Photos of Brady

Friday, October 31, 2003


When my brothers and I were growing up in Shawnee, Kansas we had a large neighborhood to go trick or treating in. There was no fear of bad things happening to kids as they trick or treated and you didn’t have to have your goodies x-rayed before you could eat them. Mom made our Halloween costumes with her Singer sewing machine and we looked better than most of the kids who had store bought costumes.

The boys were always whatever super hero was popular at the time, or some ghoulish scary thing from their imagination. I do remember that George was a pirate one year. Why that sticks out in my mind I don’t know. My costume was always the same. Mom made me a witches costume with long black skirt, black cape and a tall black hat with a wide brim. I wore that same costume every year for as long as I can remember anything about Halloween. She did a stellar job of capturing the essence of the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz. She scared me every year, so I am not sure why it was decided I would be a witch. Anyway we went trick or treating every year, carrying our pillow cases for a bag because they were stronger and held more goodies.

Every year Mom posted the Halloween menu for supper before we left to trick or treat. She put it on the refrigerator door a week before the big day, and there was much anticipation of the meal. The only thing I didn’t like was the Dracula’s blood milk. This was accomplished by putting red food coloring in the milk. I had to gag it down every year because it looked so weird. I plan to remember how Mom made our holidays so special for when my daughter grows up. I want her to have happy memories like we do to remember.

Tonight is Halloween. I wish I had my witches costume to put on when Bob brings the kids down to trick or treat. They will be the only ones we have, but it should be fun….here on our country road. Happy and safe Halloween to all.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, October 30, 2003


Today we are going to carve pumpkins we got at the pumpkin patch several weeks ago. Tomorrow is Halloween, and we are going to put one on the porch to welcome our neighbor Bob's kids when they come to trick or treat. Another one will be put on the piano in the living room for us to enjoy. Grandma is coming down to carve a couple for their porch and living room.

Since the days have been unseasonably warm we spread newspapers on the picnic table on the back porch and Grandpa and Warren carried pumpkins to us for carving. I hadn't carved a jack-o-lantern since we were kids at home, and doing so now brought back lots of happy memories.

Mom was a den mother for the boys when they were cub scouts, and my bluebird and camp fire girls leader. At Halloween many of the parents donated pumpkins for the cub scouts and my camp fire girls group to carve. At the end of the meetings each girl and boy got to take home the jack-o-lantern they carved for their family to enjoy. It was a lot of fun, but I wonder how Mom had the patience to deal with the many pumpkin seeds that ended up everywhere but on the newspapers. Thinking about a dozen girls with sharp knives is also a scary thought to me now, but miraculously there were never any injuries.

Mom is a big believer in encouraging the imaginations of children. We were free to carve our pumpkins into any kind of jack-o-lantern we wanted it to be, and some of the results were quite remarkable. Since we had a camp fire girl and two cub scouts in our family we always ended up with three jack-o-lanterns plus the one Mom made as an example. Our porch was quite festive. We had some for the porch, one in the living room window, and one for the kitchen counter.

Today as we are carving ours together, Grandma told of how they carved jack-o-lanterns when Mom and her brother Louis were small. Since they lived out in the country there were never any trick or treaters, but Grandma told us how they made caramel apples and lit the jack-o-lantern while Grandpa told scary tales. We won't have but Bob's three kids tomorrow night, but the preparation and excitement is the same regardless.

Grandma made a Mr. and Mrs. Jack-o-lantern, Mom made two, and I made two. One of mine was for Jennifer, as it was the smallest of all the pumpkins. We will have to find a very short candle for it. Once we were done carving the pumpkins, we went in to Mom's kitchen for coffee and fresh pumpkin bread that Grandma had brought down. As always we gathered around Mom's kitchen table as a family, listening to Grandpa's stories, laughing, and sharing good food.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, October 29, 2003


My brother George is in the Navy and is always sailing to some exotic port or other around the world. His letters are greatly anticipated, especially by Mom. Now that I have Jennifer I understand a little better why she worries so about him and looks forward to his weekly letters. He writes very good letters which could more aptly be termed travelogues. The one he wrote about crossing the equator for the first time is one of my favorites. Quite a ceremony involved with that.

Today we got George's weekly letter, and as always Mom read it out loud to
Warren and me. They are in Hong Kong this time, and as Mom reads his commentary of the land and the people I can imagine it in my mind. The fun thing is that he bought us all presents so we would also have a souvenir of his visit there. Some of his friends from the ship went onshore with him and they are all going to eat at one of the local restaurants.

The bad thing he saved for the very last. Their ship has received orders to go to Viet Nam. Mom's voice broke when she read that, and we all got very quiet. We had been afraid to voice our thoughts that one day this news would come, but hearing it now brought the unspoken fears to the surface. As she read George's remaining comments it was like I heard her voice from far away. Finishing the letter, she slowly folded it and put it back into the red white and blue envelope.

Warren is military retired, and was quick to reassure us that George's ship was not in a battle group, and would probably just be going to leave or pick up equipment or Marines. His voice of reason made us feel better, but I could tell that Mom had the same lump in her throat that I had in mine. Bad news is never welcome and we have known that George's ship, an LSD, was not the type of vessel that would see combat. It is just that we have watched the nightly newscasts from the front lines in Viet Nam and have been fearful that one day he might be sent there.

We went about our day, the comfort of routine filling the hours until Grandma and Grandpa came down in the afternoon. They had also received a letter from George and wanted to be together as a family unit. As usual Grandpa had us all laughing in no time, and the fear that had been so real was put into its proper perspective. Mom invited them to stay for supper, and we ended the day on a lighter note.

In good times and in bad our family cheers and comforts each other. There is strength in the love we share, and as I drifted off to sleep I looked at the stars shining brightly outside the window. George would be looking at the same night sky on the USS Monticello so very far away. Knowing that gave me comfort as I offered a prayer that God would keep him safe until he could come home.....here to our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, October 28, 2003


The card said 'Just Because'. I had opened the box the mail carrier brought for me right away, and was so happy it came from my friend in Kansas. She has a knack for sending just the right thing when I need it most. We have always had a connection like that. I can tell when she needs to hear from me in the same way, and the miles that separate us never seem to matter. She writes long letters chronicling her life there in a way that makes me feel that I am still a part of it, and I write her letters about Smalltown, hopefully in a manner that draws word pictures for her about how I spend my days here.

After reading the letter that came with the card I pulled the tissue paper out of the box to reveal the contents. There were catalogs of all descriptions, and all of the current magazines that we like to read. If there had been a million dollars in the box it wouldn't have meant any more to me than what she sent. Knowing how I had missed reading the magazines each month and how we used to flip through the catalogs that came to her house, she had sent a priceless gift that would give me countless hours of joy. Also in the box were my favorite candy bars, finger nail polish, various make up items she knows I wore, and a bottle of my favorite perfume. I sat there for a long time holding the box of gifts, tears running down my face. She had known, of course that since coming here I had no money and that Mom and Warren were living on a very moderate income. There had been no money for the things that all teenage girls like to buy, and I had eventually just quit wearing make up and using perfume and fingernail polish. I had written letters asking her to fill me in on fall fashion, and what colors in make up were popular this season. She answered me with the box of goodies and a card that said, 'Just Because'.

The last item in the box was wrapped up in generous amounts if tissue. Unwrapping the tissue revealed a picture of the two of us together in a nice frame. It had been taken by my boyfriend in Kansas when we went to visit him at college. We had been out enjoying the autumn afternoon, laughing and having fun and he had taken the camera and taken our picture. It was a wonderful candid shot of two friends. Taking the picture into my bedroom, I carefully set it next to the picture of Jennifer and her doll, Miss Ah Goo the day she turned over by herself for the first time. Two happy moments in my life.

Walking back in to collect the box and all of the precious contents, I picked the card and letter up to read it again.....just because.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, October 27, 2003


Aunt Beulah arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's shortly before lunch time. Grandma called to let us know she was there, and we all walked up for lunch. We had taken up the food earlier in the day, so I pushed Jennifer's stroller, Warren carried her high chair, and Mom had our handwork bags. As always, Aunt Beulah was perfectly coifed, her signature white hair shining in the morning sun. She was pretty in a pant suit she had made herself, makeup and jewelry perfectly appointed. She favored rhinestone jewelry popular at the time. What made Aunt Beulah special was the smile that indicated her joy of life and bubbly personality.

Once her bags were carried inside and we had all exchanged hellos and hugs we settled down for lunch. The whole house was filled with the aromas of good food still bubbling from the oven. Conversation was lively, laughter abounded and the food delicious. Aunt Beulah also loved to fish so it didn't take much urging for Grandpa to entertain us with fish stories. She filled us in on Dale, her son and only child, who had been in the Navy. He was out now and living in a suburb of St. Louis working for the federal government. Something with airplanes, I didn't hear all of it as Jennifer got fussy. I put her down for a nap, getting back to the table just in time for dessert. There would be time to get all of the news later.

After hot coffee, warm apple crisp, and ice cream, we cleared the table and washed and dried the dishes. Grandpa and Warren went outside to walk off their lunch and putter in Grandpa's shop. Grandma, Aunt Beulah, Mom and I got out our handwork and settled down for an afternoon of visiting and stitching. Aunt Beulah was always working on some new craft, and today she was crocheting buttons into necklaces and bracelets. There was a shirt factory near her home in Gassville, Arkansas and an outlet shop where you could buy shirting material very reasonably. They also had huge bins of shirt buttons and sold them by the pound for little of nothing. As usual Aunt Beulah had found a use for them and made the necklaces and bracelets to sell at the craft shop in Mountain Home. We all had a fit over them, and she promised us all a set. As I listened to the conversation and worked on my handwork I was again reminded how very lucky I am to be surrounded by such happy, loving, talented people.

Aunt Beulah loved nature, so late afternoon we all went out for a nice long walk.....down our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, October 26, 2003


Company is coming. Grandma had a letter from Aunt Beulah which confirmed that she would be arriving tomorrow for a visit. After the lunch we shared at the Razorback Inn together, we have been waiting for the letter to come, and there is genuine excitement about her impending arrival. Aunt Beulah is a special lady and a favorite of ours. Whenever she comes life is more exciting.

Grandma walked down to share the letter with us, and we began planning the menus so we could go grocery shopping for the food. Grandma decided to make her famous ham loaf, which is a beautifully glazed dish that not only looks wonderful on the table but is delicious as well. Mom suggested scalloped potatoes, which is one of Grandma's specialties and could bake at the same time the ham loaf is baking. Both dishes could be kept warm in the oven until Aunt Beulah's arrival. Our home canned green beans seasoned with bacon and onions, and glazed baby carrots will round out the table. I offered to make homemade hot rolls and Mom will bake an apple crisp. We made a list of the other dishes Grandma would make at her house, and Mom and I will work on a list of meals we will have Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Beulah over for.

It is always so much fun when there is food to prepare. I love getting out the recipe box that I have been working on since coming here to live in Smalltown.
I have quite a collection of recipes now that are guaranteed to please any guest. Living with Mom and Grandma is a wonderful education in cooking, baking, and entertaining. Mom always sets a beautiful table, and even though I learned some of the basics in high school, Mom could have taught the course. She told Grandma that we would bring up a centerpiece that would compliment the meal, and sent me out into the yard to collect pretty fall leaves. She has our family cornucopia, which always graces the table in the fall. When I came back in with the leaves, we arranged them with some acorn clusters, pine cones, and some artificial grape clusters. The result was an arrangement of fall bounty pleasing to the eye, and I was sent up to Grandma's with it. A candle or two will round out the centerpiece.

Company is coming and there is baking to do, menus to plan and another centerpiece to make for our table.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, October 25, 2003


A cold front blew in during the night. The wind chimes began dancing and tinkling when the wind picked up and that is always a sure sign that the weather is about to change. The trees creak in the force of the wind and as I listened to the leaves rustling I could also imagine them falling to the ground. Maybe they will all fall down and we can be done with raking every day.

While Mom and I sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and visiting, we began planning what we would do with the unexpected gift of an unplanned day. Along with the cold front rain and drizzle began falling. We wouldn't be able to do outside work, and since everything in the house is done, we have a whole day to spend anyway we wish to. Mom likes activity. Sitting in a chair reading, watching TV or even doing nothing at all is not an option. She likes to accomplish things with her time. She never watches TV without 'doing' something at the same time, usually knitting, crocheting or quilting. When I came to live here three months ago she got me started with handwork to keep my mind occupied and off my troubles. Now I never sit down without handwork unless I am playing with Jennifer.

Currently Mom is without a project, having finished the sweater she had been knitting for Grandma's Christmas gift. Since our conversation thus far had centered on the colder weather, her attention had shifted to quilting. With me in the house now, and another bed to keep warm it was decided that the situation called for a new quilt for my bed. Once the decision had taken root, we began making breakfast. Another gift of an unplanned day was a big country breakfast. Since there would be no sunrise to enjoy today because of the rain, we began baking biscuits. As we worked in the kitchen I listened to Mom chatter about quilt patterns, material, color and design. Nothing makes Mom happier than a new project, and I smiled as I listened to her.

After a huge country breakfast of ham and eggs, hash browns, buttermilk biscuits and red eye gravy, we cleared and washed the dishes and went in to the closet where the quilt scraps were kept. It was going to be a very busy 'unplanned' day.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, October 24, 2003


Grandpa declared over supper last evening that we had all worked so hard the past four days raking leaves that today would be a holiday. He is going to take us all down to the Razorback Inn for lunch and to look at the fall leaves along the way. The Razorback Inn is located in Arkansas about an hour south of Smalltown. Grandma called Aunt Beulah in Gassville, and she is going to meet us there. Of course we are all very excited, as we have been out in the yard raking nonstop for four days now. We are weary, need a break, and at least for now the yard is leaf free. The wind is not supposed to blow for the next few days, so we can enjoy the day without having to come home to more leaves on the ground.

The drive south was absolutely beautiful. The bright autumn sun was shining on the fall foliage, illuminating the hills with color for as far as the eye could see. I have never been this far south in autumn so it was a real treat. While we drove Grandma was telling us about the menu at the Razorback Inn. They have been there many times, and it is one of their favorite places to eat. Eating out is one of Grandma’s joys in life. It is odd because she is a wonderful cook, but she enjoys going out to eat and Grandpa likes to treat her in that way. The Razorback Inn is a quaint little restaurant that sits on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas countryside. It is located in front of a small motel of the same name along the side of the highway, but is relatively isolated. The menu features old fashioned home cooked meals and pies served by the owner’s wife. They have a daily special which Grandma and Grandpa both declared is always more than you can eat.

When we pulled up in front of the restaurant Aunt Beulah was already there. She took Jennifer and got reacquainted while we got out of the car and made our way inside. The owner and his wife greeted Grandma and Grandpa with genuine pleasure. Grandpa introduced all of us and we were seated at a large table overlooking the Arkansas hills. The special was pan fried chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, scalloped corn, green beans, homemade hot rolls and butter, and salad. We didn’t even have to open the menu to decide what to order, and all took the special.

We caught up with Aunt Beulah’s news, who had also been raking leaves all week. We laughed and visited, enjoying the respite and the company. The food was brought to the table with a flourish, taking several trips to get it all delivered. I had never seen so much food in my life- large platters heaped with hot food fit for a king. The comments from the table pleased the owners, who promised fresh peach pie if we had room for dessert. The food was delicious. We ate, visited and laughed until we were miserable. It was relatively early yet, and we were the only customers in the restaurant. The party atmosphere was a wonderful break. Grandpa was in the middle of telling the owner a very tall tale about a fish he had battled to catch, Grandma and Aunt Beulah were catching up on family news, Mom was holding Jennifer so I could finish my food while it was still warm, and I was thinking that life just didn’t get any better than this. All in all it was a wonderful day. A rousing chorus of ooh’s and aah’s went up from the table, bringing me out of my thoughts. The owner’s wife had brought out a fresh baked pie to the table and was preparing to cut it for dessert. Wondering where on earth I was going to find room for it, I accepted my slice with gratitude.

Grandpa was looking very happy and pleased with himself for bringing us to the Razorback for lunch. It was a joyful experience, and the compliments and good hearted groans that arose from the offer of more pie made the owners very happy. As we reluctantly left the restaurant, Grandpa promised to bring us back again soon. The drive home was relaxed. Aunt Beulah was on her way back to Gassville, and she promised to come for a visit the following week. My earlier thought returned, life just didn’t get any better than this.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, October 23, 2003


There are times when I wonder what is going on in the world outside Smalltown. We get the national news and news from Springfield which is the closest large town, one and a half hours due west of us. The local music station, which is the only one we get plays country music. I haven't heard any pop or rock and roll music since Jennifer was born three months ago and we made our cross country trek here to Smalltown.

Most eighteen year olds are working, enjoying their first few weeks of college, and doing the things carefree kids do at that age. I feel much older than my eighteen years. Although I often think wistfully about frivolous things like music, shopping, movies, glamour magazines and lunches with my best friend in Kansas, I wouldn't trade my life with my daughter and family for anything in the world. Since coming to Smalltown I have had to say goodbye to my signature platinum hair. The expense dictated the sacrifice, and it has taken me some time to get used to the change. My makeup case holds all I have in the world, and since I won't be able to afford to replace it when it is gone, I am getting used to my face without it. I save it for those times when we go to town or for special occasions. My jewelry is put away as Jennifer likes to grab at my earrings. The time I used to spend polishing my fingernails is now used to fold diapers. I still have a little Emeraude perfume left, which is also saved for special occasions, and the cherished bottle of Shalimar that my boyfriend in Kansas bought me. Every time I look at it on the dresser I think of him, and sometimes I open it and let the fragrance bring back the memories. I can never resist dabbing on a little and throughout the day the scent will remind me of him and happy times.

My life here is simpler but not easier. Country living is hard work, and being a new mom is a never ending challenge. I have carved out a few moments each day for myself though. The sunrises and sunsets are beautiful and I love to begin and end each day enjoying the transitions. Before I go to bed each night the moon and the stars are beautiful to look at. Although I am so far away from my friends and the life I left behind, I know that wherever they are they see the same sunrises, sunsets, moon and stars that I see. It makes me feel somewhat more connected to them despite the distance.

This morning Grandma and Grandpa are coming to have breakfast with us, and I can hear Mom in the kitchen stirring pancake batter. I have an hour or so before sunrise, so I can set the table and visit with Mom over a cup of coffee until then. Maybe we will watch sunrise together this morning.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, October 22, 2003


While we were raking leaves today I heard the sharp report of a rifle in the big woods. Squirrel season has started, and we hear gunshots occasionally throughout the season. We are not hunters, which is another thing that sets us apart from the community here in Smalltown. Mom raised us to respect and appreciate nature so it has been hard to accept hunting as a way of life. Grandpa used to hunt squirrels and deer, but as he has grown older he has adopted the philosophy that everything should have a chance to live, and hung up his rifle. Hearing the gunshot and the rustle of the dry leaves triggered a memory of a visit we made to Grandma and Grandpa's house when we were kids....

We had come to Smalltown to visit Grandma and Grandpa. It was a beautiful fall day and my brothers George, John and I were bored. My Grandparents were still living in town at that time so there wasn't as much to do. Grandpa decided to go squirrel hunting and asked if we wanted to go with him into the woods. We readily agreed. Mom wasn't so sure that we needed to go squirrel hunting, but finally relented and in no time we were walking through the woods, helping Grandpa look for squirrels.

The day was a warm one for autumn, which wasn't good for squirrel hunting, but we finally found one on the ground. When he heard all of us walking through the leaves he ran up a big tree and around the other side where he couldn't see us. Grandpa told one of us (I can't remember which one after all of these years) to walk around the tree to scare the squirrel around to the front. As soon as the squirrel saw whoever had walked around to the far side of the tree it ran around to the side Grandpa was on. Grandpa was waiting, took aim and fired. The dead squirrel fell into the leaves at our feet. I was horrified. Grandpa picked up the squirrel by his tail and we continued on. The boys and I were quiet. After a while we hadn't seen anymore squirrels, and headed back to the car.

Once we got back to Grandpa's house he hung to dead squirrel up on a fence post to clean. He asked George and John to each hold one of the squirrel's legs while he skinned it. I hate the sight of blood and went into the house. Later I saw the squirrel tail hanging on the fence post. It had been a pretty traumatic day for me, and I really don't remember much else except that the boys were uncharacteristically quiet as well. I am sure that Grandma fried the squirrel for supper, but I didn't eat any of it. I kept thinking that a short time ago the little squirrel had been playing in the woods and a few minutes later he was dead. I know that George is also squeamish about hunting, but I don't remember what John thought. He is legally blind, so am not sure how much of what had happened really soaked in on him. Grandpa never asked us to go hunting again, so I was grateful for that.

It is odd how a sound or smell can trigger a memory. The warm autumn sun and the sound of the dry leaves rustling as we raked had brought back that hunting trip so long ago. I am so glad that Grandpa feeds the squirrels now, laughing at their antics and watching them as they raise their families.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, October 21, 2003


We have raked the leaves once already, but when you live in the big woods, it is almost a daily chore. We have been working all day, and as I look back over where we have finished the leaves are falling again. Looking up to the tree tops, it is obvious that we will be out here again tomorrow. Only half of the leaves have fallen thus far.

After my first day of raking my hands were blistered and bleeding. Since then they have toughened up but I still wear gloves, just in case. I don't like touching the leaves as you rake up bugs, spiders, and occasionally a snake. We had leaves to rake in the city, but only from a few trees. Here there are trees every few feet, and they are very tall- reaching far up into the air. Oak and black jack trees have a lot of leaves on them, so if we don't rake every day, we wouldn't be able to get the rakes through them.

Most of the folk here in the country just ignore their leaves, choosing to let the wind take care of them. This never happens of course, but they always have a fifty-fifty chance that it could. It doesn't seem to matter that the leaves will kill their grass, because if it does they won't have to mow either. I am not saying the Smalltown and country folk are lazy, they just have a different way of looking at things. They figure that if nature dropped them, nature can blow them away. It is very rare that this happens, but we do have occasional blustery days where the winds blow hard. The problem is that the leaves usually blow into our yard.

Since there are so many leaves to dispose of, we have devised ways of transporting them out to the ditch by the road to burn them. We have large boxes that the washer and dryer came in. Grandpa and Warren put handles on them so they could be pulled along the ground. Mom and I rake and fill the boxes with leaves, and they drag them to the ditch where they are dumped and burned. It is an arduous process. The first few days I was so tired that I wanted to weep but didn't have the energy. My muscles were screaming in places I didn't know I had any and my arms hurt so bad that they were eventually numb. I thought I was having a heart attack the second day, but Mom assured me that it was muscle spasms in my chest from the raking. At that point I figured that if I had a heart attack at least I wouldn't have to rake leaves anymore.

As dusk arrives the fires have burned low, the boxes and rakes are in the garage, and as we all head for the house Grandma opens the front door and calls us in for dinner. Bless her heart. Wondering if I would even be able to hold my fork we took off our boots and socks and shook them before going inside. Jennifer was sitting in her high chair waving her arms and smiling, and the food smelled wonderful.

After a hot meal, coffee and good company I headed for the bathtub. Since there are two more to bathe I couldn't tarry long, but the hot water did wonders for sore achy muscles. A short time later I was tucked into my bed. There is a good feeling about working hard, and as day is done and the moon rises here on our country road....sleep welcomes me.

Until tommorw,
Becky Strain


Monday, October 20, 2003


There is no place like home. I think the first time I heard that was in the family classic The Wizard Of Oz. The lesson Dorothy learned was indeed a truth that we all learn at one time in our life or another. There is also a big difference between a house and a home. Homes have nothing to do with the size, beauty, monetary value or design of the house but of the love that fills it and lives in comfort there.

When my Grandparents lived in Smalltown they had a small house in a quiet neighborhood. Several years before my Grandfather retired they moved out here to the country, bought a mobile home and set up house. After a tornado destroyed their mobile home one Christmas they bought a small piece of ground from their neighbor Bob and moved from a hillcrest at the fork of the road to a lower place next to Bob's cow pasture on our country road. When they moved here the whole event had been so traumatic and so much work that they both decided never to move again. Grandpa had referred to it as their last stand. Mom and Dad made a nice wooden sign that said 'Andersen's Last Stand'. Mom burned it into the wood with my brother George's wood burning kit so it would be permanently written there. When we brought it down here, the sign was hung from two trees facing the country road. Grandpa and Grandma were very proud of it.

Grandma did beautiful embroidery work. She made countless pairs of pillowcases and samplers for gifts, and family members were always claiming whatever she was working on. We often got together in the afternoons after our work for the day was done and Jennifer was taking her nap to do needlework. One particular day Grandma was working on a new sampler. She was showing it to Mom and I, and Grandpa and Warren were visiting while we worked. Mom was commenting on the verse when Grandpa said, "I think you ought to keep that one, it is just right for our little house." I asked Mom to read the verse, which said, 'Dear house you are so very small, just big enough for love thats all'. There was a picture of a little house and some trees under the verse. It was decided, and Grandma began working on it.

When the sampler was finished, Grandma had it framed and it hung on the wall in their little home by the door. Anytime you walked by or came in or out the door you saw it. It was more than a sampler, it was a statement to all who read it that love filled their home and was welcome there. Grandma's gift was hospitality. She was a wonderful cook, and Grandpa entertained guests with tall tales and anecdotes on country living. They had many family guests through the years, and since Smalltown is located in the center of the country, their home was always a stop over for family traveling through on vacations.

Mom also has a gift for hospitality, and Grandma made a 'Dear House' sampler for their mobile home as well. Each time I read it I was reminded of the love and happiness that filled our homes.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, October 19, 2003


Fog swirls around my feet as I walk down our country road. Dawn is still hours away and the moon is shining brightly, illuminating the way. A hoot owl cries plaintively from his perch in Grandma’s pine tree as I pass as if to object to my presence in his domain. Smiling, I just keep walking. Nature is beautiful at this time of the night, the air is damp and heavy with the fragrance of fall chrysanthemums, and silence reigns.

A train whistle sounds in the distance, announcing its approach to Smalltown. As I pass Bob’s cow pasture one of them moos softly in greeting or in agreement with the hoot owl, I am not sure. Reaching the fork in the road and turning around, I walk back down the road. This time there is no response from either the cow or the hoot owl. I love the quiet of this time of day, not quite night and not yet morning. A panorama of stars twinkle against the inky canopy of the sky.

I wanted a little time to myself before the day begins, and spending time with nature feeds my soul. The crickets and bullfrogs are playing harmony for the hoot owl. Reaching the dead end and turning around, one of Susie’s cats walks out to greet me, then runs across the street and disappears into the big woods. The temperature has dropped a little since I came out to walk, and zipped up my jacket against the chill. Another couple of laps and I will head back into the house and make a pot of hot coffee.

A rustling in the leaves in the big woods got my attention. Experience has taught me to go cautiously as there are all manner of woodland creatures here. Stopping in the road I wait until whatever it is shows itself. As the racket gets louder I am suddenly wondering about the wisdom of being out here in the dark by myself. About the time I thought about running, a possum came waddling out onto the road. Glancing toward me, he hesitated only briefly before continuing on his way. Taking a deep breath, I begin walking again.

As I came back down the road toward home, I turned into the drive thinking about the coffee. In a little bit dawn will be breaking and the day will begin. The creatures of the night will be sleeping and the song birds will greet the morning with joy. Carefully opening the door and letting myself in, I made the coffee and sat down at the kitchen table to await the dawn….here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, October 18, 2003


I went out to get the mail today and when our mailman Whitey handed me the bundle of letters, he smiled and said, "Letter for you today Becky. I put it right there on top. Hope it's good news." With a wave and a smile, he was gone, leaving me standing in the morning sun. I never got letters, so I looked at the post mark. Whitey was right, I did indeed have a letter from my dear friend in Kansas. My heart soared. News from home!

I took the mail in to Mom, poured a cup of coffee, and went out to the back porch to sit in the autumn sun while I read my letter. Carefully unfolding the pages, I leaned against the mobile home and began reading. The words from a friend transported me back to carefree times. Alternately I laughed and cried, thinking about my friends there and the life that I left behind. There were times that I missed them so much it was hard to bear. Reading about the flurry of activities, parties and people that were no longer a part of my life, it was hard to imagine that I was ever really there.

I don't know how long I sat there in the morning sun looking out into the big woods, the letter laying in my lap. My life had changed so much. I am no longer the person I was when I left Kansas. I have thought many times that if my friends could see my life here in Smalltown and the ways I have changed since the birth of my daughter, they wouldn't recognize me as the same person. My divorce had been final for a month already. Jennifer and I have settled in to life here in the country with my family, and I was finding the peaceful life of Smalltown the balm needed to start over again.

Picking up the letter, I reread it. Smiling , I refolded the pages and put it back in the envelope. The sounds of Jennifer waking up from her nap drifted out the window to where I was sitting. Picking up my coffee cup I stood up and went back into the house. Putting the letter on the dresser, I picked Jennifer up and hugged her to me. I would ask Mom for some stationary later so I could write to my friend about my life..... here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, October 17, 2003


Raking the leaves is an autumn ritual. We live in the middle of what we call the big woods, having carved out just enough trees to move in the mobile home and let some sun into the yard. The oak trees drop leaves and acorns, and the pine trees lose both their needles and pinecones. Up until now the leaves have fallen at a pace we could keep up with, but a strong north wind started blowing in the night. The wind is bringing in a cold front that will drop our temperatures, so we will have to get everything done before the rain starts.

When sunrise came we could see the damage. A heavy layer of leaves, sticks, pine needles, pinecones and leaf clusters littered the yard. It would prove to be a very long day. Mom and I sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee while the buttermilk biscuits baked for breakfast. Since the weather changed Jennifer was sleeping later, and the quiet morning hours were a real gift. We discussed the best way to begin the seemingly overwhelming task of raking the leaves over a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs, hash browns, biscuits, and gravy. Grandma was coming down to watch Jennifer so I could help Mom and Warren with the raking. While we were drinking a second cup of coffee I saw Grandpa and Grandma walking down the road. Grandma was carrying something, which was always good news. She had evidently baked something wonderful for break time and lunch. Jumping up from the table, I went to the door to relieve her of it.

An hour later, Mom, Warren and I were raking leaves. Standing among them, they came almost up to my knees. The weight of the leaves made the job very slow going, but we put our backs into it and pushed on. By midmorning we had made little progress. Warren was hauling the leaves down to the ditch by the road and burning them as we went, but Mom and I were only half way across the front yard. Grandma poked her head out the front door and called us in for coffee and cake. She didn't have to ask us twice. Pulling off my gloves, I had blisters already and my back was beginning to hurt. A break was most welcome. Mom and Warren were used to the work here in the country, but I was still trying to toughen up my hands and muscles. A thick slice of Grandma's spice cake and a hot cup of coffee was just what we needed. Before we went back out into the yard Grandma handed me a couple of aspirin and a glass of water. She also gave me the tin of Raleigh's ointment to rub into my hands. She was a firm believer that Raleigh's could cure anything. Pulling my gloves back on I followed Mom back to the front yard and picked up my rake.

We worked companionably until Grandma called us in for lunch. We had made better progress, and were encouraged by the results of our efforts. A hot meal consisting of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and vegetables was wonderful. Grandpa had watched Jennifer while Grandma was cooking lunch, but would be helping us in the afternoon. Encouraged by the extra help, lunch was a festive affair. These everyday family times were a blessing, and even though the work was hard it was enjoyable to work in the warm autumn sunshine listening to the birds singing, the rhythmic sound of the rakes as they sliced through a sea of crunchy oak leaves and Grandpa telling one of his tall tales....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, October 16, 2003


Since Jennifer learned how to turn over all by herself, she does it all the time now. I used to be able to leave her laying on my bed or in her crib while I walked to the dresser for the baby powder and a clean diaper. She would just lay and kick her little feet until I came back. Now she just keeps turning over and rolling until she is either up against the crib rail or precariously close to the edge of my bed.

I used to dream of the day that Jennifer would be big enough to sit up by herself, crawl, even walk. I see the folly of those thoughts. Instead of being easier to care for I am worrying more. Babies are so trusting. She has absolutely no fear that she may roll completely off of the bed and hit the floor. Mom told me to put a pillow on each side of her when I lay her anywhere except in her crib. It has helped my peace of mind and kept her safe.

What will happen when Jennifer learns how to sit up, crawl, walk, reach for things, talk? How will I be able to keep her safe from harm? Right now her little face lights up and I am blessed with a toothless grin whenever she sees me. Mom, Warren and I are softies and simply cannot walk by without picking her up and loving on her, playing peek-a-boo or patty cake. It is a scary thought that a little baby trusts me to take care of her. It is a good thing that Mom has raised three of her own and knows what to do. It has been a great help.

I am going to enjoy these baby days as long as they last, because I know that pillows will not always keep her safe from harm. One day she will grow beyond my love and protection to make her way in the world. I will have to let her go, knowing that she will be hurt, scared and disillusioned. When she needs me I will not be there. My heart hurts just thinking about it. Wiggling on my lap, my thoughts are drawn back to Jennifer's little face and am blessed with that million dollar smile. All of my fears and worries melted away. Hugging her I prayed that she would always be this happy to see me and know how very much she is loved.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, October 15, 2003


The innocence, joy and unconditional love I see whenever I look at my three month old daughter Jennifer lifts my spirits and fills my heart with love. On a day when everything seems to be going wrong, I am troubled, or don't feel well all I have to do is look at her and all is well. Her toothless grin warms my heart and makes me feel ten feet tall.

Today was a land mark day. Jennifer was in her crib looking at her dolls, making those little baby sounds mothers call 'baby talk'. I was making the bed, casting a glance her way every now and again, a morning routine we go through every day. She was on her stomach grinning at Miss Ah Goo when I rounded the end of the bed to straighten the covers. I was fluffing the pillows when I heard her gasp. Looking toward the crib I saw Jennifer laying on her back waving her arms...and smiling at the ceiling.

Dropping the pillow and calling for Mom I rushed over to the crib. Everything looked okay and the baby seemed happy. Mom came through the door of the bedroom asking what was wrong. Being a young first time mother I wasn't sure that anything was wrong, except that I knew the baby had been on her stomach. Explaining all of that to Mom, she laughed and turned Jennifer back onto her stomach. In short order she pushed up to look at her dolls, and rolled over onto her back looking as surprised as we did.

Jennifer grinned up at Mom and me, waving her little arms in an excited manner. While the morning sun streamed through the window and Mom explained the various things that the baby would learn to do in the next several months, the moment was etched in my memory. We stood there for some time enjoying the moment....here on our country road.

Until tomorow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, October 14, 2003


A strong wind began blowing just after bedtime last evening. We are due for a change in weather, and the wind is blowing in a cold front from the north. The cows must have known that we were about to get a change in the weather as they are all facing north in the fields. Nature is something that I was aware of when I lived in the city, but living in the country nature is a good indicator of what the weather will be.

The brown wooly caterpillars began to appear crossing roads and in yards several weeks ago. The locals have various reasons for the abundance or lack of the brown wooly caterpillars, but most of them have to do with the length and severity of the coming winter. If this year's showing is to be believed, we are in for a more severe winter than usual.

The animals are growing a very thick winter coat this year, which is another good indication that a hard winter is coming. It is nature's way of protecting the animals from the elements of the winter months. This year's crop of acorns is abundant, which many animals in the woods eat. The deer will not have to travel very far to find food, and they are especially fond of acorns. The squirrels have been busy burying acorns in secret places so when the winter comes they will have a food supply. They have also been building their winter homes high in the trees surrounding our house and in the big woods. The birds have been enjoying the autumn weather, and although they still visit the feeding stations in the yard they have been eating the fall crop of berries and seeds found in the woods. With this wind blowing in the colder weather, the birds will be at the feeding stations in abundance, eating as if there were going to be no tomorrow.

What is happening around your house? Wherever you live nature is busy preparing for the coming changes in your weather. I'm sure that you have noticed changes in your own patterns as well. I have been going to bed earlier, hating to get out of bed in the morning due to the shorter days and have been hungry for soups, stews and chili. I think that I will bundle up and go out to see what the wind has blown in. Let's take a walk......down my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, October 13, 2003


Mushroom season is in full swing here in the Ozarks. October is a very busy month in the country, with walnut picking, wood cutting, pumpkin canning and carving, and mushroom hunting. When I first heard the local folk discussing mushroom hunting I thought maybe Green Giant had a canning factory close by. I was soon to be disappointed.

There are dozens of varieties of wild mushrooms growing in the woods. The worrisome thing in my mind is that not all of them are edible. Many are poison, and if you are not careful you can gather the wrong kind. The most popular type of wild mushroom around these parts (a local country saying meaning around here) is the coral mushroom, nicknamed 'finger' mushrooms by the locals because of their odd appearance. They do indeed look like coral, with thin fingers growing up from the base. They grow in the ground in the dark damp places in the woods where the sun doesn't reach. Coral mushrooms aren't white like the button mushrooms I am used to, they have an odd color about the color of butter with coral shading.

To tell you the truth, the first time our neighbor Bob brought a sack full of wild mushrooms to us they looked so scary that we were going to throw them out on the compost pile. Bob had also given Grandma a bag, and she was very excited as they loved the taste of the odd looking things. They liked to gather them when they were out in the deer woods, so she was able to show us how to clean them and cook them. Mom and I were very dubious about the whole experience, but reluctantly followed Grandma to the kitchen. The cleaning process is very involved, as they do grow in the woods after all. After Grandma had cleaned the rich dark dirt away and was satisfied that all of the leaves and other foreign objects had been removed, the mushrooms were drained for cooking.

There are several ways that they are enjoyed here in the country, and can be used in every way that button/cap mushrooms are used in cooking. The obstacle to me was their strange appearance, but kept my thoughts to myself. Grandma chose to fry them, which is the most popular way of eating them. I was thinking that it is because the breading covers up the oddity of the things, which would help. Grandma dipped the mushrooms in beaten egg and rolled them in seasoned flour before putting them into the hot oil for frying. While they drained, she continued the process until they were all cooked. Mom had some leftover fried chicken from lunch, so before long the table was set for supper.

Grandma and Grandpa dove into the mushrooms with a great deal of enthusiasm, so I took one from the platter and put it on my plate. I decided that it would be better to eat it hot than cold and slimy, so bit into it and hoped for the best. I was very surprised to discover it was indeed very good. These wild mushrooms have a more full bodied nutty flavor, but did taste like mushrooms. Grandma told us that many times she merely sauteed them in butter, garlic and onions. We enjoyed our first experience with coral mushrooms, mostly due to my Grandmother's intervention. In spite of my fear that we might not survive, we did.

There is a drawback to the wild coral/finger mushrooms. Eating very many of them can result in a good cleaning out. They have been dubbed one of nature's laxatives, along with poke. Poke however, is a story for another day.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, October 12, 2003


October is the beginning of walnut picking season. Picking is not really the correct term I suppose, because you don't have to climb the tree and you don't pick them from the tree. When the walnuts are ready to be 'picked' they fall from the tree to the ground. The walnuts themselves are covered in a thick skin that is green in color. Laying on the ground they actually look like small green tennis balls. They will lay right where they fall until someone comes along and picks them up.

When we were growing up in Shawnee, Kansas my Dad was the boy scout leader of the our local troop. Each fall an event was planned for walnut picking. The proceeds from the sale of the walnuts were used for boy scout activities. They bought a school bus one year to transport the scouts to their various activities. Each year our whole family helped in the annual walnut picking, which was done each Saturday in October. City folks were more than happy for the scouts to come pick up the walnuts from their yards, so it didn't take long to fill your gunny sack.

Walnut picking is one thing that I knew how to do before moving to Smalltown, so it was not a surprise except that there are so many walnut trees here! They are not located in nice flat neighborhoods with paved streets leading to the trees, either. Most of the walnut trees and walnut groves are in fields. It is a very different experience here. You have to watch for copperheads and other snakes, and you will come home with a lot more critters than you left with. Seed ticks and chiggers abound in the woods, and it is to be expected that you will need to take either a bleach bath or an alcohol bath when you return home to kill them. This exercise won't take away the bites you already get beforehand though, so be prepared for itchy bites and bumps.

There are several things we have learned from walnut picking. The first cardinal rule of walnut picking is: Wear gloves. The walnuts stain your hands dark brown and will not wash off, it wears off over time. The second cardinal rule of walnut picking is: Wear old clothes you don't want any more. The walnuts stain your clothes dark brown and will not wash out. Unlike your hands however, once on your clothes the stain will not wear out. The third cardinal rule of walnut picking is: Don't fill your sack, box or bucket with more walnuts than you can haul back to the truck.

Walnut picking is an annual event here in Smalltown and the surrounding communities. The lines at the hulling stations are long. The walnuts have to be hulled from the thick covering before they are weighed. The current price for the hulled walnuts this year is ninety-five cents per hundred pounds. It takes a whole lot of walnuts to make any money, it is backbreaking work, and it helps if you have an old pick-up truck.

The next time you go to the grocery store to buy walnuts for a recipe, maybe you will have a little more respect for the little packages of nutmeats. They just might have come from Smalltown or.....our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, October 11, 2003


Some time ago two of the three kittens from Mama Kitty's family came back to live in my garage. One of them is small like his mother so I named him Tiny. He is very happy and always weaves in and out of my legs when I go down to the garage to feed them. I have to be careful or he trips me every time. He is braver than his brother, and has let me pet him and talk to him without running. The other kitten is built larger and he is afraid of me. I named him Scaredy. Every time I come out of the house to feed them he will run off. It has taken two months for me to gain his trust enough that if I say something to him he won't run.

I have never seen anything of their mother Mama Kitty or the other kitten. There are times that I think they have been in the garage to eat during the night as the food bowl will be empty and the water nearly gone. I leave the door open about 6 inches, only enough that the kittens can come and go, so I know that it isn't a dog. I have suspected a possum or raccoon which would be bad, as raccoons will snatch cats right off a porch and kill them. Many area cats have died that way.

Tiny and Scaredy have carved out a little life for themselves here. They know that I disappear into the mobile home so they perch on the porch rail so they can see inside the house. They stay around until after they have been fed, then they cross the street and disappear into the big woods. Around supper time I will see two little gray heads pop up at the side of the road before they run up to take their place on the railing. After eating their dinner they usually stay in the garage and sleep.

As I write this they are sitting out on the railing watching for me to walk by the front window. When I do, they know I am on my way with their food. Each time I feed them I reach out to Scaredy in hopes of petting him. One must have patience. I will enjoy them while they are here, as I know the lure of the big woods calls to them. One of these days they won't come home. At least I will know that they had a good start and be here any time they return.....to my country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, October 10, 2003


A soft gentle rain began falling yesterday. Midmorning a few sprinkles began to fall and without much fanfare accelerated to rain. Usually when we get rain here in the country it comes by the bucket full and only lasts until it has blown itself out. The hard rains wash over the ground in such a hurry that we don't benefit much from them, and flash flood watches are very common. These gentle rains are unusual but most welcome, as they allow the water to really soak into the ground.

Rainy days allow for a slower pace. We sleep a little later, the rhythmic sound of the rain lulling us back into slumber. Breakfast is a treat as we can make something that takes a little more time since we are housebound anyway. Mom likes to make waffles on lazy mornings and are always a treat. We spread them with butter and strawberry freezer jam we made in the summer. Delicious. After breakfast we sit around the kitchen table deciding what to do with the unexpected respite. Mom and I like to go through the quilt scrap box and look at pattern books but never have the time to do it. This will be the perfect day to start a new quilting project. Going through the fabrics always brings inspiration and reminds us of our family. Pieces of fabric they have given us makes including them in a quilt a way of remembering those special people, and gives me a warm feeling and a full heart when I use the quilt.

I hear mom in the kitchen getting out the waffle iron and making coffee, so I had better go help. Suddenly the lazy morning I woke to has filled me with energy and created anticipation for the hours ahead.....here on our country road.


Thursday, October 09, 2003


Each time we drive through Smalltown we drive over the painted squares on the pavement that were used for the goose pooping contest during Food and Forest Day. For a big city girl, these country festivals have been quite an education. They give insight to the day to day country life as well as the history of the town and surrounding area communities.

I have been told that the goose pooping contest is a new event. It replaces the calf pooping contest of years past. A large box is painted on the pavement of Main Street, which is roped off for Food and Forest Day. The box is then divided into 120 smaller squares and each square is marked with a number. Spectators 'buy' a square they think will be the one the goose will poop in when turned loose in the grid. If the goose poops in the square that you bought you win prize money. The money collected from people buying chances on the squares was used to pay the prize money and the remainder was donated to charity.

When the calf pooping contest was being held the event took a very long time. This is due in part to the fact that calves don't have the loose bowels that geese have- thus the term 'loosey goosey'. The other problem with the calf pooping contest was that the boxes had to be larger to accommodate the larger animal and it's larger poop. When the event was changed to a goose pooping contest, several more events could be added to the festivities in the room saved with the smaller grid. Another good thing is that the contest could be held many times throughout the day instead of just once, as it had been with the calf.

The unsuspecting goose was put down in the middle of the grid and let loose. With all of the noise, cheering, laughing and people, the nervous goose wasted no time in pooping on the pavement. The owner of the goose then picked the goose up to calm it and the results were announced. The problem in using animals in a man made contest is that the unplanned for usually happens. The judge observed the placement of the poop, which had straddled the line of two different boxes. Two winners? Evidently not. The quick thinking judge asked for a ruler or other measuring device from the event planners, and quickly determined the winner to be the box where the largest portion of the poop had been deposited. To the naked eye it had appeared to be a tie, but a slim 1/8" determined the winner.

After cleaning the grid, the contest was held again each hour during the day and was the crowd favorite. The goose's name? Why 'Miss Loosey'.......of course!

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, October 08, 2003


When Mom and Warren moved to Smalltown a year ago they carved a place for their mobile home out of the big woods. The garage was finished some time ago, but today is the day that Grandpa is coming to help us make a porch and sidewalk. It will be nice, as we have been using the temporary porch the mobile home dealer gave them when they bought their trailer.

The day dawned bright and clear. Grandpa has been watching the weather reports and declared today the best time for the project. Mom has her camera ready to take pictures of the event, and after a hearty breakfast Grandpa and Warren went to the lumberyard in Smalltown for framing lumber. Grandma brought a gooseberry cobbler for lunch, and while the men began the framing process Mom, Grandma and I decided what to make for lunch.

Midmorning the framing was done and we called Grandpa and Warren in for some hot coffee and blueberry muffins. They were going to pour concrete for the porch first and we listened as Grandpa explained the process. Warren would mix the concrete while Grandpa smoothed and leveled the mixture in the frame. We left the men to their project after taking a few pictures and returned to the kitchen to prepare lunch.

We decided to make frickadilas, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans from our garden. Frickadilas are Danish meat patties with chopped onion and spices. They are a favorite in our family and is a dish that Grandma learned how to make from Grandpa's Danish mother when they were first married. By the time the last wheelbarrow full of concrete had been dumped into the porch frame, we had lunch ready on the table.

By late afternoon the porch and sidewalk had been poured, smoothed and leveled. We went out to inspect the project and Mom took pictures of it while Grandpa and Warren cleaned up the wheelbarrow and tools. When everything was put away, Grandpa handed Mom a small stick to write the date and their initials into the wet cement. Every addition Grandpa made at their house was inscribed with their initials and the date it was completed. It is a nice reminder of the camaraderie and love we share as a family, and every time we walk over the inscription the memories of today will come to mind.

Grandpa and Warren went to wash up while Mom, Grandma and I went to the kitchen to warm up leftovers from our lunch. We would eat a bite of supper before having Grandma's gooseberry cobbler and ice cream. Once again, Mom's kitchen was filled with family, good food and laughter as the sun was setting.....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Tuesday, October 07, 2003


Our rural mailman is part of our extended family. He is a large part of the fabric of our daily lives. We look forward to the mail delivery each day not only for the mail that he brings but for the news of Smalltown he always shares with us. Chuck is a friend. My Grandparents and Mom know his folks, and they have been to the lake with us fishing and skiing. Today Chuck told us that he wouldn't be our mailman anymore. The rural mail routes have been redrawn and we will have a new mailman beginning tomorrow.

After Chuck told us the news and left we stood at the mailbox talking. Grandma and Grandpa walked down and joined us. Everyone was in shock about losing Chuck, and sad about the news. We didn't know the man he told us would be our new carrier. Change is always unwelcome, and we wondered if we would like the new mailman. While we were standing there visiting a strange car came down the road and turned around in Frances and Susie's drive. He opened their mailbox and put something in before stopping at our box where we were all gathered.

"Hi! My name is Don and I will be your new mail carrier. Chuck has told me all about you. I was just delivering notices to the patrons on the route to introduce myself, but this is better.... How are you, Andy?" My Grandpa had a huge smile on his face as he extended his hand to Don and said, "Well I'll be! How are you doing Whitey? I thought you had moved away from here?" Grinning, 'Whitey' responded, "We moved back three months ago. When the routes were redrawn I had my choice of two routes, but Chuck told me that you all lived out here. I picked this one. It will be like coming home all over again."

While Grandpa visited with Whitey he filled us in about our new mailman. Grandpa and Grandma had been friends and fishing buddies with Whitey and his wife before they moved away to take a job with a post office by St. Louis. After several years, they tired of the rat race of the city and when a position opened up here in Smalltown Whitey put in for a transfer.

After he left, Grandpa and Grandma were excited about their friends being back in Smalltown. In a matter of minutes our initial dismay in losing Chuck turned to joy at getting a mailman we would all know and be comfortable with. He would be a friend like Chuck was, and would keep us informed about how Chuck is doing.

Chatting about the turn of events, we all headed to Mom's kitchen for a cup of coffee and a piece of coffee cake. Grandpa was deep into a tale about how he had met Whitey and how he had come by his nickname. Smiling to myself, I was amazed. Change had been good this time....here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Monday, October 06, 2003


My Grandmother is the best cook, and even better baker. She has a patience in the kitchen that I still have not mastered, but I have not given up. Today we are going to cook the pumpkins that we bought at the pumpkin patch in readiness for the holiday season. Grandma always brings the pumpkin pies to Thanksgiving dinner, which helps Mom and represents their home on the dinner table. Her pies are works of art and she whips fresh whipping cream for the top.

Mom and I left Jennifer with Grandpa and Warren and walked up to Grandma's.
We spread newspapers on the kitchen table and put three pumpkins on them. Taking a knife we cut the tops out of the pumpkins and set them aside. Taking your hand and reaching into the pumpkin you grab handfuls of the seeds and pull them out. It wasn't long before we had a sizeable pile of seeds and pumpkin innards on the newspapers. Once the biggest part of the seeds were out of the pumpkin, we took large spoons and scraped the interior of the pumpkin to clean the last of the seeds out. Taking large butcher knives that Grandpa had sharpened for the occasion, we cut the pumpkin in sections using the vertical ribs as a guide. After the pumpkin was cut we washed the wedges before cutting them into cubes and putting them into the kettle for cooking.

While the pumpkin was cooking in the kettle we picked the seeds out of the pulp and washed them. Taking the rest of the pumpkin innards out to the compost pile, Mom and Grandma spread the table with fresh newspapers and we began the whole process again. By the time we had the rest of the pumpkins ready for cooking, the first batch was cooked and ready to be strained. Putting another kettle full to cook, Grandma strained the cooked pumpkin. Taking the last of the remnants to the compost pile, Mom and I spread the washed pumpkin seeds on cookie sheets and put them on the porch railing so they could dry in the sun. Once dry, they could be roasted in the oven for snacks or saved for planting in the garden next spring. Grandma and Grandpa are going to save them for planting so that we can grow pumpkins next year.

While Grandma was straining pumpkin, Mom and I took the rind and stringy pumpkin that Grandma had caught in the strainer and put it in a bowl for compost. It didn't take long to complete this process, and by the time the first batch was completely done, the second batch was cooked and ready for straining. It was hard work, but with everyone working together we had 14 quarts of pumpkin canned by lunch time. We made sandwiches and coffee, enjoying a respite and visiting about the good things we could make with the pumpkin. Grandma sliced us each a piece of butterscotch pie for dessert, and while we enjoyed another cup of hot coffee, we heard Grandpa, Warren and Jennifer coming up the walk. We fed them and played with the baby for a while, then cleaned up the lunch mess and went back to cooking and straining the pumpkin.

By late afternoon, we were done cooking and straining the pumpkin, Grandpa had taken the last of the scraps to the compost pile and was admiring the pumpkin seeds for spring planting. After washing up the dishes, Grandma was getting out ingredients for baking pumpkin pies. We were all bone weary, but all in all we ended the day with 29 quarts of pumpkin. While Grandma was making the pumpkin pies, Mom and I cleared the rest of the mess and put Jennifer down for an afternoon nap. When the pies were in the oven baking, and all of the dishes done, we sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. My feet were killing me, and as I listened to Mom and Grandma discussing what to make for supper, the aroma of pumpkin pie filled the kitchen with warmth and love. As the first jars of pumpkin 'popped', signaling that they had sealed, I thought what a good day it had been......here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Sunday, October 05, 2003


Today was a special day. Mom and Warren bought Jennifer a stroller, and even though she is still too young to sit up by herself we tilted the seat back a bit and took her for a walk. Mom finished knitting the little sweater she has been working on and it was cool enough for Jennifer to wear it. It is the cutest sweater in pale yellow and has a hood that Mom made little pom-poms for.

The stroller was rolled out to the front porch where we set Jennifer into the seat and tucked receiving blankets around her to give her support. Since the driveway is gravel and would have made a bumpy ride and lots of noise we thought might scare her, Mom and I carried the stroller out to the road. Once on the blacktop, which is also a little rough and uneven, we started down the road.

Jennifer's eyes were taking in the bright sun, blue sky, and the tree tops as we rolled by, a look of absolute wonder on her small face. It is hard to determine what goes on in the workings of a three month old mind, but she was smiling and making those happy baby sounds, her hands clutched tightly together. Of course we took lots of pictures of the outing, not wanting to miss anything. As we neared Grandma and Grandpa's house, they walked down to the road to visit, and before I knew it Grandpa had taken the stroller and began walking Jennifer toward Bob's pasture to show her the cows.

The autumn sun was warm on my skin, and I could smell the faint aroma of baby powder and Grandma's chrysanthemums as I stood watching everyone pointing out the wonders of nature to Jennifer. There are four generations of our family represented here, which is a gift in itself. We are very fortunate to have such a close family unit, and it was with a full heart that I started toward the group to take some more pictures.

Today was a special day. A perfect day. A day that marked the very first stroller ride that Jennifer took down our country road.....

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Saturday, October 04, 2003


The countryside changes daily during autumn. The fall colors begin to appear slowly in shades of muted bronze and gold against the green foliage of the trees, but as Jack Frost visits more and more frequently the colors begin to change dramatically. Many days are cloudy and gray but when the sun comes out in full force the leaves seem to glow in vivid yellow, red, orange and gold.

I have always wanted to paint. When I was younger one of my teachers told me I had a renaissance soul- a poet, a thinker, a singer of song. I have always remembered that, and the analogy has seemed to fit my happy heart. When I behold beauty such as the glorious colors of the fall foliage however, words often fail, others cannot know the workings of my mind and soul, and I long for a paintbrush. My mother is very talented with a paintbrush, but I never took training or had enough natural talent to express on canvas what I feel deep within.

It is often with deep sadness that I behold the glory and majesty of autumn. There is an urgency that I feel in nature, as though each morning the foliage and fall flowers greet the day could be the last one they celebrate before winter blows in and their leaves and blooms drift earthward. Many of the changes in my life have occurred in the fall of the year, so I always approach the season with trepidation. I have said more goodbyes in the fall than any other season, and am always reminded of those endings and the sadness they evoke.

Today however, the sun dawns bright and clear. The landscape is alive and glowing with color and the air has a nippy crispness only experienced in the fall. Standing on my country road beholding the beginning of such a glorious autumn day, my heart is so full of joy and emotion. Maybe today is the day I will attempt to put on canvas what my soul longs to speak......

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Friday, October 03, 2003


There is a large pumpkin patch near Smalltown where you can walk out into the field and choose the pumpkins you want. Workers have little carts and are happy to transport your purchases back to the cash stand, because even the smallest pumpkins weigh much more than they appear to. Yesterday we went to the pumpkin patch to pick out pumpkins for carving, decorating and fresh pumpkin pies.

Grandma and Grandpa went with us and it turned out to be a great fall day. After several days of cold miserable rain and wind, the day dawned bright and clear. There was still a decided nip to the air but not the bone chilling cold temperatures we had the first of the week, so light jackets were all we needed. Jennifer sat on my lap, Mom and Grandma joining me in the back seat while Grandpa sat up front with Warren. Since I had never been to a real pumpkin patch before I was excited. In the city pumpkins were bought at grocery stores, far removed from the country farms they were grown on.

The drive wasn't a long one, and as we turned off of the main road there were fields on each side of the lane absolutely full of pumpkins. There was a cash stand at the entrance to the farm and a small parking area that had been created by brush hogging part of the field. Warren parked the car, and Grandpa took Jennifer in his arms which left Grandma, Mom and I free to pick out pumpkins. A teenage boy grabbed a cart and his knife and followed us into the field.

The young man was very helpful, telling us which pumpkins would be best for baking and which would be more suited for decorating and carving. Standing in the field we were surrounded by pumpkins on all sides for as far as the eye could see. The green vines covered the ground, the pumpkins were nestled among the foliage and stood out in stark contrast by both their size and bright color. We picked out some very small ones the size of apples for the cornucopia on the kitchen table, medium sized for baking pies, and large ones for carving jack-o-lanterns. The pumpkins were cut off of the vines and placed in the cart. The young man took the cart on to the cash stand so the pumpkins could be weighed and we took our time walking back, enjoying the warm autumn sunshine, the musky smell of the earth and the sight of the bright orange pumpkins. It really was an overwhelming thing to comprehend-thousands of pumpkins laying right where they had been planted and grown over the summer months waiting to be chosen for holiday events or to be shipped to market in far away cities.

Grandpa and Warren had paid for our pumpkins by the time we reached the cash stand, and the workers were washing off the field dirt before the pumpkins were put in the trunk for the journey back to our homes. Jennifer was holding a tiny little pumpkin that had the stem removed so it wouldn't hurt her little three month old skin. We stood visiting with the owners of the farm while the pumpkins were drying, and I took another look at the fields. They looked just like pictures I had seen in school. Somehow I never imagined myself actually standing in a field full of pumpkins before, but it had been a lot of fun and very festive.

Once again loaded in the car and driving home with our bounty, I asked Grandma how we were going to make pies from the fresh pumpkins. Before she could answer me, Grandpa announced that he would treat everyone to ice cream at Joe's Drive In. As conversation began about what everyone would order, Grandma patted my knee and said, "That is a lesson for another day, Becky."

Life is lived at a slower pace in the country, but I had no doubt that I would indeed learn the entire process of baking fresh pumpkin pies. As we turned in to Joe's for ice cream I agreed with Grandma. Right now, there was ice cream to be eaten. Just another day.....here in Smalltown.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Thursday, October 02, 2003


There are times that being in bed is wonderful. Tonight is one of those times. The baby is sleeping, and I am piled up in bed with a new magazine that Grandma loaned me today. Rain is falling steadily against the side of the trailer and the sound of the furnace is reassurance that we will sleep snug and warm.

The weather turned suddenly cold two nights ago when we got our first frost, and since then the wind has blown in gray rainy days that chill to the bone. The big woods look dark and forbidding. The squirrels are busy making their winter nests, running back and forth looking for just the right twigs and leaves to carry up the tree and tamp down into their nest. It is a process that we watched all afternoon, amazed at the energy nature possesses to accomplish the various tasks necessary to survive. The acorns began to fall weeks ago, and the industrious squirrels have been busy burying them for winter eating. I never knew that squirrels eat pine cones, but they will sit on a stump and eat pine cones like we eat corn on the cob. They seem to be quite fond of them, and since we have numerous pine trees in and around our yard, there will be no shortage of food this year.

Growing up in the city I was never privy to nature like we are here in Smalltown. We saw occasional rabbits or squirrels but never to the extent that we have here. By watching the birds and squirrels you can tell what the weather will be like. Right before a big change in the weather, the birds will start feeding en masse. They know they had better eat their fill before the weather breaks. There is a sense of urgency and purpose, then they fly away.

After a quiet day of household chores, we had a hot bowl of stew and corn muffins for supper. While we were drinking after dinner coffee the rain began in earnest and hasn’t let up. Once again the birds let us know what was coming. Mom and I washed the dishes and put the kitchen in order, and while she and Warren play a game of scrabble before bed I bathed Jennifer and put her down for the night.

Propped up in bed reading the magazine, the sound of rain falling, I am thankful for life’s little pleasures. A warm bed, the warmth of love and family, and the hope of sunshine tomorrow…..here on our country road.

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain


Wednesday, October 01, 2003


Hootn' Hollarin' is a local festival that is held every fall. People travel from miles around to be here for the three day event, and this year was no exception. It is a celebration of the country way of life, and the events are fun to watch. Schools are let out so that the kids can be exposed to dress and custom of another time, and are encouraged to wear period clothes.

Opening night there is a beauty contest to select the Queen for the event. Each contestant wears a long dress in the old fashioned mode-it always reminds me of stepping into a Little House on the Prairie episode. The beauty contest is followed by a square dance held on the streets roped off around the court house square.

We have to travel an hour to attend, so we only go to the day time events. There is a childrens costume parade, fiddling contest, rooster cart races, and there are booths set up around the court house featuring good home cookin'. Many of the local women bring crafts and needlework both for display and for sale.

One of the funniest things I have ever seen was several years ago during the rooster cart races. They line up the roosters on the starting line with little carts strapped to them. At the starting signal, the roosters are let go and encouraged to move forward toward the finish line. One particular rooster decided that he wanted no part of the race or the cart, and began to set his feet into the street in an effort to move backward away from the others. The problem with that tack is that the little carts are motorized to encourage the roosters forward. The rooster in question was a big one, and very determined to get away from the whole affair and his cart. What resulted was a stalemate. The cart pushed him forward, his feet pushed him backward, and the result was a very unhappy rooster going around in circles. By the time he was unhooked from the cart he was dizzy. He may not have won the contest, but he did steal the show.

Men are showcased in the pig calling contest and the husband calling contest. Both are fun events, the husband calling competition being the favorite. It is a very creative battle, getting more ridiculous every year. The marquis event and the most highly contested however, is the outhouse race. The contestants work on their entries all year long, and there is much secrecy attached to the whole affair.

Once the events are concluded and everyone has had their fill of the food, a dance is held on the street. Hootn' Hollarin' is one more sign that fall has indeed arrived. We'd like to see you next year, y'all come!

Until tomorrow,
Becky Strain