High Dive

4H campMy granddaughter’s 13th birthday is approaching. Her special day is one of 17 that we celebrate yearly. This date—this year—would normally pass with a crisp bill tucked inside a card, signed “We love you! Grandpa and Nana.” But her parents have requested stories for her this year. So… Happy Birthday Mary—here’s a story for you about Nana. 🙂

In July 1968, I celebrated my 13th birthday by attending  4-H summer camp at a lakeside campground in southern Indiana. It was my first time away from my family—I was thrilled and terrified at the same time.

Mom and I shopped a couple of weeks before, getting all the supplies I’d need. We bought travel sized toothpaste, soap, and shampoo—plus a couple of shorts outfits, pajamas, a bathing suit, and a pair of pink & white rubber flip-flops.

4H camp busMost of the camping trip doesn’t register in my memory. I know we rode a school bus to the campground and back—Proof? That’s me above the “VI”. I’m sure there was some sort of craft activity—I vaguely remember weaving colored, plastic cords and a crude keychain. I know there were wood bunks and long tables and food trays—but I’ve also seen the movie, Meatballs, so maybe I’m confused?

I do have a couple of distinct memories though.

Going to the beach one day, we walked single-file from the campsite along a dirt path through the woods. I remember watching my feet instead of the scenery. My new flip-flops sprang up after every step, propelling me into the next one. I was mesmerized and as I concentrated on bouncing along the path, the girl in front of me suddenly screamed and jumped sideways. My next step put my foot inches from a little green & black garter snake. I thought, What a Priss! Why did she scream at that tiny thing?—but I screamed too…. Hey, that’s what 13 year old girls do, right? She and a couple of other girls huddled, crying, while the poor snake turned around and went back to where it came from—the girls finally calmed down and we walked on.

I looked forward to going to the beach, having learned how to swim many years before. Once we got there, I noticed a multi-level, diving platform in the lake and immediately swam out to it. The ladder to the top level was about 20 feet long. My thoughts while climbing it ran along the lines of pulling off the most perfect swan-dive anybody in the history of the world had ever seen!

I got to the top of the platform—panic set in and that voice in my head wouldn’t shut up! You have no idea how to do a swan-dive! You’ve never jumped from this high up before. There are people behind you—you can’t go back down the ladder. Well, jump… NO! Take a deep breath and JUMP… NO! Ok, so now who’s the Priss?

I jumped…. but, instead of pulling my knees up, using the water’s surface to slow and shorten my descent, I straightened my legs and pointed my feet, going deeper and deeper and deeper. I figured out—after it was way too late—that, without proper instruction in breath control and a whole lot of practice, 13 year old lungs don’t hold enough air for that kind of dive. I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE!

The lifeguard apparently thought so too. When I finally surfaced, she stood on the edge of the platform, screaming, “Are you ok?” Then she escorted me back to shore—I spent the rest of the day sheepishly wading along the shoreline in my pink & white flip-flops.

It’s been nice chatting with you Over the Back Fence! Let me know how I can help you preserve your family memories.


Dead Skunk in the Middle…

Leisa and Mona July 2011In late September 2012 my sisters and I gathered at our family farm for a 10 day stay. Dad was scheduled for a heart procedure and we expected to sit in the hospital waiting room for a few hours then bring him home. We could spend the rest of the week visiting and reconnecting. The surgery didn’t go as planned so we ended up staying at the hospital overnight. The next morning Leisa and I drove to the farm. We’d had very little sleep in the last few days and desperately needed showers and actual beds for a few hours.

Dori asked us to feed her dogs while we were there. She had a chocolate lab, a dobie, an Anatolian shepherd, a husky, and a mastiff—her babies were huge! They had doggie-door access to the yard for potty breaks and bark-at-nothing episodes, but their mealtime regimen is strict: “Pretty eats in her crate out of the purple bowl. Mary uses the stainless steel bowl and eats on the back porch. Oh, and give her two green pills in a spoon full of peanut butter. Java gets extra kibble….”

Ok. So we’ll take care of them, then it’ll be quiet and we can get some sleep.

We pulled into the driveway. Strangeno dogs outside and no barking. There was also a slight skunk odor in the air. I hope they don’t have a skunk cornered in the barn.

We stepped out of the car. The skunk odor was stronger. Ugh. It’s got to be in the garage or under the house. But still no dogs. Very strange!

As we opened the back door to the house, the skunk odor hit us like a ton of bricks. Whoa! Walking further into the house, we finally found the dogs. Five happy faces greeted us in the dining room—three furry babies lying peacefully on the floor and two standing guard over a dog bed in the far corner. Almost perfectly intact and nicely displayed on the comfy, brand new dog bed—the skunk!

Leisa freaked and ran toward the back door, screaming, “Whadda we do? Who do we call?”

I stepped in front of her and grabbed her shoulders—y’know… sort of like a Thanks-I-Needed-That slap. I yelled, “Nobody to call! We’ve got to do this ourselves!”

The dogs reeked! First priority—get them out of the house. To do that, we had to get them interested in something besides their newfound play-toy. Ok… food. But at that point, we’d completely forgotten the feeding regimen. We drug five huge crates out of the house and into the garage, filled a bowl with food for each dog, and enticed them—one by one—away from the skunk. With crate latches secured, we tackled the carnage in the dining room.

Eeeww! A dead animal! How do we get it out of the house without touching it? How do we sleep in the stink once it’s gone? We grabbed cleaning supplies, rubber gloves, window fans, and the closest, long-handled garden tools—anything we could use to clean up the mess while keeping our distance from that dead thing. Did I mention Eeeww?

On closer inspection, we realized that the skunk’s claws were imbedded in the dog bed. Oh great! No way to move it separately. So using the garden tools, we scooped up the bundle between us and headed out the front door. Halfway down the porch steps, it over balanced and flipped onto its side almost hitting our feet. Freaky! That’s when in an adrenaline rush, we grabbed the corners of the bed and flung it across the yard where it landed upside down in the bean field. Fine! Let it get plowed underwe’ll buy Dori another one.

Then we went back in the house to scrub the dining room. Luckily the bedroom doors had been closed the whole time so the smell wasn’t too bad there—but what about the rest of the house? That’s where the fans came in. Positioned in open windows and set on exhaust, they did a wonderful job of directing the smell away—and as an added bonus; they muffled the sounds of whimpering dogs who thought they were being terribly mistreated.

Dori complained later that we’d left the garden tools in the front yard for everybody to see. “What will the neighbors think?” Plus the fact that there was a dog bed in the bean field… Guess you can take the girls out of the country but you can’t take the hick out of the girls.

American-Gothic-By-Grant-WoodThe scene reminds me of the famous painting, American Gothic. But instead of a stoic couple standing in front of a farmhouse… substitute two crazed, middle-aged women—complete with stringy hair and dark bags under their eyes—holding not only a pitchfork but also a bright red snow shovel.

All we wanted was some sleep!

It’s been nice chatting with you all. I look forward to hearing from you soon—Over the Back Fence. Tell me your ideas about turning your memories into keepsakes. I’d love to help!