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Insects and amphibians

By now the odds are in our favor that Nevah and I dodged the CV bullet with our trip to Minnesota for our grandson’s wedding. Ten days have passed and we’re still on our feet. So, we’ll simply be thankful that our little venture turned out okay — so far.

•••

I’ll return to my column theme of recounting the ways and activities that occupied my playtime during my callow youth six and seven decades ago.

I’ve recalled another kind of insect that I and my neighborhood friends played with. It was the polyphemus moth. It is a huge moth about 3-inches-inches long and wide and it has a long curled-up mouthpiece at least 2-inches long.

The moths would begin flying at dusk to feed on the white funnel-shaped flowers of the jimpson weed that populated everyone’s cow yard. Our neighbor still milked his cows outdoors in the evenings. When I wuz playing at that farm, his son and I would arm ourselves with sticks or laths and try to whack the big moths as they flitted from flower to flower and plant to plant.

Anyone familiar with jimpson weed will know its growth pattern is much like a deer or elk antler — one fork leading to another fork and then to another. It wuz about as much fun to whack down on the main stem fork of a jimpson weed plant and split it in two as it was to make contact with a polyphemus moth. Our fathers never complained about this play because jimpson weeds were a barnyard nuisance that produced huge prickly burrs with scads of seeds.

•••

Now I’ll switch from insect playthings to amphibian playthings — frogs and toads. When I wuz a kid, frogs and toads of many kinds were abundant and common. That’s not true today.

Bullfrogs were the “King of Frogs” to me and my friends because they were big, bad, best tasting and abundant. Every pond, lake or stream had a healthy population of bull frogs.

In the summer, we kids would take to the waterways with flashlights and gunny sacks during the early night seeking enuf bullfrogs to make a couple of family meals of fried froglegs.

Our means of harvesting bullfrogs were several. One friend had a regular frog gig. Another had a fishing net. Another had a 22-rifle loaded with birdshot. We all had BB guns. We all had cane fishing poles. And we all had our two hands.

On the little limestone streams in southeast Kansas, we would wade the middle of the stream and look for bullfrog eyes shining back at us from the banks. We’d sneak up as close as possible, blinding the frog with the light, and try to kill or catch it. If successful, we’d toss it into the wet gunny sack.

On ponds, we mostly had to stay on the banks and out of the water. But, whether it wuz night or day, we carried our cane poles with a little scrap of rag fabric fastened on a hook tied to the end of the string. If we could get close enuf to dangle the rag scrap in front of a bullfrog, it would instinctively hop onto it to eat it and get hooked. If we couldn’t get close enuf for the pole, the 22-rifle with birdshot or the BB gun did the trick, but we often had to wade into the pond to retrieve the dead frog.

I recall the fried frog legs as a delicious treat from our normal fare, and it wuz fun for a kid like me to watch the froglegs twitch while they were frying in the pan.

•••

I don’t know which kid first heard about the Calaveras County jumping frog contest in California, but we learned about it somehow and to us kids, it wuz a contest well worth duplicating.

So, a friend and I would catch any frog — bullfrog, leopard frog, green frog, or a pond peeper. Then we would in some way demark the boundary of the frog jumping contest. Then we would each simultaneously drop our frog at the middle starting spot and see whose frog leaped the fastest across the boundary.

A subset of the contest wuz to try and measure the longest first leap of our frogs. It wuz a very inexact science, so, naturally, it lead to hard feelings for the loser — especially if we were betting pennies, nickels, or pieces of penny candy.

•••

Looking back on our playing, I and my friends likely contributed locally to the decline of frog and reptile populations. But, of course, wildlife conservation wuz the farthest thing from our little minds. Our only criteria was one — wuz it fun.

Every snake we found became a dead snake — just because it wuz a snake. We weren’t much more benevolent to horned frog lizards, collard lizards, skinks and newts.

Crawdads were fun to seine for fish bait or catch by hand by overturning stones in the clear streams. Or, in muddy terrace ponds or ditches, we “fished” for crawdads with strips of bacon or chicken entrails. If we caught enuf big ones, we boiled them alive like lobsters and ate the shelled tails.

•••

I’ll close this week with an observation about the horrific wildfires in the western states. The incompetent politicians would like you to believe the fires are caused by climate change. I think they are covering their rears because the real reason for the fires is paying attention to the avid environmentalists for decades and disregarding scientific timber and land management. In order to “save” a few endangered species and sequester carbon, they mandated to quit thinning forests, abolished controlled burns to rid the forest floor of fuel, banished cattle and sheep from eating the grasses that fuel fires, abandoned fire lanes and roads.

Well, it turns out, we’re all paying the high price for their high-minded forest mismanagement. All the timber is gone, most of the wildlife is incinerated, the endangered species have most likely been wiped out. The forest floor is scorched. And all the carbon the environmentalists were going to save from getting into the air is kaput. We’re breathing the smoky air in Kansas and eastward. Way to go, know-it-alls.

Have a better ‘un. ❖

Road trip to Minnesota

So far, crossing our fingers and knocking on my wooden forehead has worked to keep ol’ Nevah and I from coming down with the CV. If we stay lucky that way, then our five-night trip to the Twin Cities in Minnesota last week for our Colorado grandson’s wedding was a pleasant trip to enjoy family and friends and share in he and his fiancee’s signature event. If our luck runs out, we were foolhardy.

We avoided motels both coming and going by overnighting with my good sheep-shearing friend, ol’ Nick deHyde, and his family near Boone, Iowa. While in Minnesota, we stayed in an AirBnB in a southwest suburb of Minneapolis, near Lake Minnetonka.

We never ventured even close to all the rioting and looting that’s happened recently in that city.

The wedding went off without a hitch at a scenic venue — a local vineyard, apple orchard and winery owned by friends of our new grand-daughter-in-law’s family. I wuz struck by how heavy the fall apple and grape harvest is going to be there, since I’ve not picked one single apple, pear, apricot, or cherry from our fruit trees here at Damphewmore Acres in two years.

Here comes a short travelogue about our trip — and our observations. We left on Thursday morning and traveled through Kansas City, to St. Joseph and on through Des Moines and up to just south of Boone.

On Friday we took I-35 north toward the Twin Cities, but dodged west and avoided most of the city traffic. We had a close two-family meal that evening hosted by the bride’s family. They live right on Lake Minnetonka, so after supper, we all got an evening tour of the lake on the family’s nice boat.

On Saturday, we frittered away the day at the AirBnB, playing cards with the grandkids until time for the early evening wedding rehearsal and dinner again at the bride’s family. We got the chance to meet our new Tennessee grandson-in-law for the first time, since we skipped that wedding last month. That evening, we tanked up again on fine food and a wide choice of Minnesotan’s favorite beverages.

The wedding wuz Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the winery. It wuz a big, outdoor affair with a fine high view of a small vineyard backed by an arm of one of Minnesota’s famous lakes. The state’s CV restrictions put a bit of a damper on the post wedding festivities and dance, but everyone still had a fine time. Many of our new grand-daughter-in-law’s extended family still live and farm in eastern South Dakota so I felt right at home meeting and visiting with them.

That night the fall season’s first cold front moved through with drizzly rain. On Monday, our Tennessee family had an early flight home so they left the B&B at 7:30 a.m. and Nevah and I shut the place down at 9 a.m. and headed home.

We took the long way home and went southwest to New Ulm, Minn., where I bought two cases of the famous Schell’s Brewery Deer Brand beer — one regular and one light. It’s a heavy, yeasty, tasty beer that I can’t buy in Kansas. And, it has the most beautiful beer cans ever made. From New Ulm we went mostly straight south into Iowa and back down to the deHydes for our second overnighter.

Here are two of my main observation’s about the trip. First, the crop, tree and building damage from the recent derecho storm that swept across Iowa, Illinois and into Indiana was inimaginable. The worst damage started narrow on the ground and got wider as it went east. It started just a few miles west of Luther, Iowa. The damage makes you sick — grain bins crunched like aluminum beer cans, some old barns collapsed, huge trees and power lines snapped off, and field after field of flattened corn.

The corn damage wuz variable. In the most mature fields the stalks were broken off or flattened like flood waters had hit them. The green, later maturing fields fared much better in most places. The soybean fields fared much better because the plants were green and closer to the ground.

Many farmers had already shredded and tilled their corn fields. Some have baled the stalks. For the rest of them, the fall corn harvest will be a tangled-up mess with low yields. Most likely, many fields of stalks will be grazed.

Nevah and I were sure glad we’d moved from the area 16 years ago. If you saw the pictures of the huge grain bins crunched off their foundations at the co-op in Luther, Iowa., that wuz 3 miles east of our home when we lived there. Thankfully, the deHydes and all our other friends just suffered unbelievable tree damage, but little damage to homes, barns, and outbuildings.

My second observation, and surprising to me, is that on the entire trip we saw hundreds of front yards with political signs — and not a single one for Biden. All for Trump. We had to laugh at the effort one Minnesota farmer had made to make his political preference known. He’d mowed down a patch of corn along the highway and parked a big yellow school bus in the middle. Then he’d somehow lifted a full-size old Chevy Suburban on the roof of the bus and painted “Trump — 2020” in 3-foot letters on its side.

On Tuesday, we drove home through Council Bluff, Nebraska City, Neb., Auburn, Neb., Topeka and home. It drizzled or rained on us all the way.

•••

Next week, I plan to resume my recollections of playtime and playthings from my callow youth.

Until then, here are this week’s words of wisdom: “It can takes weeks, months, or even years to fall in love with someone, but it never takes more than a minute to fall in love with a cute puppy.”

Have a good ‘un. ❖

Fun with insects

From the feedback I’ve gotten the past two weeks, some readers are enjoying my current column theme — describing how I as a kid entertained myself back in the 1940s, ’50, and ’60s.

Last week I described how I used insects in playful diversions. After I got through writing that column, other “insect memories” emerged from a dark recess of my mind. The first recollection involved playing with carpenter ants.

Most folks probably recall that carpenter ants were big black ants — about 1/2-inch long with huge mandibles — that foraged up and down big shady tree trunks. They were quite quick and nimble — which provided a challenge to a kid like me. And, they’d take a bite of finger if you gave them a chance.

First, I wondered if carpenter ants would be able to escape the “funnel trap” that antlions — commonly called “doodlebugs” — build in fine dust or sand.

For a refresher to those who don’t know what an antlion is, here’s what wikipedia says: “The antlions are a group of about 2,000 species of insect in the order Neuroptera, known for the fiercely predatory habits of their larvae, which in many species dig pits to trap passing ants or other prey.”

To this day, I have hundreds of doodlebug sand traps of all sizes up to 2-inches across in the dust of my old sheds at Damphewmore Acres. I can tell you from experience that doodlebugs can still enthrall little kids.

But, back to my childhood story. I would capture a big carpenter ant on a tree trunk and drop it into an antlion sand trap. The carpenter ants couldn’t escape from a big doodlebug, but they could from small ones. I entertained myself for hours with this activity.

But, then I decided to challenge myself and see if I could build an earthen pit that carpenter ants could not escape from. For this challenge, I appropriated a big spoon from Mom’s silverware drawer. Naturally, this was without her knowledge or permission.

Then I found a cool spot in the shade where the soil wuz moist, but not muddy. If it wuz dry everywhere, I would fetch water and make my own moist soil. Then I would carefully use Mom’s tablespoon to dig a pit into the soil about 2-3 inches deep and see if carpenter ants could escape from my pit.

They could until I perfected the pit by shaping it not like a funnel, but exactly like a jug or bottle — with a small hole in the top and sharply crafted “shoulders.” With a trap like that, most carpenter ants could climb up the sides, but would fall back into the trap when they tried to navigate the sloping shoulders.

You’d be surprised how much time a kid like me could kill with this activity.

•••

Another insect-related “fun” activity for me and my pals were trying to swat “wood bees” — officially “carpenter bees” — with wooden slats. Wood bees are destructive of wooden buildings because they drill holes into the rafters in which they lay eggs and raise their young.

Neighborhood boys and I would entertain ourselves swatting wood bees out of the air — not an easy task with a thin and narrow slat. We thought we were in a danger zone of being stung, but I found out as an adult that males have no stingers and females will sting you only if you directly handle them. However, as a kid, “sting danger” added an exciting element to the game.

I recall that our dads encouraged this play activity because it helped reduce building damage. To this day, I fight wood bees in my sheds at Damphewmore Acres, but I use a stringed racquetball racquet instead of a wooden slat.

•••

Still another insect related play activity was destroying hornet paper nests in the woods. Now, this play definitely had a real danger because if you goofed up, you could get numerous painful hornet stings.

We kids pursued this activity while riding our horses in the woods. We carried 22-rifles in our saddle scabbards so we could blaze away at anything we pleased. It probably wuzn’t safe. It certainly wuzn’t ethical. But, we didn’t care.

When we discovered a paper hornet’s nest, we would survey the situation and try to find a safe angle of attack. If it wuz a high nest, our goal wuz to sever the thin “neck” of the nest that attached it to the limb with a well-placed 22-caliber bullet — an almost impossible task. When that failed, we simply fired rounds into the nest to rile up the hornets, then we fled as fast as our horses could take us. Eventually, one friend brought a single-shot shotgun for the task. Still on occasion, we’d get stung.

If the hornet nest wuz hanging low enough to hit with a club, then we were provided a much more exciting and dangerous course of action. One of us would thunder under the nest on horseback and use a club to knock the nest out of the tree. We could be assured that a cloud of angry hornets would emerge from the destroyed nest and try to exact stinging revenge of us perpetrators.

Of course, if a hornet stung your horse with you astride it, then the danger wuz, in fact, real. You can imagine how a horse reacts to a hornet sting. You’d better have a good grip on the saddle horn. That happened once in a while.

•••

Words of wisdom for the week: “If you’re sitting by yourself, masked up, in a public place and someone invades your ‘safe pandemic social distance,’ just stare seriously straight ahead and whisper loudly out of the corner of your mouth, ‘Did you bring the money?’” You’ll quickly be safe distanced again.

Have a good ‘un. ❖

More outdoor play

I’m continuing with my theme of “how did I play as a kid growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.” This is in answer to parents questions of how to keep their kids occupied during the CV pandemic.

Well, first off, as I recall, my parents didn’t really get too involved in how I passed the time when I wuz a kid. They were too involved in trying to make a hard-scrabble living on a small diversified farm. So, it was up to me and/or the neighbor kids to find our own playtime diversions.

So, I’ll start off with what I did during silo-filling time. During my youth, at various times as we moved from rented farm to rented farm, before buying a farm, we had both an upright stave silo and a dirt trench-silo.

Since I was too small to actually work in the field, I assigned myself the dirty job (although I never realized it at the time) of helping the two elder guys who were “packing the silage” in the upright silo. It wuz dirty because every load of corn or milo silage the blower swooshed into the silo caused such a “hurricane” of swirling pieces of silage that we three “packers” wore handkerchiefs over our faces.

After we finished tramping and packing each load of silage, we’d get a few minutes to recover and rest. That’s when the two old grizzled “packers” would dare me to climb up the ladder in the silo chute to open windows and jump into the semi-soft silage. Each window I went up increased the jump down by probably 4 feet. As I recall, I took their dares up to three windows, which would be a jump down of 12 feet.

The old silage vets didn’t worry themselves one whit about me hurting myself jumping down. They just enjoyed the dares. Also, during the rests between loads, they swapped “juicy” and ribald stories with nary a care about my tender young ears. Up in a silo was were I learned the cuss words that I could never use at home.

Another upright silo play activity wuz to build a bunch of paper airplanes of different designs, then climb the chute ladder clear to the top of the silo — I’m guessing at least 60 feet — and tossing the airplanes into the air to see which “design” would fly the farthest. It wuz a great way to entertain myself and I don’t recall any adult ever warning me how dangerous it wuz for a kid to climb to the top of a silo and pitch out paper airplanes.

•••

Moving along to my play inside a dry, dusty, scorchingly hot earthen trench or pit silo in the summer of 1955, just after sixth grade. It wuz an intense drought year and the crops were burnt up. My Dad, ol’ Czar E. Yield, wuz trying to salvage a droughty grain sorghum crop by filling a newly-dug pit silo. Again, I wuz staying with the silage packer (with a tractor) in the silo. During the break between silage loads, I would entertain myself by conducting life and death mountain climbing contests with — are you ready for this? — grasshoppers.

The landscape that summer wuz filled with hordes of big, juicy grasshoppers. I, of course, hated the insects for the damage they did to our crops and garden. So, I amused myself by capturing two big grasshoppers. If you don’t know it, grasshoppers will “kick off” their big back legs if you squeeze the legs at the joint. So, after I’d eliminated the back legs of the two “contestants,” I’d put them side by side on the crumbly dirt on the side of the pit silo.

The inclination of the “by-now-non-hoppers” wuz to climb upwards using only their four front legs. Eventually, one of them would encounter a place of sufficiently loose soil that it would lose its footing and drop to the floor of the silo. That’s when the “loser” paid the ultimate price. I squashed it with my calloused bare foot. Then I caught another combatant and renewed the mountain climbing contest.

My self-made rule wuz that if a grasshopper could “win” three consecutive mountain climbs, it got a reprieve from me and I turned it loose. Of course, it still was absent its back legs, so, in retrospect, it wuzn’t much of a reprieve.

•••

Of course, in late summer the annual grasshopper crop made for great fishing bait. I would go out just after dark with a flashlight, into a tall bunch of horseweeds, and catch a Prince Albert metal tobacco can full of grasshoppers for bait the next day. Dad didn’t smoke, but we had a neighbor who did and he supplied the Prince Albert can.

The grasshoppers were superior bait for the bluegills, “black perch,” channel catfish, bullhead catfish, “punkin seeds,” and bass in local ponds or the upper reaches of the clear, limestone Marmaton River.

•••

Sticking to the insect theme, lightning bugs were play things for me as a kid. I would catch them in the evening and smear their “light” on my ring finger. The only really bad thing about catching lightning bugs in the grass is that I always “caught” an irritating bunch of red chigger bites, too. But, that didn’t deter me.

•••

Got a phone call from a faithful 82-year-old reader from central Kansas, near Hutchinson, as I recall. The caller told me this story:

He got a new pair of strong reading glasses and thought they really made his muscles look big, strong and rippling. But then he, sadly, realized that he wuz merely looking at his “magnified” wrinkles.

•••

Time for the weekly words of wisdom. These come from a bumper snicker:

“Because of Covid, for the first time since 1945, the National Spelling Bee has been cancil … cancul .. cansel … It’s been called off.”

Have a ‘gud” ‘un. ❖

Collecting coyote ears

Every evening, the CEO of a large bank drives in his Range Rover from work in downtown to his estate “ranchette” in the far suburbs. Every evening he drives past a ramshackled produce stand with a sign that reads, “Smith’s Fruit and Veggies.” Almost every evening the banker stops to buy some fresh produce.

One evening as the banker is making his purchase, Smith, the stand’s sweat-stained owner, asks the banker: “What do you think about the situation in the stock market? Is it going to keep rising until the election in November?’

The banker replies arrogantly: “Why are you so interested in that topic?

“I have a million dollars in your bank,” the produce guy says, “and I’m considering investing some of the money in the capital market.”

“What’s your name?” asks the banker.

“John H. Smith,” the produce guy answers.

When the banker arrives at the bank the next morning, he asks the manager of the Customer Department, “Do we have a client named John H. Smith?”

“Certainly,” answers the customer service manager. “He is a highly esteemed customer. And, he has a million dollars in his account.”

That evening, the banker stops at the produce stand and says to the owner, “Mr. Smith. Would you ride with me to the bank tomorrow morning and be my guest of honor at our board meeting and tell us the story of your life? I am sure we can learn something of value from you.”

Smith agrees to the appearance at the board meeting, and the banker introduces him to the board members: “Mr Smith, who owns and operates a fruit and vegetable stand, is also our esteemed customer with over a million dollars in his account. I invited him to tell us his story. I am sure we can learn from him.”

Mr. Smith, still wearing his sweat and fruit-stained apron, tells this story: “I came to this country 50 years ago as a young immigrant with an unpronounceable name. I arrived without a penny. The first thing I did was change my name to Smith. I was hungry and exhausted. I started wandering around looking for a job, but to no avail. Suddenly I found a dollar bill on the sidewalk. I bought an apple. I had two options: eat the apple and quench my hunger or start a business. I sold the apple for two dollars and bought two more apples with the money. I also sold them and continued in business.

“When I started accumulating dollars,” he continued, “I took English lessons and was able to rent a garden spot in the suburbs and buy some seeds and fruit tree seedlings. I didn’t spend a penny on entertainment or clothing. I just bought bread and cheese to survive. I saved penny by penny and after a while, I bought some new gardening tools and equipment, and bought my own land, and expanded my clientele by erecting my own produce stand from used lumber.

“I did not spend a penny on the joys of life,” he continued. “I kept saving every penny. A few years ago, I was able to buy a produce stand on a busy corner because I was frugal and had already saved enough money.

“Finally, three months ago,” Smith concluded, “My brother, who was a lawyer-lobbyist in Washington, D.C., died suddenly and left me a small portion of his wealth — a million dollars, which I deposited in your bank.”

•••

Last week, I started describing ways we country kids played and passed the time when we were youngsters without anything fancier than a used bicycle and a riding horse, if you were lucky like me. I had use of, but didn’t own, a favorite horse, an ugly, but high spirited, gray horse named “Mousey.” She was small, about 13 hands high, but could go all day with plenty of energy to spare. She had hard hooves and never needed shoeing, in spite of covering many a mile on gravel roads.

In the spring, a favorite pass-time was to get with a school buddy and ride our horses every weekend looking for dens of coyote puppies. We were eager to find them because, at the time, the county paid a $2 bounty on coyotes. We had to cut the ears off the coyotes and turn them in to the county treasurer. I remember she always turned up her nose and looked disgusted as she paid us the bounty. She never actually counted the ears and I suspect we could have lied about the number of bounties we were due — and gotten away with our ruse.

I can recall that we actually found three dens of coyote pups, but one of them wuz a pure bonanza becuz under a large flat limestone rock were actually two litters of coyote pups. One older litter of six and one younger litter of eight.

When I collected my half of the $28 bounty money, I thought I wuz in hog heaven becuz those were the days when my favorite “jawbreakers” and other candies, and candy cigarettes, too, sold for 1-cent a piece.

•••

One time I actually kept a coyote pup as a pet, but it went wild as a young adult and never actually made a good pet. I can’t even recall the name I gave it.

I also had a pet fox when some neighbors dug out a den of foxes. I named it Freddy and it wuz friendly, but Freddy’s teeth were so sharp that he could draw blood while playing with you.

Freddy was impossible to keep in a pen. He’d dig out or chew through any pen I made. Finally, I put him on a chain attached to my Mom’s clothes line. Alas, Freddy proved himself a crafty predator on Mom’s free-range chickens and I had to give Freddy to the zoo in Chanute, Kan.,

•••

Words of wisdom for the week: “Don’t trust everything. Salt looks like sugar.” Have a good ‘un. ❖

Childhood games played at school

During the CV crisis while multi-generational family members are spending more time together, and the adults are seeking ways to keep the kids and grandkids happy and busy, this question has arisen: “How did kids play back in the ‘good ol’ days’ when the parents and grandparents were growing up?

So, I’m going to address that question with actual ways I played back in the 1940s and 1950s, essentially through high school. I have few recollections of play before I started in the first grade at the age of 5 at a one-room schoolhouse — the South Fairview School south of Bronson in Bourbon County, Kan.

The games we played outdoors at recess and at lunch time included:

• Of course, the school had playground equipment that included a merry-go-round, monkey bars, a teeter-totter, a swing set, and two basketball goals on either end of a tiny gravel/dirt court. And, during good weather, many kids rode their bicycles to school. There were around 20 kids in the school in all eight grades.

• “Handy, Handy Over” which consisted of selecting teams and tossing a ball over the schoolhouse roof and, if the ball was cleanly caught by a team member, that person ran to the other side of the school and tried to hit a member of the opposite team, who then became a teammate. The winning team was the one with the most members when recess or the lunch period was over.

• “Hide and Seek” or “Cut the Icebox” were similar games with one student, who was “It,” hiding his/her eyes at a “base” and the rest hiding somewhere on the school-grounds. Students tried to successfully get back to “base” without getting touched by the “It.” A student touched by “It” then became “It” and had to hide his/her eyes for the next game.

• “Blackman/Whiteman:” This game — which would assuredly be banned in the modern politically correct world based upon its name only — consisted of selecting two teams. One team was the “black” team. The other “white” team. A long line made in the dirt on the playground divided the playground into two halves — one side for each team. Then two “bases” were made, each one probably 100 feet behind the midline on both sides and a little kid (like me) was designated by each team as “bait” and made to stand on the opposing team’s base. The object of the game was for some member of your team to successfully run from the midline, around the “bait” and back in an arc to the midline without getting touched by a member of the opposing team. It that happened, then the “bait” was free to join his/her team and another “bait” was named.

• “Drop the Handkerchief” consisted of everyone standing in a big circle. One person was “It” and started the game by running around the outside of the circle and dropping a large handkerchief behind someone in the circle. That person had to pick up the handkerchief, and run around the circle in the opposite direction the try to beat “It” to the blank spot in the circle. If “It” won that race, the person with the handkerchief then started the game again.

• When it snowed, we played “Fox & Geese,” which consisted of stomping three concentric circles in the snow with a “safe home base” circle in the middle. We also stomped several “spokes” in the snow wheel connecting the concentric circles. Some student started the game as the “Fox.” The rest were Geese. The point of the game was for the geese to leave safe “home base” and run around the circles without getting caught by the “Fox.” If a student was caught, he/she became the “Fox” and continued the game.

As an aside, I remember one day as one of the youngest students in school, I got disgusted at always being picked on and usually being the first person to lose in Hide and Seek. So, when it was time for me to hide, I snuck up the road ditch way west of the schoolhouse and buried myself in some tall grass.

Well, no one could find me. I could hear the other kids and the school teacher, Mrs. Martina Street (she was an excellent teacher) hollering my name and for me to “come in free.” After what seemed to me a long time, I finally uncurled from my hidey-hole and went back to the school. That’s when I discovered that Mrs. Street wuz highly agitated at my leaving the school-grounds. I’d held up the start of afternoon classes because everyone was out looking for my little obstinate butt.

In the wintertime, when it wuz too cold for recess or lunch outdoors, we students huddled close to the big Ben Franklin Warm Morning coal-fired stove and played games. One popular game for playing on the floor was “Jacks.” There were stages of complicated maneuvers in playing Jacks and the older kids were pretty skillful.

We also played “Fiddle Sticks” in which you carefully dropped a hand-full of “Fiddle Sticks,” colored wooden sticks about 8-inches long with pointed ends. The object was to pick up all the Fiddle Sticks you could without moving another one. We kept score because different colored sticks had different numerical values.

Card games were common. The ones I remember playing were Old Maid, Authors, Rummy, Concentration and Hearts. Some older students played Canasta.

Next week, I’ll try to recall creative non-school play that could only happen on a farm.

•••

This week I’m gonna close with some wise adult truths: Nothing is worse than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind-of tired.

I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

Bad decisions make good stories.

Have a good ‘un. ❖

Picture perfect weather

I’ve got some startling news from Damphewmore Acres. We’ve got pink naked ladies standing proudly in many places in our yard. They are one of my favorite flowers, not only for their look, but also because of their catchy name.

I looked their formal scientific name up on the internet. Here’s what it said about the flower: Amaryllis Belladonna have fragrant light-pink flowers that appear in mid-August once their green foliage has died back, giving them the common name of “Naked Ladies.” It’s more fun to talk about Naked Ladies in my yard than to use the scientific name.

•••

Something is up with the long-term weather. First, we had about two weeks of “mountain morning” air in the Flint Hills. The humidity was low. The temperature got down into the low 60s or high 50s at night and the mid-80s to high 70s during the days. Plus, we got some welcome gentle rains for the crops.

I don’t know whether it was the weather, but something prompted our flock of purple martins to leave the last week of July. I really like purple martins and wish they’d stay longer. They got here late in the spring and left early this summer. Hope their early leaving is not a prognostication of an early and bad winter.

•••

I’ve got plenty of family and friends to share my plethora of tomatoes and peppers with, but I need more folks who like to eat okra. It’s coming on strong and I’m gonna have a big surplus.

I planted some fall green beans and some fall radishes in raised garden beds yesterday. If Jack Frost holds off until after Oct. 10, the green beans will have time to mature.

•••

I took the two neighbor boys, actually young men, with me Monday to go fishing in a pond I’d treated three weeks ago for a pond weed and algae problem. The weather wuz perfect. The water wuz now perfect. And, the fish were biting nicely. We filled a medium-sized cooler with fish to fillet.

Hard to have a better day in August in the Flint Hills.

•••

The old saying goes that when it rains it pours, and that’s the truth when it comes to mechanical failures. This past week, I had to have a faulty garage door replaced. Then the shifting linkage on my tractor shot craps and I’ve invited my favorite mechanic, ol’ G. Reecy Nuckels, to come fix the gear-shifting problem.

In addition, when I took my pickup, utility vehicle, and two-wheeled trailer into the shop for belated routine maintenance, Reecy told me my UTV will need some major front end work in the near future, and that he had to replace the bearings on the trailer, not just pack them with grease as I’d requested.

Then when Nevah drove me in her SUV to pick up my vehicle at the shop, a traction warning light came on in the dash. So, we just left her SUV at Reecy’s shop and he’s fixing it today.

•••

I got a surprise last weekend when the doorbell rang and it wuz my Colorado retired-carpenter buddy, ol’ Sawyer Bord. He wuz traveling from near Mankato, Minn., where he had been fishing, down to visit his two cousins, who farm near here. We had a good visit. It’s always good to visit with friends.

•••

Kansas had its primary election this week. Most of the folks I voted for won their primaries.

Speaking of elections, if I’ve got my facts correct, the current federal law says you must know English to become a citizen. If that’s true, then why are foreign language ballots even printed?

•••

I didn’t think any good could come from everyone isolating in their homes. But, I wuzn’t thinking soundly. Consider that mosquitoes have to have blood to drink to reproduce. Well, then, logically, if we all stay indoors a bit longer, maybe we can starve mosquitoes into extinction.

That action alone would go a long way toward uniting all humanity. Who loves mosquitoes and the diseases they carry?

•••

Overheard at the Old Boars’ Breakfast Club: “Have you noticed how the lame stream media has quit calling AR-15s “assault” weapons ever since rioters and looters started carrying them? Guess now they are just peaceful protest props.”

•••

Today is one of those days when one of the really bad things about aging slaps you in the face. Sadly, if you live long enuf, you will have to attend a lot of your good friend’s funerals or memorial services.

I got the sad news this morning that my good friend Morris, or “Mocephus” as I fondly nicknamed him, died after a long and painful bout with a lung disease. He was a best friend with whom I enjoyed drinking coffee, fishing, playing cards, and just ruminating about life and the world in general.

“Mo” will be sorely missed, but his memory carries on. RIP, Good Friend.

•••

Words of wisdom for the week: Quit arguing with stupid people. Be content to leave them alone with their ignorance. Have a good ‘un. ❖

New COVID-19 test

Any new medical breakthrough in the COVID-19 pandemic is good news. And, I’m proud to be the first to announce another major advancement in the accurate diagnosis of CV cases.

It’s been known for quite some time that two of the most common symptoms of CV cases are the losses of the senses of smell and taste.

Well, let me be the first to tell you about a new accurate CV test, and it’s been strongly approved and endorsed by an internationally known group of doctors from Tennessee and Kentucky and overseas.

The CV test will allow healthy adults over the age of 21 to test themselves for coronavirus infection. The test consists of purchasing a large bottle of Tennessee Sipping Whiskey, a similar bottle of Kentucky Bourbon, or a similar bottle of Scotch whiskey. Then, open the bottle and take a sniff. If you can smell the contents, it’s 90 percent proof that you are CV free. However, to be 100 percent proof that you are CV free, pour yourself a jigger of the bottle contents and take a sip. If you can taste the sip, you are absolutely free of the virus and free to finish the jigger.

Prominent Kentucky names among the group of doctors endorsing this CV test are: Jim Beam, J. W. Gant, I. W. Harper, W. Turkey, Basil Hayden, Maker Mark, O. Forester, Woodford Res, Elija Crait, Evan Williams, J.T.S. Brown, O. Fitzgerald, Johnny Drum, Noah Mill, Ezra Brooks, O. Barton, George T. Stagg, Rip. V. Winkle, W. L. Weller, and George Moon.

Prominent Tennessee names of endorsees include: Jack Daniels, George Dickel, Benjamin Prichard, Tom Moore, Thomas H. Handy, Collier McKeel, H. Clark, Nelson Greenbriar, and “Doc” Collier.

Prominent names from the overseas are Johnny Walker, Ben Nevis, Ben Wyvis, Blair Athol, Glen Albyn, Glen Adverson, Glen Elgin, Lock Lomond, Mac Duff, Alex Ferguson, Bullock Lade, Cutty Sark, Dan Macfarlane, Peter Dawson, Duncan Taylor. and Hankey Bannister.

It’s a southern comfort to me to know such a group of prominent doctors has developed this fool-proof CV test.

•••

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am not very mechanical minded. I’m not handy with my hands. I can’t put a motor in a car or pickup. I can hammer a nail without bending it. I can’t replace oil without spilling it. You get the picture.

That’s why I’m glad to report that I have finally found something mechanical that I can do easily and well.

I’ve discovered that I am really proficient at putting an old rear end in an old reclining rocking chair.

•••

I’ve got more chicken flock news to report. Since the raccoons reduced my number of hens with chicks from three to two, I’ve been waiting for the remaining chicks to grow enuf that I can move both hens and chicks into the big hen house.

Then, one evening this week the two hens clearly didn’t want to go to roost for the night in the brooder house where the chicks were hatched. And, they were more than ready to head down into the main hen house. It took little effort.

Well, the next morning, I discovered why. I’d decided to clean out the brooder house and purchase some new pullet chicks at a discounted price at the local farm supply store. While I wuz putting fresh water and feed into the brooder house and adjusting the heat lamps, I happened to glance up into a corner of the house.

Whoa! I found myself face to face with a huge old black snake and I could see a big bump in his middle. I instantly knew why the hens had refused to enter the brooder house the evening before. The black snake had obviously killed and swallowed whole a 3-week old chick.

A hoe and a corn knife quickly put the marauding reptile into a warm, cozy place in my ever-growing compost pile.

Then I went to town and happily discovered that the price on the pullet chicks I wanted had been reduced to $1 each. They were originally $3.99 each. So, I bought 10 California White chicks, 10 Isa Brown chicks, and five Dominique chicks. They are happily settling into their new snake-free abode.

•••

We’ve had right at 5 inches of welcome rain in the past 10 days and every drop of it came soft and gentle — perfect for the area’s soybeans and for my garden.

I’m in gardening nirvana now because the tomatoes are coming on strong and I’m savoring bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches almost every day. Plus, I plop ripe red and yellow cherry tomatoes into my mouth straight off the vine when I’m in the garden every day.

I finished digging my spuds and pulled all the onions. We’re still canning a few jars of green beans. The peppers are maturing and we ate fresh stuffed peppers once this week. I pulled a couple dozen ears of sweet corn that I saved from the rampaging raccoons. The carrots are lush and ready to eat.

The dry bean vines have grown to the tip-top of their trellises and the sweet potato vines are already growing through the fence I have around them. The okra is blooming and I’ll soon be giving away okra. I’m gonna plant fall green beans and radishes as soon as I don’t have to slog through the mud in the garden.

•••

Words of wisdom for the week: When you lose your children in the house, turn off the wi-fi. They’ll come out immediately. Have a good ‘un. ❖

Stocking the freezer

Last weekend ol’ Nevah and I braved the COVID-gauntlet in the greater Kansas City area and traveled to Platte City to visit our friends Canby and May Bea Handy. Our purpose wuz two-fold: One, just get a respite from Damphewmore Acres for a spell, and, two, to pick up a quarter of beef that Canby had stashed in his deep freezer for us.

A couple of months ago we agreed to purchase a half-of-a-half of an Angus steer that Canby found growing in a feedlot near Savannah, Mo. The rancher regularly raised “locker” beef in a small feedlot and he had an inside track with a locker plant in St. Joseph, Mo., to do the processing.

The steer went to its demise on July 3, spent a couple of weeks aging in the locker plant’s cooler, and the meat wuz ready for pickup on July 17. Canby picked it up. Then, we arrived on July 19 to bring it home on the 20th.

After we arrived at the Handys on Sunday afternoon, ol’ Canby and I spent a couple of hours driving the rural roads around Platte City to admire the fine corn and soybean crops growing there. They’ve had regular and plentiful rains to keep their crops growing. We visited his sweet corn patch to bring home a few ears for supper. And, since his property adjoins a golf course, we drove up and found a couple of dozen wayward golf balls in his recently-baled hay meadow.

Our final stop was at the ranchette belonging to Canby’s daughter and son-in-law, ol’ Tom D. Keewee, who grew up in New Zealand. It wuz his family with whom I wuz sharing a half of beef. Since New Zealanders are closely aligned with the British and since the British are known for their meals made out of the internal organs of a beef critter, I jokingly offered him all of my share of the tongue, brains, liver, kidneys and heart in exchange for all of his loin-steaks. Sadly, he declined.

I haven’t had a chance yet to eat any of our new beef, but I hope it’s tasty, because it cost close to $6 per pound of wrapped beef in our deep freezer. At least I know my dollars went to a rancher and a local locker plant rather than a corporate beef giant. That’s worth a lot in my book.

•••

My “Coon War” is on-going. I’ve caught one more mature raccoon in a trap. They’ve killed no more baby chickens, but some critter made off with a mature rooster and a hen. Raccoons are the hottest suspects, although the chickens disappeared during daylight. Could have been a coyote or a bobcat.

However, the field of battle has shifted from the chicken house to the sweet corn patch. The raccoons raided my little corn patch before the corn ears were even mature enough for me to eat. So, I moved my traps and bait to the corn patch last night and nuthin’ happened. No corn damage. No raccoons. I’ll give it another go tonight.

•••

We got a nice 1.7-inch rain three days ago. It wuz welcome and put a smile on all the farmers and ranchers’ faces for a day or two.

July rains mostly good except for one negative. Rains keep the chiggers alive and they love to feast on me.

•••

The fish have quit biting here at Damphewmore Acres. At first, I couldn’t figger out why they quit biting. But, then, one evening I peered into the clear water off my fishing jetty and the answer was right before my eyes.

I spied a big bass, a big catfish and a big bluegill and they all were wearing a COVID mask over their mouths. Nuthin’ can eat with a CV-mask on.

•••

A rancher wuz hauling a cull cow to town when his rig broke down and he wuz walking on the highway shoulder for help when an over-the-road cattle hauler stopped his semi and offered to give the rancher a ride. As he climbed into the truck cab, and the road-weary driver said, “Perfect timing. You’re just like Archibald.”

The puzzled rancher said, “Who?”

Trucker: “Archibald Smith. He was a guy who did everything right all the time. Like my coming along just when you needed a ride. Things happened like that to Archibald every single time.”

Rancher: “There are always a few clouds over everybody.”

Trucker: “Not ol’ Archibald. He was a terrific athlete. He could have won the Grand-Slam at tennis. He could golf with the pros. He sang like an opera baritone and danced like a Broadway star. He owned a race horse and it always won.”

Rancher: “Sounds like he was something really special.”

Trucker: “There’s more. He had a memory like a computer. He remembered everybody’s birthday. He knew all about wine, which foods to order and which fork to eat them with. He could fix anything. And, he never, ever forgot to put the seat down. He wasn’t like me,” he continued. “I change a fuse, and the whole street blacks out. But ol’ Arch could do everything right.”

Rancher: “Wow, some guy, then.”

Trucker: “Arch always knew the quickest way to go in traffic. But, Arch, he never made a mistake driving. Didn’t even need a map or GPS. Really knew how to treat a woman and make her feel good, too. His clothing was always immaculate, shoes highly polished. He was the perfect man! He never made a mistake. No one could ever measure up to Archibald Smith.”

Rancher: “An amazing fellow. How did you meet ol’ Archibald?”

Trucker: “Well, I never actually met ol’ Archibald. He died and I made the mistake of marrying his widow.”

•••

Words of wisdom: Always marry a women who knows and accepts your faults. Have a good ‘un. ❖

Dang raccoons

I sadly have to report a massacre two days ago at Damphewmore Acres. The worst of my fears came true. I’ve reported before that it’s tough to raise chickens, because it seems every varmint on the planet thinks chicken is the “bestest” of free food. That statement is especially true of raccoons.

Let me give you a little background. I reported last week that I had three setting hens that hatched broods of nine, eight and eight chicks — a total of 25. Then I told last week about the prejudiced hen who committed “chickaside” on two chicks whose appearance differed from the rest. So, that brought the total down to 23.

After the three hens had gone through their fighting and henpecking to determine who was on top, middle and bottom of the avian hierarchy, the hen on the bottom ranks decided she’d had enuf bullying from the other two hens. So the first evening after I turned everything out to roam free, she and her eight chicks were waiting outside the door to the main chickenhouse. She wanted in.

That wuz fine with me becuz old hens are good at keeping other chickens away from their new chicks. I figgered the new chicks had a better chance of survival in the chicken house than they did among the bullies in the brooder house.

Now, the main chicken house has a converted all-weather metal screen door as the main entrance. Every spring I take the glass out of the door so the house will have better ventilation. But, with the glass out, it leaves about a 4-inch gap that has no screen or other protection. I never have had a problem before because the gap is too small for a mature chicken-eating varmint to squeeze through.

However, I miscalculated. Baby raccoons can slip through the gap. That’s what they did. They squeezed into the chickenhouse and killed and ate all eight baby chicks. The light was on in the chickenhouse. The mother hen must have put up a helluva fight to protect her babies. Her feathers were all over. However, she survived the attack, but all that wuz left of the chicks were a few tiny wings.

I wuz steamed. However, I did get a half-measure of revenge. I knew a big raccoon was forcing the lid off a metal garbage can and eating the whole corn I kept stored there as chicken feed. So, the night of the massacre, I baited a live trap to catch the feed-thief. And, by golly, the guilty party was caught in the live-trap the next morning and she wuz not happy about it.

So, I did what had to be done to assure the feed-thief will never return. However, I noticed that it was a sow raccoon who’d only recently weaned her babies. Perhaps that wuz why they were hungry enuf to kill the chicks in the hen house.

I don’t know where the murderous baby raccoons spend the day, but I betcha they will be back tonight for some more free food. However, I’ve fixed the henhouse door to they can’t squeeze in and I’’ll have three live traps waiting for them. With any luck, I’ll be able to extract my full measure of revenge tomorrow.

I like wildlife as much as anyone, but not chicken-killing wildlife. Chicken-killing is a capital offense at Damphewmore Acres and I’m the judge, jury and executioner.

•••

Last Sunday wuz a fun day. A cold-front moved through and dropped both the temperature and the humidity. It wuz a perfect day for cow-pasture pool.

So, I called my old Missouri buddy, Canby Handy and his wife May Bea, and invited them to meet ol’ Nevah and I at the Wabaunsee Pines Golf Course east of Eskridge, Kan., at Lake Wabaunsee. They took up the offer as they needed a Kansas City coronavirus escape. Each couple agreed to bring a picnic lunch to eat after playing cow-pasture pool.

We met at 10:30 and paid our green fees and rented carts. Since May Bea is the only smart one in our little group (she doesn’t play the silly game), she rode and drove the cart while the other three of us played.

It’s a beautiful little nine-hole course. The greens and fairways are lush. The fees are more than reasonable. Folks who live around Wabaunsee Lake volunteer to “man” the club house. The Flint Hills scenery is spectacular.

None of us played golf particularly well, but we each made enuf good shots to keep our interest up in the game. The picnic lunch wuz more than pleasant. I suspect, we may well repeat the outing in the future.

•••

I know a farm family with a lot of teenage kids. During the CV shutdown, it’s been tough for all the kids to get gainfully employed. The oldest boy finally landed a job selling men’s suits at a local clothing store on a straight 10% commission.

The first day on the job, the store owner pointed out a garish, polka-dotted suit hanging on the rack and told the farm kid that if he could sell the ugly suit for any price, he could earn a 50% commission on the sale.

Well, the owner went to lunch and when he returned from lunch, the farm kid met him at the door. His pant legs were shredded. His shirt wuz bloody. But the kid wuz smiling from ear to ear.

“I sold that ugly suit for $200. You owe me $100 commission.”

“How in the world did you get anyone to buy that garish suit?” the owner asked. “And what happened to you? You’re a mess.”

“Well,” the kid explained. “I didn’t have any trouble at all with the customer, but I did have a lot of trouble dealing with his seeing-eye dog.”

•••

T-shirt words of wisdom for the week: “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t want to come.” Also, “I may be wrong. But I doubt it.”

Have a good ‘un. ❖