(A totally different pair on a healthy pasture on a summer morning.)
For several winters Chas and I fed hay, usually twice a day, to my father’s cows in the barn behind our house. I enjoyed feeding them, and it goes without saying that the cows enjoyed being fed. Last year my dad sold that barn and pasture, and some of those cows, to a new owner, who added quite a few more cows to the pasture. He doesn’t need us to feed them in the winter. Well, he thinks he doesn’t need us to feed them; I think he does. He definitely needs someone to feed them more than he is feeding them.
More cows on a pasture means shorter grass. Shorter grass means less feed, and more mooing - a lot more mooing, especially in the middle of the night. More mooing means less sleep for Laurie, which means a sharp uptick in cranky behavior.
This is a lose-lose proposition.
The other night one particular cow lowed all night long, every 5-10 seconds. Correction: she took a break between 3:00am and 3:45am, possibly to go gargle as I’m sure her throat was very sore from excessive mooing. While I was annoyed, I chalked it up to just another hungry cow song, which we have all gotten quite used to this winter. I pride myself on the ability to identify and interpret moos (we all have our gifts), and this moo sounded more like the “Bring Out The Snacks!” moo and not the “Where Is My Calf?!” moo.
I was wrong. One look out the kitchen window the next morning and I saw my error: Mama Cow actually was separated from her calf. She ran frantically up and down the fence line outside of the barn, bellowing. I could also see the calf, who was eating hay at the partitioned manger that only the small calves can access. More accurately, the previous evening the calf had been eating hay . . . until she got stuck. Somehow this heifer, while dining, had threaded her head through two fences and a square hole just big enough for her skull. And there she stood, all night, unable to back out or lie down, poor baby. If she had slipped and fallen she might have strangled.
I tried to extricate her but the angle of her body was all wrong. She was afraid of me and pulled against her own head trying to get away from me, but she relaxed after I let her suck on my fingers for a minute (a trick I learned as a child growing up on the dairy). I petted her for a minute to calm her, then left her to get my husband. With Chas at the front end and me at the back end, we freed her. Chas was able to turn the calf’s head once I better aligned her body with her neck. Once free the maybe 300-pound calf ran to the water trough for a drink, then out of the barn to join Mama Cow.
That should have been the end of it, but no. Mama Cow is either stupid or blind because, incredibly, she ran the other way, past her bewildered calf and back to the barn to do some more mooing.
What the . . . ?
Sigh. Do I have to do EVERYTHING for you?
Mama Cow glared at me from the other side of the fence, looking determined and crabby. I clambered over the fence and shooed her away, out of the barn, out toward her waiting calf. It took four tries to herd her to the calf to reunite them. Mama Cow is not the sharpest pitchfork in the barn.
I need to work on my moo identification and Mama Cow needs a nanny.
Something happened to Jamal Khashoggi, you say? Huh. Weird. No clue. In our embassy in Turkey? No way.
So, um, turns out, he came to the embassy, but then he left. Gosh, we hope he’s okay!
We’re helping to look for him. We’re very concerned for his safety.
You guys, we had nothing to do with this. These are all lies and baseless allegations.
YOU GUYS. Stoppit. We swear, we had nothing to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s - with why he’s not here. Stoppit.
DEMISE IS THE OUTCOME OF THESE WEAK ENDEAVORS!
Scratch that. Never mind.
The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it!
I mean, REALLY. [EYEROLL]
So, it sounded to President Trump like maybe these could have been ROGUE KILLERS. Yeah, that’s it - roving bands of ROGUE KILLERS. We think so too. Who knows?
Totally not us, though. Totally.
Wait - we’re getting something - yes, here it is - it was AN INTERROGATION GONE WRONG.
Okay, so, turns out, Khashoggi WAS there, in our embassy, right? And, um, there were some other people, and, something happened because, they, like, needed to ask him some questions. And the whole thing just got out of hand, really. And now Khashoggi’s dead, so, our bad. But it totally wasn’t us. It was fifteen guys we know, but we’re just as surprised as you guys.
So here’s some more info - yeah, when Khashoggi walked into the embassy? He got into a fist fight with those fifteen guys we sort of know. And, he died. It must have been a pretty bad fistfight because there isn’t a body. I mean, we know he’s dead, and all, but . . . they maybe must have pulverized him?
“Hi Dad, it’s me. I called you this morning to remind you about your doctor appointment —"
“I went to my doctor appointment this morning.”
“Right, I figured that out. Hey, I wanted to tell you —"
“And then I went to the Berry Patch and had breakfast.”
“I visited with Bob Sexton and Henrik Feenstra and a new guy, a guy named Gene who moved here from Stockton about 14 years ago.”
“He was VERY interesting.”
“I’m glad. Listen, the reason I’m calling is that this morning when I was watering the lawn I looked up and there was a huge coyote crossing the road right by our house, and —"
“Which way was he going?”
“EAST. But I scared —"
“Did you scare him off?”
“Yes. But I want you to know that he wasn’t really scared of me —”
“Which way did he go?”
“Well, he headed south, then trotted across the road in broad daylight right by your driveway, then ducked under your fence and cut across the pasture. I was afraid he was heading for your chickens, so I followed him and shooed him off.”
“He can’t get into the pen.”
“He did before.”
“He can’t jump that fence.”
“Dad, it’s only four feet high. Coyotes can get over cyclone fences.”
“Well, then why does it happen only every two or three years?”
“I guess he’s getting enough to eat. He was very healthy and beautiful. And HUGE. He must be getting enough ground squirrels and rabbits, I guess.”
“I don’t see ground squirrels anymore, and I haven’t seen a rabbit in years.”
“I scare up rabbits fairly often at night when I’m driving home, Dad.”
“Well, I don’t see any.”
“So, okay, I must be making it up. The coyotes aren’t eating any ground squirrels or rabbits, which is why I’m calling to warn you. He’s looking for other food. Keep an eye out because this one is very bold.”
“I have two brand new calves out there, but I don’t suppose he’s interested in them. Anyway, I don’t think he lives around here. I never see coyotes.”
“Dad, I hear them out hunting on your side of the road almost every night! You keep your windows closed, so you can’t hear.”
Plus, you’re deaf, so . . .
“Well, I’ll watch for him, but I don’t think it’s a problem. You coming over tonight?”
“Yes, just Caroline and me. Camille has an away game and Chas is working.”
“Where is the game?”
“Oh, that’s too far. If I were you I wouldn’t let her go.”
“Why? She gets straight As and she likes volleyball.”
“Well, it’s inconvenient. You interrupt dinner to have to go get her.”
“Mom did it for us.”
“She did? I don’t remember that.”
“Yes, she did. Sports and band and dances and club activities.”
“Well, I don’t remember any dinners at 8:00. You coming over tonight? You don’t have to. I can feed myself.”
When I was growing up I often saw girls wearing Girl Power t-shirts. When I was a young adult women frequently said, “You go, girl” to each other.
Now that I am old we women have something new: Strong Women memes on social media. This is what my search looked like:
These harmless memes wash over me like cheap compliments - self-congratulatory, impersonal, and not rooted in reality. Perhaps you’ve seen one of them - there are many - and many of them end with “type YES if you agree.” Yeah, no. Not typing YES.
Today it really hit me how sexist many of these graphics are.
So I flipped a few of them on their heads, switching female and male words and adding my own images. Suddenly these don’t look so harmless.
Reversed, these feel ugly and even threatening. Sexism goes both ways, and I don’t think it’s cute or useful. And yes, that’s Thomas Jefferson’s face up there on Rosie the Riveter. My apologies to the man.
Originally “published" as an email on January 17, 2000, back when I was newly married, without children, and all but chained to my gift store Tom Foolery.
Let me tell you about my day Saturday. I must record this now because the story is sure to get better with age.
Just before noon, an hour before I was due to be released from my slavery to the store…for the weekend, anyway…a young man walked in to order some engraved glassware for his ushers. I recognized him from an engraving order earlier in the week, when he bought gifts for his groomsmen. “Aren’t you getting married TODAY?” I asked, incredulous. “5:30,” he answered calmly. “Can I pick these up by 3:00?” I called to check, but the engraver wouldn’t be in until 2:30 at least. “Can you guarantee me these will be done by 3:30?” he had the you-know-whats to ask. “Nope,” said I. "We usually require a day, and this is a weekend, which makes it even more unlikely. But if you want to try, we’ll try. Okay, he wanted the glasses.
Fast-forward to 4:00pm. I’m sitting at home by the phone, forced to watch all manner of sports programs while I wait for the call. Even call to check, but the engraver has been delayed getting to the shop. The phone rings. It’s someone from the wedding party, calling to check. I promise to deliver the glasses to the wedding or the reception, and put them near the other gifts or give them to someone in a tuxedo. Did I mention that Gubby is coming over for dinner at 5:00?
The engraver finally calls. I hop in my car, wearing my best jammie pants and Big Dog sweatshirt, and drive across town. After picking up the glasses, I drive through the rain (did I mention the rain?) to my store, where I gift-wrap and label the glasses. Then off again in yet another direction, to the Presbyterian church downtown.
In the car I have rehearsed what I’ll say to him if he is snotty, and enjoy a particularly satisfying reverie in which I scold him for forgetting his ushers until the day of his wedding. Ah, but in retail one seldom says what one really thinks, and besides, he is a nice guy. And most importantly, the wedding is supposed to start any minute, so I’d just be dropping these off and flying home to cook fish.
Next problem: the church is right across the street from Tres Hombres Bar & Grill, and there is NO WAY I’ll get a parking spot near there on a Saturday night with wedding congestion and rain and all. But the Delivery Gods smile on me, and there is a spot RIGHT IN FRONT. Better still, since no wedding in the history of western civilization has ever started on time, I will probably have my choice of penguins to hand the package to. As I run up the steps I think, “This isn’t nearly as bad as I thought.”
NEVER tell yourself that.
I open the door onto a wide entry hall, empty except for the wedding coordinator and some guy in a ski jacket. Beyond the open swinging doors to the cavernous interior the entire bloody congregation AND the penguin party are all LOOKING BACK AT ME. I am instantly reminded of my plaid jammies and my white-socks-with-penny-loafers ensemble, and that I look like a confused homeless person. I head for the guy in the ski jacket and hide behind him, safe from the eyes of the penguins. NOT, however, safe from the eyes of the bride and Daddy, just waiting in the wings for the big entrance. I take her audible gasp to mean, “Oh! the plucky retailer, braving the elements and missing televised golf to deliver $28 worth of afterthought gifts!” I cling to that delusion.
Meanwhile, the ski jacket dude. He seems not to care (notice?) that I am using him as a human shield. He won’t shut up, even as I make every hand signal and grimace I know, short of throttling him, to make him stop talking. After the bride heads for the assembled penguins I stammer an explanation for my intrusion, and ask if he knows the bride or the groom?
“I’m the ja-ni-tor,” he whispers, as if I were slow.
The rest of the story is neither eventful nor important, which implies that the first part of the story was both, and for that I apologize. Speaking of apologies, I’m practicing one for the bride, and I never got a good one from Gubby, who was TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATE for my fish dinner. Next time he’s getting pizza.
I’m continuing to write some family history for my cousin Karen.
As you know, your grandfather Bart and my grandfather Frank worked for the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads. While they didn’t work on any of the same projects, according to my dad, they were sometimes working in the same region on different projects. This was true in the early 1930s, when they were both working in extreme Northern California on what is now Highway 299, which runs from the Nevada border west to the Pacific Ocean at Arcata.
Frank and Gert were living on the Hoopa Reservation, and Bart, whom they hadn’t yet met, was single and working further inland in tiny Salyer. Salyer was probably just a wide spot in the road with a dance hall, and probably some sort of outpost where people could get gasoline, provisions and their mail. Just a guess as it isn’t much different than that now.
But in the summer that your grandmother Patricia was 17 or 18, after she had graduated from high school in Chico, she joined her sister Gert for a stay at their cabin home in Hoopa. They all went to a dance in nearby Salyer, where Patricia met Bart, who soon asked her to marry him.
The cabin in Hoopa was no luxury vacation; there was no indoor running water. There was an outhouse, probably shared with other cabins, and a water source outside, at which they filled up basins or pots for dishes, laundry, or cooking. The women had it rough. Plus, even though it is in a beautiful mountainous region along the Trinity River, the Hoopa Valley gets nearly as hot as the Central Valley in the summer. This was a challenging place and time to live.
I don’t think Gert had any children yet because I think this was maybe 1931. But very soon afterwards her first child, Ann, was born on the Hoopa Reservation. There were complications with the birth and apparently Ann had needed medical care that wasn’t available. Ann has the distinction of being the last caucasian baby allowed to be born on the reservation. In 1934, when my father David was born, Frank had to drive Gert over the mountain and down to Eureka to the hospital, which was over 60 miles on 1930s Depression-era mountain roads. At least it was in June instead of January!
The only thing I remember my grandmother telling me about that time was that Grandpa had made her a wooden sink of sorts for the inside of the cabin. I suppose it must have had a drain to the outside but she didn’t elaborate. She was the envy of the camp because she could haul water inside, heat it on the stove and have a sink for washing INDOORS. I plan not to complain about anything today.
What is the last sound a chicken makes before dawn in the last seconds of her last day on Earth?
It is an age-old question that, sadly, I think I can answer.
She was our last surviving chicken, the others having succumbed to either old age or illness or idiocy or foxes. She may be the only animal in Fooleryland never to have been given a name, so for now let’s call her Chicken Dinner. Through the haze of a deep slumber and a vivid dream I became aware of Chicken Dinner's frantic squawks. In my fitful pre-dawn sleep I finally broke through the surface of the dream with a start and couldn’t decide what was real and what was in my head (this happens constantly). Was the hen in my dream, scratching in the sand at the feet of a character from the TV show “Magnum P.I.,” or was she awake long before daybreak, looking for bugs under my bedroom window?
Eyes open, seeing nothing in the darkness, I listened: nothing. Had I imagined it? I checked the clock - 5:37 a.m. I must have imagined it, because chickens don’t get up that early, do they? Not that I would know; I don’t get up that early either. She must have gotten an early start and run into the fox, right under my bedroom window. Not a feather to be found in the yard, and no one around Fooleryland has seen Chicken Dinner since. Sigh.
Still, it could have been a dream. It makes perfect sense to me that the stuffy futzy character Higgins might demand over and over, with increasing insistency, over the cackling of a deranged hen, “WHAT ABOUT THE HUCKLEBERRIES?”
In the last few years Facebook has reconnected me with my cousin Karen, who, when we were young, moved with her mother across the country. I haven’t really known her since we were children, and so I forgot how much family history she missed. When I began scanning and posting old family photos Karen immediately had questions. “Would you write it down for me?” she wanted to know. What a good idea.
I am starting with Grandma Pierce. This is for Karen and Caitlyn, but I hope people outside of the family find it interesting.
(Ken LaGrone and Gertrude Pierce, late 1940s, Normal St. house, Chico)
This lady is known as Grandma Pierce, although she is technically no one’s grandma and she replaced the original Grandma Pierce. She was born in Germany in the late 1800s, and while she doesn’t look big in her twilight years, my father assures me that as a middle-aged woman she was heavy and strong, with thick arms and legs.
There are facts about Gertrude Pauli Pierce, and there are stories. The stories may be impossible to verify, but as they are far more colorful than the plain unvarnished truth, I’m sharing them with you and letting you sort it all out for yourselves.
Gertrude was married before she came to the United States; I don’t know if her surname was her husband’s or her maiden name. I don’t know anything about him, but I think he may have died in World War I. She had moved from Belgium to England when she answered a newspaper ad for an au pair for five children in Chico, California.
The children were Charles (Charlie, center), Gert (back), Patricia (left), Don (right) and Helen (bottom), in order of birth. In 1921 their mother was killed in a car accident near Vacaville, and their father Arthur Pierce found he needed someone to cook, clean, and raise his children. A poor immigrant from Wales who struggled as a plumber and chicken farmer, Arthur wrote to his well-to-do family in England for help, and they placed an ad on his behalf. Gertrude Pauli answered the ad, the London family members must have interviewed her on Arthur’s behalf, and her passage to the U.S. was paid.
Gertrude was an excellent cook and seamstress, organized, efficient and a seriously hard worker. Besides her household duties she also had to feed and manage a lot of chickens for the family egg business, and she managed her meager household budget and kept food on the table. She was a resilient woman - some would say tough. (In later years my father David remembers seeing her kill chickens without flinching, to feed the family.) This is where the compliments end, however - at least for this period of her life. The Pierce children quickly grew to hate their German au pair. Not only had she replaced their dear mother, but she was also harsh with everyone in the Pierce family except Arthur, and it became clear that she intended to marry him. As Arthur Pierce really had no money to pay Gertrude, her married her out of convenience; love was something he had reserved for his first wife and love of his life, buried in 1921.
Once the ink on the marriage certificate was dry, things got really dicey. The Stepmother, as Gertrude became known, ruled with an iron hand. One by one the Pierce children left home - first Charlie, the oldest, and then Gert, who graduated early from high school and bought a one-way train ticket to San Francisco to go live with the family of her school friend Stella LaGrone. Patricia didn’t let The Stepmother get to her, and for some reason The Stepmother left her alone.
Don ran away from home as a young teen, and ended up lying about his age to join the Navy early. Helen, who had been three when her mother died, bore the brunt of The Stepmother’s cruelty. It is from Helen that most of my information about Grandma Pierce has come.
Helen has said that at first Gertrude tried to please the children, but she hadn’t counted on them being suspicious of her taking their mother’s place, and really still mourning their lost mama. Gertrude took their wariness personally very quickly and turned cold and menacing. Helen describes coming home late from school - a walk of several miles - with a perfectly reasonable excuse, which was met with fury from The Stepmother. Ever after, if Helen was late, she made up a wild story and told it with a straight face, which seemed to placate The Stepmother when the truth would not. Sometimes, just to spite her, Helen would be late for no reason at all and dream up the wildest tale she could, just to see what she could get away with.
This brings up a major theme: veracity. After The Stepmother’s death, Helen learned from Gertrude’s German family that they considered her to be a pathological liar. Among the lies Gertrude had told were that her family were all dead - killed in World War I, which was not at all true. Three of her family visited California in the 1970s - Karl, Irene and Karen, pictured here with Gert (left) and Patricia (middle). Helen began questioning them about things The Stepmother had said, and she was in for a shock. “Oh, Gertrude took that job in a hurry,” they told Helen. “She needed to get out of Europe because she was a German spy in the first world war.” Whether or not this is true, it seems Gertrude was a German sympathizer at least, and possibly a collaborator, living in Belgium. This fit with Helen’s memories of her stepmother lauding Hitler and Nazi Germany, which was a risky stance to take in the U.S. in the 1930s and ‘40s. Helen didn’t stand for any support of the Nazis or antisemitism, and she let The Stepmother know it.
Helen remembers catching The Stepmother in outrageous and completely unnecessary lies, which Gertrude then defended past the point of sanity. It was grimly satisfying to learn that Gertrude’s own siblings thought of her as a pathological liar.
(Arthur and Gertrude, Normal Street house, Chico)
In her declining years, after Grandpa Pierce had died, The Stepmother softened. She was a wonderful grandmother to Ann, David and Ken - especially to David, who shared her love of the farm life and couldn’t wait to come visit her. David remembers her as being fiercely devoted to her husband Arthur.
As an old woman, Gertrude needed Helen’s help and she was grateful for it, even to the point of apologizing for how badly she had treated Helen and the other kids. She willed her Normal Street house and its contents to Helen when she died in Chico in about 1967.