Our Girl Nettie started in on shelling them as soon as she got home from center, and finished them before she went to bed.  I got them blanched and packaged. Four wonderful bags in the freezer.  So, so happy.

On the days preceding this, Certain Man was mentioning the fact that the tomatoes really needed picking and that someone should do something with them.  So Middle Daughter picked them all and brought them in.  There were some peppers and some onions, too, so they all went into a pot along with some celery and fresh basil and stewed for an afternoon.  The tomatoes from our garden this year are so good.  The 14 pints of tomato soup that I canned will be good eating this winter and it looks nice on the shelf of our “dungeon.”


And then there was the mention, also, about the grapes on the arbor that divides our side yard.  I would stop and check them now and then, but realized that if we wanted to maximize our yield, we needed to move on it.  So Wednesday morning, Carson and Nevin came with their strong arms, sharp eyes and youthful energy and harvested our concord grapes. Youngest Daughter supervised the operation and they finished in good time.  Whew!  Was I ever unprepared for how many grapes we were going to have!


I looked at their harvest and worried about my stamina and my ability to ever get this done.  There were two 5-gallon buckets and nine 10-quart buckets, plus a 6-quart ice cream pail.  I looked at those beautiful grapes and didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.  I have two wonderful steamers that produce concentrated grape juice for canning, but the thing is, I don’t like to steam the stems with the grapes.  There are various arguments as to whether or not it is necessary to strip the grapes, and my instruction book even says that it is unnecessary.  Well, I am here to tell you that if you really can’t tell the difference, you probably have a mouth that can’t tell the difference between canned tuna and fresh crab.  Or fresh squeezed orange juice and Tang.  Or a chocolate bar from Dollar General and Ghirardelli’s own.  The flavor is definitely different, and I’m always disappointed in the color/cloudiness when I don’t take the extra time to strip the fruit from the stem.

But that meant that every single grape had to be manually pulled from the stem.  And these grapes were picked in August, in Delaware, from a mostly undisturbed arbor.  There were crawly beasties in unexpected places.  Click bugs.  Stink bugs.  Centipede-looking little bugs with pinchers at both ends.  SPIDERS.  And though I knew that help from the daughters of Certain Man would be given if I asked, I also knew the magnitude of their other responsibilities and also the drama that would accompany such an endeavor.

“Probably,” I reasoned with myself, “I would be better off seeking help from the same stalwart young bloods who assisted with the picking of the grapes.  I think they would be amicable company, unafraid of the beasties and able helpers.”  So I texted their Mama and asked about the possibility.  She was glad to glad to have them assist, and they seemed willing, and so it was set.  I stripped twenty pounds off the first night and did two steam kettle loads.  That took ten pounds and left ten more pounds for the next morning.  I wanted to be ready!

My steamers take about five pounds per load and after an hour or so of steaming,  produces about two and a half quarts, more or less, of the highly concentrated purple liquid.  It is the purest, finest concentrate with no additives, no sprays.  And even though it is hard work, it surely is worth it.  However, I found that one person, working alone with the responsibility of filling the jars, keeping them and the lids hot until filling, dumping the pulp after the steaming, refilling the steamer, checking the water levels in the steamers, etc., just couldn’t keep up with the stripping process as well.  I went to bed very thankful for the promise of helping hands in the morning.

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear.  My helpers arrived, eager and willing and we set to it.  The steamers ran non-stop.  The bugs were abundant, and Carson and Nevin were delighted with the supply.  They kept a cup of hot water by their chairs and plopped the hapless victims into the stew whenever they discovered one — which seemed like it was every two minutes.  The grapes came off the stems and were put into the collection containers with unmitigated enthusiasm.  I remembered that these boys were sports enthusiasts, and this particular job lent itself well to exercising their basketball skills. The targets were usually right on, but sometimes missed, and the kitchen floor became hazardous to traverse.  Conversation was interesting, but when Middle Daughter came for a bit to lend them a hand, tell stories and discuss important issues, I realized that this 61 year old Auntie doesn’t really have the energy and enthusiasm that sustains young men in arduous jobs.  Deborah certainly was timely in her help, and much was accomplished by noontime.  We were well ahead of the steamers, and the grape-stripping process was to the half-way point.

Then Youngest Daughter took a break from studying for her GRE exam, and took the boys for lunch.  They brought their Chick-Fil-A bags home and took a much deserved “eat and refuel for the fray” break.  When their hour was over, they went back to work.  The afternoon moved right along, and along about 3:30, they pulled the last grape from their designated buckets and their Mama came and fetched them home again.

A large cup with a vast array of dead bugs sat on the table and made me smile.  The difference between these boys and my girls continually amuses me.  Where there had been chasing after bugs and exclaiming over sizes and determining the pedigrees of the spiders, ALL. DAY. LONG., there would have been great protests, probably shrieks, maybe even tears, and definitely shudders, over the wild life populating the picked grapes.  After the boys left, Youngest Daughter pulled up a chair to help finish the remaining small bucket of grapes and bravely stuck to it until the last grape was ready for the steamer.  Her Daddy got home from work just before we finished that task and looked with interest upon the scene.

I smiled at him over the bent head of Youngest Daughter.  “Sweetheart, what you are seeing here is sacrificial love in its purest form,” I told him.  He looked at me with that look of bemusement that I love so much.

“What do you mean?” he asked, fully knowing, but wanting to see her reaction.

“She’s right,” said Youngest Daughter, grimly.  “That’s the only reason I would ever do this!  I really cannot stand these bugs!  They’re hateful!

He teased her a bit, but we knew she was trying hard to be brave.  A most unfortunate situation in Thailand where she awoke to find tiny spiders, just hatched, crawling all over her, has left her with a severe case of panic when it comes to the bugs and spiders of any time and any place.  But she did persevere to the end and helped a bit around the kitchen before returning to her books.  Deborah had gone to work at this juncture, and Daniel went to chore.  I quickly made supper and kept the steamer going.  It was close to midnight when Youngest Daughter took the last buckets of pulp and stems to the composter and I finished washing the last bucket, steamer pan and accessory, wiped out the sink and surveyed the final yield.  About 45 quarts of juice sat on the cupboard, all sealed.  How beautiful it was!

How staggeringly tired I was!!!

The next morning, the same helping hands — Carson, Nevin and  Youngest Daughter, took off the rings, wiped the jars down and carried them to the basement.  When I got home from getting a tire repaired on the mini-van, the cupboard was clear, wiped off and there was no trace of the arduous work of the previous day.  I was still aching from the marathon of the day before, but I had to see these jars on the shelf.  So I betook myself to the dungeon and surveyed the work of the morning.


Oh, those wonderful Helping Hands — Of Middle Daughter, Youngest Daughter, Carson and Nevin.  I was very satisfied with this result, quite delighted with what had been accomplished, but quite depleted in every way when that day was over.  It was very apparent that I would never have made it by myself.  No matter how good my intentions, how solid my martyrdom, how determined my self-sufficient heart.  I thought again about families, about the extra people that have come into my life that have none of my genes and chromosomes (as in Carson and Nevin) and those that do (As in Beebs and Rach — who, incidentally, are Middle Daughter and Youngest Daughter, respectively).

. . . and my humble heart gives grateful praise.

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Clear Moon Sky and Thunderstorms

Saturday night was winding down.  Both Nettie and Cecilia were in their beds for the night, Certain Man was finished with his Saturday catch-up work, took his shower, and called Oldest Son for his birthday.  The conversation was animated and going strong.  Middle Daughter was working a short shift for Hospice and Youngest Daughter had set forth to spend some time with Cousin Holly.  I looked at the grocery list still lying on my counter and decided that ten-thirty was almost too late to go get groceries — but not quite.

It had been one of those days when joy and sorrow had mixed their dregs to where the day was a diversified and wild contradiction of emotion. What I really wanted to do was sit on my chair by myself in the dark.  But that wouldn’t really help much.  I might as well go get groceries while I was able. At this time on a Saturday night, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to go and come.  I collected my list, my phone, my purse and money and set off.  I wanted to cry, but that would have to wait until I was on my way home.  I don’t think that Walmart is a very good place for a Christian woman to navigate late at night while crying her silly eyes out.  It doesn’t speak well for faith and grateful praise.

But I could talk to my Father.  I watched the full moon in a beautifully clear summer sky and thought about the song, “If He Hung the Moon.”  The chorus kept rolling about in my heart and I personalized it the way I often do when I need something to be all mine.

” . . . And if He hung the moon,
I know He will help me,
And if He holds the sparrow in flight,
He’ll hold me too,
Consider the lilies of the field,
How much more He loves me,
In the beginning of time, I was on His mind,
When He hung the moon.”
(words and music by Kirk Talley)

I pulled into the parking lot at the grocery store, took some deep breaths, and headed into the fray.  It was very empty, and the expedition went smoothly.  I had pretty much to restock, but in less than 45 minutes, I was done!  Whew!  Great feeling!  I loaded my car and headed towards Shady Acres.

There was that brilliant moon, still hanging high in the clear sky with a shoal of clouds just above the horizon.  It was breathtaking.  I wheeled around the corner and was watching the moon out of the corner of my eye when I saw a flash of light out on the right hand side of the vault of Heaven.  I jerked my head in that direction and was rewarded momentarily with a most spectacular lightning display.  There was this huge billow of  cumulous clouds, and the lightning was dancing from place to place among the various layers and openings and thunderheads.  There were jagged slashes and gentle lightings, but all was silent.  Whatever it was, it was too far away for me to hear anything.  But oh!  How impressive.  The thing that felt the most incongruous, yet divinely given, was the fact that the full moon in absolute, splendid glory, shone on without any mind to the competition going on in the same night sky.

My heart, my heart.  A broad expanse of a night sky right now, if truth be told.  And there are storms that rage — sometimes on the perimeters, sometimes obliterating the light.  And there have been days when I’ve begged for grace to just weather the storm, and wondered when the skies would clear enough to see anything except the rain.

But somewhere, the One Who Hung The Moon is watching over His Property.  And the moon is hanging steady somewhere off the edges of these storms.  Somewhere the skies are clear, the night is beautiful, and there is nothing out of His Control.

And there is one more thing.

Morning is coming!

For night skies, full hung moons, tumultuous thunderstorms, and mornings coming — but most of all, for Promises Kept —

My Heart gives Grateful Praise.

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Six weeks Gone

Six weeks ago today, we had a funeral.

Today was the day when I keenly felt the absence of my confidant and sharer of tidbits of information and answerer of questions from other generations and giver of family opinions and general exclaimer over adventures.

Today I missed my Sweet Mama.

I looked  at a picture of my cousin and his new wife at the wedding of his son, and felt a sudden lurch in my heart.  For there, I suddenly saw my Grandpa Yoder’s face.  At least it seemed like the likeness was so strong.  I started to go to get the phone.  I wanted Mama to check in on her computer and look at the pictures of this happy day and tell me what she thought.

“Don’t you think Jon looks an awful lot like Grandpa Yoder in that picture?”  (She would have said she didn’t know — Maybe, a little bit –.)

“Isn’t Stephen’s wife beautiful?  Did Aunt Gladys tell you how they met?  It’s too bad that Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys couldn’t go for the wedding, but were they able to watch it online?” (Then we would have discussed the current health issues and travel issues and such –.)

“I thought her dress was so pretty.” (And we would have to discuss the colors and the bridesmaid dresses and the location and — well, just all of that–.)

Do you know when Robert and Michelle’s baby is due?  Has Aunt Gladys said?”  (And then we would have talked about how many grandchildren Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys have.)

And then I would have had to detail the wedding of Laura Jones and Seth Fair if she hadn’t been able to be there.  She would have wanted to know every detail, down to what was worn by the mothers and grandmothers.  She would have enjoyed hearing what we had to eat, and how beautiful Laura was, and how Seth struggled for composure when she walked down the aisle.  She would  have wanted to know how her grandson, Josh Slaubaugh did with the ceremony and how grandson Christopher Yoder and his wife Alicia and Laura’s cousin’s husband, Lee Sverduk, did with the music.  And it would have been such a happy report all around.

But she isn’t here.  And in the words of my friend, Lynn Lee, “No one wants to hear my ‘stories’ anymore.”

I realize that there are people who would listen, and be at the ready for me to call them and talk — but no one listened to me like she did.  No one enjoys the stories like she did.  And I don’t really want to tell them to anyone else.  For years, I’ve tried to grasp details of the places I go and the people I see, thinking that she would enjoy them so much.  I would try to stock up so she would feel almost like she had been there.  I thought I was doing all that  for her.

Tonight, I know that isn’t  altogether true.

I was doing it for me, too.

Tonight, I try to keep the salt water out of the pie dough and determine, in vain, not to think.

But the evening closes in, and all that I can think is, “How dark it is without her.”


Filed under Dealing with Grief