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Beatrice the Bum

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I made a mistake last weekend that every good shepherd knows not to do. I moved a mother and her twins before I should have. You see, when an ewe lambs, she must first clean the lamb thoroughly and expel the afterbirth before you can move her. To do so before either of these things happen is to risk confusing her and having her reject the lamb. Which is exactly what happened. Sheep are not the brightest of animals (as I have mentioned before) and are easily confused and distracted.

My ewe Evie had twins in the upper shed near the feed trough. Instead of waiting as I should, I thought moving her away from the trough would be best to prevent the new lambs from being trampled by the other ewes. In doing so, I caused her to reject the smallest of the two lambs. So now I have a "bum." That is the term given to lambs raised on a bottle. In days past, when a lamb was rejected, it might survive by darting in and stealing milk from other mothers (or bumming milk from them). Shepherds with big flocks did not have time to devote to a bottle baby, so if they did not put it down, they left it to fend for itself. A surprising amount of them lived to adulthood by doing this.

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I am not so hardhearted. When I realized the lamb was not nursing, I brought her home. Then I was off to the Marion County Feed Store for powdered lamb starter and then on to my friend Nancy's for fresh goat milk. I like to mix the two for the first few weeks. The lamb starter gives the lamb all the necessary nutrients a newborn needs, and the goat's milk is wholesomeness all on its own.

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The first lamb we had, I asked friends on Facebook to suggest a name for her. Her mother is named Honey and I had several suggestions, Molasses and Beatrice among them. At first I went with Beatrice, but then this little one came and the name just seemed to fit her better, so the other became Molasses.

Beatrice is a darling little girl. She seems quite happy on her own, as long as she gets her bottle at the proper time, and some loving attention now and again. She has chosen my dog Huckleberry as her companion and wants to be as close as possible to him.

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Bea stays in a pen outside once the sun is full up and the day has warmed. Beauregard and Huckleberry are her guardians. She bounces and kicks up her heels and sleeps in the warm sun. When I go out to give her a bottle, I let her out to run and bounce around the yard a while. She loves to chase chickens.

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At night Bea comes in. She sleeps in a dog kennel and Huckey sleeps next to it so she is never alone. We do allow her some freedom in the house. All baby animals need physical contact to grow properly, so we pet her and talk to her and let her follow us around for a bit. She is particularly fond of Greg.

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Bea also takes the morning walk with the dogs and me. We go to the barn to feed the sheep and she gets a chance to interact with the other lambs. Once Beatrice is old enough, we will put her back in the barn with the sheep. When lambs reach 3 to 4 weeks old, they begin to bond and sleep together in a pile and the mothers take turns "babysitting." I will still walk to the barn about three times a day to give her a bottle until she is about 4 months old. Then the lambs will all become "creeps" and be weaned. They will be fed in a "creep feeder," which means they will be fed grain in a special place that only they can get into. After about three months of this, they will be allowed back with the rest of the flock. And I will have a valuable lesson to remember about moving my lambs too soon.

Lambing Season

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There is nothing like sitting in a barn on a still, cold night watching a new mother and her lamb nestled in the hay in a warm circle of lamplight. No matter the temperature, you feel warm inside. You can see your breath, and hear owls calling softly in the woods. It seems as if this is the only place in all the world and you are enveloped in a golden glow of magic. I never fail to think of Christ's birth and I wonder if this beautiful, snug feeling of peace is one of the many reasons He was born in a lambing cave.

In the year 2000 we were given a mixed flock of sheep and our great adventure began. As time passed and we learned how to manage them, we culled and bred down to a flock of almost pure Suffolk sheep. Suffolk are wool sheep, and require a lot of maintenance. We did our own shearing, and had to keep up with hoof care, which meant foot baths and regular trimming. Foot rot was our worst enemy. If not treated properly, it could leave an animal lame for life.

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We had very little trouble with lambing. Our girls were healthy and strong and we only had to pull two or three lambs in all the years we had them. But we always had to be on hand for the birthing, or soon after because of all the extra care. The mothers had to have shots of calcium, B-12, and plenty of water with electrolytes and molasses. The lambs also got a B-12 shot and a paste called Pro-Bias, which is a compound of mostly yeast to "jump start" their digestive system. We also put little wool coats on them for warmth for the first 48 hours. Hypothermia was always a concern.

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When the lambs were a week old, we would band the tails to make them shorter. Long tails on a wool sheep can lead to all sorts of problems during the summer months due to flies and other insects. Also, we sold lambs to 4-H students for showing in the local fairs, and the rules were very strict about the tails.

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I loved my Suffolk dearly. They were gentle, loving and fun. I had my special pets who would eat out of my hand. Greg and I worked with them together and it was some of the best days of my life. But, the climate has begun to change, and we began to have serious health problems with them due to the weather. Wool sheep are not suited for extreme heat, and we lost several due to diseases. At last, we knew we could no longer keep them. So, last year we sold the flock, and began again with another breed.

Our new sheep are hair sheep, which means they shed their wool in spring like a dog. We now have a Dorper/Katahdin mix with a little Jacob sheep thrown in. Jacob sheep are wool, so one of my new girls never quite sheds all of her wool and we have to shear off her back every spring.

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We have always had lambs beginning in January and going into February. But this year, we had lambing season early. The weather has been so odd with cold days here and extreme heat there that nature has gotten a bit confused, and my sheep have lambed early. So far we have had one lamb, with at least two more to follow in the next few days. Hair sheep are much more resilient than wool. The mothers only need the electrolytes and molasses in water, and the lambs only need Pro-Bias. They are thick and furry and have no need of little coats. And there is no need to be on hand for the births.

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We have discovered that the dreaded hoof rot doesn't seem to apply to our new sheep. We check and trim their hooves whenever we worm them, but so far there are no problems, even in really wet weather. And they are very friendly. They all eat from my hand and follow me wherever I go. But I still miss my Suffolks, and those cold winter nights in the barn attending to new mothers and lambs.

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Moonlight Serenade

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I love moonlight. There is just something magical about the way it lights up the world, and yet it is still dark. Everything takes on an extra dimension, and the whole world seems alive.

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When I was a teenager, my room was at the back of the house with its own door to the outside world. On moonlight nights I often slipped outside as my parents slept and went for a ramble. I had a German shepherd dog who was my constant companion and protector, so I was never afraid. And as I've said before, I was one of those teens who thought I was invincible.

I would wander the open fields, or plunge into the woods without a care in the world, but simply rejoicing in the beauty of the night and the world my God had made. I remember clearly the moonlight filtering through the leaves creating little pools of light among the trees. Or in the winter, looking up at the stark branches outlined in three dimensions against a full harvest moon. I would sit on a log and listen to the music of the night. You see, the night is alive with sounds, especially when the moon is full. The bugs, the squeak of bats, the night birds. When we were in the Air Force this is what I missed most. The sounds of the night on the farm.

I was never afraid. I gave no thought to snakes, spiders, or predators. Nick, my trusty dog, was always by my side. These were my woods. I knew them like the back of my hand and I could walk them with my eyes closed. One night, we did have a brief encounter with a coyote who was hunting for mice in the leaves. Nick chased him a few yards, then we continued on. We often encountered bats, the hoot owl who lived in the big hollow tree, and once or twice skunks. Skunks are very curious and gentle. If you don't scare them, they will just look you over and go on their way. Nick was wise enough to leave them alone.

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My dog Nick

A few nights ago we had a full moon. Greg went to bed early, and when I finished cleaning the kitchen, I turned off all of the lights, slipped out the back door and sat on the porch. Near my chair was Buffy, one of my chickens who insists on sleeping on the porch. I sat very still, waiting for the music to begin. Before long I began to hear the bugs, frogs, and the old hoot owl down in the hollow. I heard my screech owl, who's ancestors have lived here much longer than I. Nearby in the chicken house, I could hear my hens muttering and rustling about on their roost. Do chickens dream, I wonder?

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From the field on the other side of the garden I heard a snort, and knew that Bill the mini horse was sleeping close by. And then from down in the woods I heard a fox bark. I've suspected for a while we had foxes, but now I know for sure. Beau, who patrols the yard fence all night, barked in reply, warning Mr. Fox to come no farther. Closer to the fence line I heard rustling sounds and wondered if the raccoon family was about. Or maybe an opossum, or the family of skunks I know live in the brush pile below the house. Beau marched back and forth barking to let them know his yard was off limits.

The Siamese appeared and took the chair opposite of me and settled down to listen, too. I'm sure he heard much more than I. Presently, I saw the bats swoop by, hopefully eating any mosquitoes lingering in the unusually warm weather we are having. Finally, I looked at the clock on my table and saw that it was 11:30 and realized I needed to be in bed. As if in confirmation, I suddenly heard the rooster crow. Fred is a strange sort of fellow. He crows at all hours of the night. Maybe he's responding to sounds he hears, and wants to make sure his flock is tucked up safely for the night.

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So taking his advice, DC and I went in to bed. But the next full moon, we'll be on the porch again, enjoying the music of the night. And maybe I can even get Greg to join us.

What's For Supper

farm signWhen I was a child, we had three meals a day, just like all other families. But here in the Ozarks, we called them breakfast, dinner, and supper. Breakfast was always a large meal consisting of homemade biscuits, white gravy, eggs, bacon or sausage, whole rolled oatmeal or pancakes, honey or molasses with butter, and fresh milk to drink — coffee for my parents. Sometimes we had pork tenderloin strips (with red eyed gravy) or salted fatback instead of the bacon or sausage.

Every morning, mother would put a pot of beans on the gas cookstove (she used the cast iron wood stove in winter. The picture is of the actual stove she used). Mother only cooked with cast iron, stainless steel (the real heavy duty stuff), or glass bakeware. No aluminum pans (or tin pans as we called them). The beans simmered until noon and were flavored with used "grease" she kept in the grease bucket. This began as home rendered lard, and the bacon, sausage, pork, fatback, etc, added to it. She reused this grease for every frying, as well as seasoning the beans. We had fried potatoes every day, and mother said that frying those potatoes "refreshened" the grease without detracting from the flavor. After a few weeks, she poured the grease out and started over.

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Daddy came home every noon for dinner. It too was a big meal consisting every day of beans, cornbread (baked in a cast iron skillet) and fried potatoes. Added to this were two extra sides, either two vegetables or one vegetable and macaroni and cheese (not from a box), a salad made from our garden, or potato or macaroni salad. And there was always a fresh homemade loaf bread. We always had meat — home raised chicken, pork, beef, or squirrel, quail, or fish from our pond. And of course there was always a dessert. Mom made wonderful pies and cakes. My favorite was Mom's custard pie, and Daddy loved raisin pie.

Cookies were Granny's specialty, though she was also an excellent cake baker. I used to sit on the counter and watch her make the cookies. She would take the flour container from the shelf, make an indention in the flour (she called it a "well") and start by cracking two eggs into it. Then she added sugar, vanilla, butter or lard, honey, molasses or peanut butter, and sometimes cinnamon, some baking soda, a little milk, and began to mix it with her hands. She would rake in a little flour from the sides of the well as she went until she got the dough the consistency she wanted, then lifted the whole thing out onto a large board. The flour was left completely clean without any trace of dough. Then she simply put the lid back on the flour container and either rolled out the cookies to cut, or made balls of them. They were absolutely the best!

Supper was a lighter meal. Leftovers from the noon meal, omelets, or cornbread in buttermilk. We ate this way because of the life we led. Daddy got up at 4:30 every morning to milk, then on the road by 7 a.m. to run the bus route. Working in the bus shop was physical labor, sometime lifting heavy parts and machinery. Then he was back in the barn by 6 that evening. He needed the strength and energy those big meals gave him. So did Mom. Mom was a meticulous house keeper. She not only swept the floors every day, but the front porch as well. She cooked, she baked, she did laundry nearly ever day and hung it on the line. She ironed that laundry and worked in the garden. She sewed by hand — quilts, patched clothes, and even some simple dresses for me. They believed a simple light evening meal would provide a good night's rest so they could start again the next day.

Mother was a phenomenal cook. We could have unexpected company arrive, and within an hour's time she would have a groaning table ready to serve the guests. One of her secrets was the fact that we had a freezer full of homegrown meat, and a pantry full of home-canned vegetables from the garden. Our house was unique because it was built around the pressure tank for the well. It was a center room with a cement floor and shelves along three walls and the huge chest-type freezer along the fourth wall. It was always cool in there because the well was directly underneath the pressure tank, and perfect for a pantry/root cellar. A jar of home-canned green beans tasted just as fresh as a basket just picked from the garden.

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My husband Greg drew this picture. It is accurate to what we both remember.

Oddly, my Mother never taught me to cook. She was very jealous of her kitchen and only grudgingly shared it with Granny. I was not allowed to do anything but wash dishes. At the time, I didn't care. But shortly after my marriage, I realized what a handicap that was. I could not cook. I made some of the awfullest meals from box mixes. I could not figure out how to fry chicken so it would be done all the way through. My cakes were dry and nasty. Pies never set up. Vegetables were either too raw, or overcooked. For the first three years we lived on hamburger helper, tuna helper, and Kraft mac & cheese simply because they were the only things I could get to turn out right. And Greg, bless his heart, ate everything I put in front of him without complaint. Over the years my cooking got somewhat better through trial and error, but nothing to compare to Mom's. In fact, Greg used to joke that he only married me for my mother's cooking.

Mom in her kitchen

Mother in her kitchen

Then about fifteen years ago, something happened to change all of that. The wonderful older lady who owned the company I was working for brought this giant box of Gourmet magazines into the break room and said we could have them. I had forgotten my book that day, so I sat down and began to look through one. And I was hooked. After a few weeks when it became apparent that no one else was interested in them, my manager told me I could take them all home. It was the beginning of a new love for me.

I dug out my mother's Methodist Cookbook and Granny's Watkin's Cookbook, and together with these new magazines, I began to painfully teach myself to cook. At first, I had very few successes, but as I read and studied I began to see the pattern. Cooking is like painting a picture, or writing a good plot. Certain spices and herbs compliment each other as well as different kinds of meat. Sauces need certain thickening agents and some work better with butter, others with oil, and others with milk. Eggs are the glue that holds everything together. As I learned, I began to get enough confidence to experiment. I learned how to tweak a recipe. My mother-in-law taught me that you can substitute mayonnaise for oil or shortening and it makes the cake or cookies moister. She also taught me how to regulate burner temperatures. I discovered that cooking something on low brings out flavor. And then Greg bought me the cookbook I cannot live without: Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best - Over 700 Recipes Show You Why by Darina Allen. Just click on the link to take you to Amazon. She even trumps my other favorite, Julia Child.

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Some people are just born cooks and bakers. My mother and mother-in-law were two of them. So is my daughter. I was still finding my way when she was a teenager and I determined to teach her to cook. I taught her the basics as I knew them, but before long she was making crepes and stuffed chicken breasts, and a fantastic Swiss steak all on her own. Things I could not teach her. She truly has a gift that puts me to shame. Some people are naturals.

Now that I am no longer employed full-time, I am getting to indulge in some of the things I love best. Teaching Sunday school, reading, writing, and cooking. When Mom died, Greg joked with me that since he married me for my Mom's cooking, he was now in real trouble. (And at that time he really was!) But just the other day, he looked at me after our evening meal and said “You know, I married you for your Mom's cooking, but I stayed with you for yours.” What a nice way to say I love you.

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 A family dinner — from left to right: Daddy, my son Alan, my daughter Aubry, my Mom, Aunt Freda Spears, Granny, Uncle Bill Spears, and my husband, Greg.

Pioneer Stock

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I tend to write a lot about family. I was raised at Granny's knee to believe that family is very important. She always said “You cain't know where you're a goin' until you know where you come from.” And I come from some tough old pioneer stock.

Granny Ola McEntire Roberts — born on September 8, 1893 — was the eldest of 10 children and was the granddaughter of the infamous Granny Elizabeth, with whom she spent a great deal of her life. When Granny Ola was 2 years old, her baby brother Oliver died. She never really knew the cause. It could have been crib death, or various other things. All she remembered was the pain and confusion of not having the baby in the house anymore. He was her first sibling, and she talked of him all of her life.

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Granny is on the far left back row. As you can see, they left a space in memory of Oliver. Granny Elizabeth is seated on the left, and Granny's mother, Lucy, is seated on the right. The baby Roy had not been born yet.

As the other children came along, her natural mother instinct kicked in, and as she grew, she helped raise all the younger children. The younger sisters always spoke of her as a second mother figure. She helped her mother with chores around the house and farm, and was often with Granny Elizabeth, who became the local midwife and undertaker for the area. Elizabeth was also a self-taught herbalist, and Granny learned to make many syrups, poultices, salves, and healing teas. One had to travel many miles to reach a doctor in our area, so they came to Granny Elizabeth for minor ailments, and later on to Granny Ola. Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention when she tried to teach me these old remedies. I was a child of the '60s and '70s and times were too modern for me to really care about these things. I have regretted that as I grow older.

Granny did teach me many things, though. I spent many hours in her room listening to family history, as well as all the old gossip of the neighborhood. Granny knew everyone and everything about them. Triumphs, scandals, family trees — she was a gold mine of information. But she swore me to secrecy. “History is one thing,” she would say, “but gossip is a sin. So don't you be tellin' what I say. Don't go embarrassin' your neighbors, or causing them hurt.” I guess she figured telling me wasn't gossiping. Anyway, I never told what I learned. She also taught me to read and write at an early age, a fact which infuriated my first grade teacher. In the mid 1960s, children were not suppose to know anything when they started school. 

Granny went to school at Bruno, and after she graduated she herself taught school for a while. It was a one-room schoolhouse and classes went up to the eighth grade. The top level was used for a Mason Hall, of which my Grandfather Felix was a member. She was a stern disciplinarian, both as a teacher and parent. Today, she would be called abusive. But that was the way of her society at the time, and most people were that way. Her own father was very strict, giving severe punishment for minor infractions. But Granny did have a very affectionate side, and as she grew older, she softened.

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In 1913 when Granny was 20, a young local blacksmith named Felix Erie Roberts asked her if he could "walk out with her." She told him only if he walked to church with her. So Felix came every Sunday and walked Granny to church and back. It progressed into walks into town (Bruno used to be quite the community), and long walks in the woods picking herbs. After two years, Felix asked Granny to marry him and she said she “reckoned” she would.

The church did not have a regular minister. On Sundays they had worship service and a learned man taught a Sunday school lesson, but it was only twice a month that the "traveling preacher" came through, and they would have a church service with preaching on whatever day he passed through. Granny and Felix went to the main road with Felix's brother Jack and Granny's sister Bertha on one of the days the preacher was due to come through. When he arrived, he didn't even get off of his horse. He simply conducted the service by the side of the road. Felix couldn't afford to buy Granny a ring, but being of Welsh decent he used the Celtic method and gave Granny a lovely handkerchief, which Jack wrapped around their wrists as part of the ceremony. Granny always kept the handkerchief put away, and gave it to me when I married. I still have it. A few months later, a traveling photographer came through, and Felix took Granny back to the spot on the road where they were married and had their picture made.

Granny Wedding

For five years, they lived first with Felix's family, then in Bruno itself while Felix continued to be a blacksmith. But Granny, being a farm girl, wanted a homestead of her own, and sometime in 1920 Felix traded his house and his half ownership in the blacksmith shop for the homestead where we live now. Grandpa built a forge by the road, and my dad was born here later that year.

At first it was very small. Granny took care of the house, the chickens, milked the two cows, fed the pigs, and tended the garden, while Grandpa ran his forge. But this was the age of cars, and as more and more of them entered the area, the need for a blacksmith became less, and Grandpa turned his sights on his 40 acres. He began clearing fields and bought more cows and pigs. He planted his own wheat and corn, and they became very self-sufficient. Granny sold eggs and butter to the Bruno store for credit, as well as to some neighbors, and they sold their extra hogs and calves for cash. When the depression came, the family hardly noticed it because they were already used to living off the farm. Granny was already making clothing, curtains, tablecloths etc. from flower sacks, and "re-purposing" everything she could reuse. She already canned, made butter, made her own cleaning supplies and soap, and used every edible bit from all slaughtered animals. If you don't know what you're missing, you never notice it when its gone.

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In 1932, Granny's daughter, my Aunt Alta Mae, died of pneumonia. Granny never got over it. In the latter part of her life, she would refer to my own daughter as Alta. I think they must have favored.

In 1942, Granny saw both of her sons sent off to war, and saw them both come home safely. My Uncle Carl was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which kept him in California the whole time, but my father was in the D-Day landing. Then in 1957, after 44 years of marriage, my grandfather Felix died from a heart attack and Granny was left alone. Two years later, my father married my mother and Granny moved in with them.

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My daddy is on the right, and Uncle Carl on the left.

Granny lived with us the rest of her life. She taught me many things, from quilting to soap making to rendering lard. She spent many hours with my own daughter teaching her to sew. She taught me about life, and death, and the business of living. She was, however, horrified by "indoor plumbing," and the only fight I ever saw her have with my Daddy was when he refused to build her an outhouse when they bought their new home. She stubbornly used a chamber pot, and washed from a pitcher and wash pan until the day she died. She did however condescend to fill the pitcher from the tap in the kitchen.

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One day in October of 1992, when she was 99 years old, she looked at my father and said “Arvil, I'm tired and I just wanna to go home.” Daddy looked at her and said “Mom, you are home,” and she shook her head and said “No, son, I ain't.” One week later, she passed quietly away in her room. Greg and I were sitting with her at the time, and I was holding her hand. It was the most peaceful experience I've ever had. Because of Granny, I am no longer afraid to die. Beside her was her only book — her well worn bible. It was taped up with duct tape and the pages repeatedly glued in, and was a memorial to the life she lived. She would never let us buy her a new bible. She said it was her "old friend" and she knew exactly where everything was in it. She would have been 124 this month.

A Stitch In Time

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A lot of valuable techniques of living on a farm are being lost as the world progresses further and further into the electronic age. Take the art of quilting for instance. Once quilts were stitched entirely by hand and for the sole benefit of the family. Quilts meant warmth in the winter. They were made from any scraps of material available, from old clothing, curtains, flour sacks, even denim (though pants were usually patched repeatedly until they could be patched no more). There were no quilting frames, fancy patterns, downy ticking, or ruffled borders. Quilts were plain, simple, and made to last as long as possible. They were usually sewn by the light of a kerosene lamp after a long day of chores and caring for the family.

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One of my family heirlooms is a quilt made by my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth (one of the grandmothers I am named for). She's become the family legend with different generations endowing her with heroic, almost super-human qualities. In reality, she was simply a pioneer woman who joined a wagon train going west with her new husband, and after several fruitless years came home to Arkansas, being widowed on the way when my grandfather died of pneumonia. Elizabeth was a tough old bird who knew how to take care of herself. She never really knew how old she was, but legend also has it she was 106 when she died. She must have been close, because my father was around 12 when she passed. Of course, the family swears that my quilt was made on her trip west on the wagon train, but my Granny (her granddaughter) once told me it was probably made sometime in the late 1800s or very early 1900s. At any rate, the quilt is at least 100 years old. Elizabeth would be pleased to know it has lasted this long.

100 year old quilt

My great-grandmother Lucy Wade Nowlin married Elizabeth's son John Jr. and also made quilts for her family. The one I have was made in the early 1900s and has a stain I have never been able to get out. As you can see, the pattern has progressed to a more decorative and uniform pattern from earlier quilts. She made her own star pattern so none of the starts are perfect, which makes the quilt all the more special to me.

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As we progress down through the ages, you can see that my granny Ola Roberts (Lucy's eldest daughter) was quite good at patterns. She bought some orange and black cloth cheaply, then made the star out of all sorts of bits and pieces she had around the home. This has always been one of my favorite quilts. Entirely stitched by hand in the mid 1950s, it took a long time to complete in the evenings after her chores were done. She used it as a bedspread. When I was a teenager, this was one of the quilts I always had on my bed in winter.

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When my father, Arvil Roberts, graduated in 1939, he received a unique gift from the family. I have never seen a quilt quite like this one, though autograph quilts were quite common in the mid-1900s. This one was made by my Aunt Lou (one of Granny's younger sisters) who was a fantastic seamstress. She was a beautiful hand at embroidery. The blocks were made by different friends and family members and sent to Aunt Lou who stitched around the shapes with her sewing machine and embroidered the hand writing. In the top center of the quilt are all of the names of Daddy's graduating class. Daddy is third from the left on the top row.

Dad grad quilt

I also received a quilt from my mother, Willia Roberts, for my own graduation in 1979. It took Mom all year to make, but she had it ready by the time Greg and I marched out to receive our diplomas. She bought the pattern, but stitched the entire thing by hand. The stars are made from quilt scraps (you used to could buy bundles of small squares of cloth from material stores labeled "quilt scraps") and some of Daddy's old shirts no longer fit to wear. Her sister (my Aunt Freda Spears) had a sewing machine, so she backed it and quilted it for me. It was only a twin size, but I kept it with me even when I went to England, and when my son Alan was big enough for his own bed, I gave it to him. He used until he married, and it will be passed down to one of his children one day.

Mom and quilt

The next quilt is very dear to my heart. The Christmas before she passed away, my mother-in-law, Velane McAllister, gave us a quilt that was made by Greg's great-grandmother Rosie Miller sometime in the late 1940s. (She is holding Greg's brother Brian and that's Greg beside her in the bow tie.) She had several quilt tops started, but did not live to finish them. So Mamie McAllister (Rosie's daughter – in the right of the picture) finished them with the help of Velane (Greg's mother) and had them quilted. That Christmas, they gave each of Velane's children one of these quilts. We keep it folded on the foot of the bed, and occasionally cover up with it when chilly.

Rosie quilt

My mother-in-law, Velane McAllister, was a master quilter in her own right. Not only did she make lovely quilts, but she took it to the next level and made beautiful quilted pillows and table runners. Her gifts to her family have been treasured for years.

Velane

Lastly, comes the heirloom of the McAllister family, which belongs to Greg's sister ReNae Stepp. It is a unique quilt made by Grandma Rosie and is a "string" or "tie" quilt. Instead of being quilted in sections, it is tied to the backing with a stitch of string. Rosie and her husband Charlie (Pop) Miller lived near Leadville, a historic mining town in Colorado. Leadville was founded in 1883 by Horace Tabor, whose second wife was Baby Doe McCourt. Tabor was by then a U.S. senator, and the divorce of his first wife of 23 years and his remarriage to a woman much younger caused a scandal in Colorado and beyond. Tabor, one of the wealthiest men in Colorado, lost his fortune when the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act caused the Panic of 1893. He died destitute but convinced the price of silver would rebound, and according to legend, told Baby Doe to "hold on to the Matchless mine … it will make millions again when silver comes back." She returned to Leadville with her daughters, Silver Dollar and Lily, where she spent the rest of her life believing Tabor's prediction. At one time the "best dressed woman in the West," she lived in a cabin at the Matchless mine for the last three decades of her life. According to Miller family history, during one of the lowest times in Baby Doe's financial period, she sold some of her dresses at auction and Pop Miller bought a few of them for Grandma Rosie. She in turn made quilts out of them when they were no longer fit to wear. Thus, a new family heirloom was born.

Baby Doe

(Stock photo of Baby Doe Tabor)

These quilts mean a great deal to me. They represent great skill and ingenuity, and love was put into every stitch. They are beautiful keepsakes, and valued treasures to pass down to our family.

A Typical Morning

 farm sign

Every morning as Greg leaves for work, the dogs and I have a morning ramble. It's good exercise for us all, and gives the dogs some play time. Our big dog, Beauregard, is a Pyrenees and German shepherd mix who would patrol the fence line of the entire 40 acres all day long if left on his own, so this is his favorite time of the day – freedom from the yard. My special buddy is the terrier and basset hound mix, Huckleberry. He is much more a stay-at-home companion, but he loves to trail and would willingly follow his larger companion if the smells were enticing enough. So this ramble of ours is a bit like taking the children to the park to play.

dogs

Old Home Farm is comprised of 40 acres, divided pretty evenly into pasture and woods. With the livestock in two side pastures at the moment, we elected not to Bush Hog the front field because we've seen coveys of quail, and lots of rabbits there. Our farm is not just livestock and pets. We have lots of wildlife sharing our home, and we try to accommodate them as well with grassy areas and brush piles in the woods.

Our ramble starts by walking up past my son's house to the barn, with the dogs checking out the fence line along the way. This morning they found a nest one of my guineas had made and had a nice breakfast of eggs before I could stop them. I say good morning to Polly the calf and move on around to check on the sheep. I notice that my oldest ewe, Honey, is looking rather heavy, as is Lacey, which could mean lambs are on the way. I make a mental note to buy grain to start feeding them in the near future as I take my morning walk.

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We turn past my son's house and head down the "country path" into the field. This was actually an old wagon road that my dad and now Greg keeps in shape. We use it for a driveway as well. At the end of the drive is the persimmon tree, which I see is loaded with fruit. I pick one, and find it sweet and wonderful. I am a bit surprised to find them ripe this early in the year.

down the path

Greg cut me a path tractor wide through the field so as I walk, the dogs plow through the tall grass nosing about for all sorts of interesting things. They bounce about like cats as they chase mice, and occasionally a bunny dashes away toward the woods. Earlier this spring, I would see quail take flight, and more often, doves. I walk along, enjoying the crisp morning with a cup of tea and keeping my eye on the tips of the dogs' waving tails just above the grass. For me its a time of peace, reflection, and prayer, and my favorite part of the day.

into the tall grass

When we finally make the circuit back to the house, its time for a homemade dog cookie and a long drink of water. We are greeted at the gate by the grumbling Siamese, who is too cowardly to make the journey, and my flock of chickens waiting to be fed. I have a nice bunch of mixed layers free-ranging in the yard. They also slip through the fence to forage in the edge of the woods at the back of the house, as well and into the field by the garden. But they are wise old birds and never travel far from the house and the protection of the dogs. Fred is my rooster and he takes good care of his girls. When he finds some choice tidbit, he crows, then does a little dance. The girls all come running to him, and gentleman that he is, he steps back and allows the hens to have the treasure. He watches the sky and ground, and if a hawk or large shadow catches his eye, he crows and gathers the girls under cover of the trees. A lot of human husbands could take lessons from Fred.

the flock

fred

We have a nice chicken coop that Greg built in the lower corner of the yard, and a chicken run beside the garden. Every two years, I release the hens in the run out into the yard, and replace them with new chicks that I have raised. This insures I have plenty of layers.

chicken coop

the chicken run

One of my favorite things about my hens is that they have chosen to nest on my back porch. I have two steps coming down from the back door and they lay their eggs there. All I have to do is step out in the morning and Greg has really fresh eggs for breakfast!

step nest

Today, after taking care of the flock, I took the seeds from my persimmon and opened them to find out what the weather will be for the winter. My Granny used to swear by this old wives tale, so my father and I did it every fall so Granny could know what to expect. A knife means a mild winter, a fork is pretty evenly split between snow and sun, but a spoon means snow and LOTS of it. When I opened the seeds I found a spoon. So we shall see what the winter holds for us this year. Granny would already be pulling out the heavy quilts!

insider persimmon seed