103. Grandpa’s Shop

103.  Grandpa’s Shop

The branches of the maple tree behind the house reached almost to Grandpa’s big one-room shop.   In the center of Grandpa’s shop was a big workbench with a large steel vise.  A wooden chest on the left held Grandpa’s wood working tools.  Many of the tools were made of wood and were real antiques from the nineteenth century.  Tools and parts of tools hung on the walls.

Cobwebs and spider webs decorated the corners and around the windows where no one could reach, or cared to reach.  There were garden tools, lawn mowers, boxes, apple crates and baskets, and chests, and machine parts and piles of miscellaneous stuff left from another generation.

A wooden ladder with one step broken led to a loft where parts from ancient farm machinery were waiting for a boy to discover them.

In a corner of Grandpa’s big shop I uncovered an old Victrola cabinet covered with dust and cobwebs.  When I lifted the heavy cover and peaked inside, I saw a red vinyl record.  There were more records in the bottom part, both black and red.  Most of them were broken or cracked, but some…Hmmm?

I cranked the handle on the side and felt the spring tighten.  A touch of the lever by the turntable set it turning.  Wow!  It still works!  I carefully set the needle arm down on the turning record, and a rhythmic scratchy noise was soon replaced by a male voice singing:

“What does a bumblebee do do do,
What does a bumblebee do?
A bumblebee goes buzz buzz buzz,
But that ain’t all he does does does,
So, let the bumblebee be ee ee,
I’m gonna let the bumblebee be.”

102. The Pond

102.  The Pond

Looking west over the lily pool and beyond the back yard, I could see the trees by the pond.  The field gradually sloped down to the curved edge of the pond.  The pond was about one acre, a little smaller than a football field, and shaped like a huge kidney.  At the south end by the fence, were wild raspberry bushes.

The pond had pollywogs and bullfrogs in the shallow water by the edge, and cattails, and lots of wild birds.  It was big enough to have muskrats and their houses, and to serve as a regular resting place for migrating ducks passing through on their way south for the winter.  If the wind kept the snow off the ice in the center of the pond, or we could shovel a lane, we would skate.

 

WHOO GOES AT THE POND?

It was late afternoon at the pond by the woods
When the shadows were long and gray.
The sun slipped down behind the trees,
And evening stole the light from the day.

A deer stepped down to the pond to drink,
But she knew she couldn’t stay.
She had to get home before it got dark,
And the night folks came out to play.

Ma ‘coon tiptoed in the water to fish,
And the fox sniffed the air with his nose;
While high in the top of the evergreen tree
The big owl called, “Whoo — who goes?”

The bullfrog croaked, “Nee-deep, nee-deep,”
As he rolled his big black eyes.
He croaked, “Come over and stay for supper,”
To the hovering dragon flies.

The loon on the pond began to laugh
When the polecat chased a mouse.
The otter smiled, “I’ve had my fun.”
Then he slipped into his house.

A hush fell over the pond in the woods
When in the light of the moon that rose,
A weasel slunk along the shore,
And the big owl called, “Whoo — who goes?”

101. Goldfish on a Spree

101.  Goldfish on a Spree

It started with a goldfish I got at the Ionia Free Fair.  We put it in a small round fish bowl.  I have since learned that it probably didn’t live very long because of the small size of the bowl; goldfish need room.  After learning more about the hobby of keeping fish, we got a ten gallon tank with an air pump to oxygenate the water, and bought some tropical fish — mostly guppies.  It was fun and educational to watch the baby guppies form inside the females.  I could see their tiny black eyes.  Then we scrambled to rescue the babies as they were born so the male wouldn’t eat them.

Tropical fish are more sensitive to the cold, so we lost them when the power went off during a winter storm.  Everyone enjoyed watching the fish, so we got a fifty gallon tank, and two Japanese fantail goldfish; one was bright gold with a beautiful double fantail, the other was pure black with a single fantail.

This time, the fish made it through the winter, and when spring came, we had the great idea to put the goldfish out in the lily pool in the backyard for the summer.  After uncovering the pool, getting the straw out, and filling it with water, we put the fish in, and they disappeared under the lily pads.  Once in a while during the summer, I would see a flash of gold in the water to know the gold one, at least, was still okay.

As cold weather approached, we scooped the two goldfish out to transfer them to the tank inside, then started dipping buckets of water out to empty the pool.  When I dumped the bucket, the lawn suddenly came alive with little bronze-colored fish flopping around like fish out of water, which they were!  As quickly as I could, I grabbed them and put them in the half-empty bucket.  We took the rest of the water out of the pool carefully, and looked under lily pads to find any that might be trapped.  In all, we had about a dozen bronze “goldfish” with straight tails in the tank that winter.

GOLDFISH ON A SPREE

We’ll move the fish from the tank to the pool,
While the days are warm, ‘til the nights get cool.
A summer vacation for a change of scene,
Swimming around in the pool’s lush green.

Are the goldfish swimming? I cannot see;
In the lily pool by the willow tree.
Under the lily pads, did they survive?
We’ll scoop them out, if they’re alive.

One gold, one black; have they died?
What a fun surprise! They’ve multiplied!
Two fantail goldfish out on a spree,
Swam in the pool by the willow tree.

So get some fish, learn what to do,
To keep them alive and happy too.
Like all wild things, fish like to be free,
As they swam in the pool by the willow tree.

100. Four Frog Concert in the Lily Pool

100.  Four Frog Concert in the Lily Pool

There was a giant sweet cherry tree on the south border of the yard, and a butternut tree way at the southwest end of the back yard.  The huge maple tree between the house and the garage brushed the tall willow tree.  The weeps of the willow tree stretched low trying to reach the round lily pool in the center of the yard.

Every spring, we took the tarps off the lily pool and dug out the straw to revive the hibernating frogs and pink lilies that bloomed in the summer.  When we filled the shallow pool with water, the green lily pads would quickly cover the surface.  There were always frogs in the lily pool.  I would lie on my stomach by the pool, and watch the frogs peeking out from between the pads and jumping to catch bugs flying by.

 

FOUR FROG CONCERT

Four frogs sitting on a lily pad,
Singing songs both sweet and sad.
They sang in beautiful harmony,
‘Til one jumped off and there were three.

Three frogs singing on a lily pad,
Got way off key and sounded bad.
They croaked and croaked, “What shall we do?”
So one jumped off and there were two.

Two frogs sitting on a lily pad,
Sang happy songs that made them glad.
Delightful duets made the evening fun.
Then one jumped off and there was one.

One frog sitting on a lily pad,
Sang three solos, that’s all he had.
He jumped from the pad, then there were none.
The four-frog lily pool concert was done.

Christmas Memories

Christmas Memories

Christmas was always the big family event of the year, with Christmas Eve as the most exciting part for me.  Soon after Thanksgiving, we would go to a tree farm and buy a fresh cut tree, usually eight to ten feet tall to set up near the front window in the living room.

We fussed with the strings of lights because all the bulbs had to be good for the string to light.  My sister Jan and I decorated the tree with many colored balls and dangling ornaments, and strands of icicles.  We had a special antique angel for the top.  The family was completed when my aunt Viva pulled in the driveway a few days before the big day, honking the horn to herald her arrival.  Christmas Eve tradition began with kidney bean stew for supper.  The stew was made ahead, so Mom wouldn’t be tied up in the kitchen.

Our gift giving tradition was to “fish” for small inexpensive gifts.  Mom said that Grandma started the tradition during the Depression when there wasn’t much money for gifts.  All the wrapped gifts were piled on the pool table in the front room, and a sheet tacked up over the door.  We tied a string on a “fishing pole” to throw over the sheet.  Someone would hook a gift on the string and call for the recipient to come “fish” it out while everyone watched to see what they got.  With many small gifts, the giving could be stretched out for the whole evening.

The gifts also became a tradition.  I always gave Mom a box of #2 lead pencils and packs of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum — individually wrapped, of course.  I tied the pencils in a long string.  I always gave my sister Jan a can of cashews, and Daddy a bottle of after shave lotion; usually Old Spice or Bay Rum.  Daddy got paperback books, and Zane Grey westerns or Agatha Christi mysteries.

We vied to see who would notice the passing of midnight, and be the first to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  Then we hung our stockings on the mantle over the fireplace and waded through the mounds of wrapping paper to go to bed.  Christmas morning I was up early!  I snuck out to once again try to shout “Merry Christmas” before someone else did.  First stop was to see what goodies were in my stocking; maybe a candy bar or a small jackknife.
Mom was already up preparing Christmas dinner for the midday.  Normal days we ate in the kitchen, but today we ate on the big table in the dining room.  Mom usually boiled two of our own chickens, and dropped dumplings on top of them.  I loved those dumplings and gravy! The rest was traditional, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and apple pie or pumpkin pie for dessert.

Finally, it was time to clean up the Christmas Eve mess.  We gathered all the torn wrapping paper still piled in the living room, and put away our gifts.  The tree stayed up until New Year’s Day.  Either Christmas Eve or the end of Christmas Day, or both, Mom would sit down at the old upright piano, and we gathered around to sing Christmas carols.

Sigh. Christmas was over.  Now, the long wait until next year.  The wonderful memories lingered as we ate leftover chicken and pie and kidney bean stew.

What special memories of Christmas do you have from your childhood?

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

The Mouse Who Saved Christmas

      THE MOUSE WHO SAVED CHRISTMAS

                          By Robert Z. Hicks

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, except for a mouse.
He crept to the kitchen and stopped by a chair,
To nibble at breadcrumbs that had tumbled down there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of candy canes danced in their heads.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas would soon be there.

When up on the housetop there rose such a clatter,
The mouse jumped in alarm and thought, “What’s the matter?”
Down through the chimney came a round little man,
With a bright red suit and a Florida tan.

Over his shoulder was a bag full of toys,
Dolls for the girls, and games for the boys.
Out in the kitchen, still tarrying there,
The mouse heard a scuffle and sounds of despair.

He ran down the hall to a terrible scene,
Santa tangled in cobwebs from last Halloween!
Caught like a fly, he turned and he twisted,
The more to be tangled, the more he resisted.

The mouse was dismayed by an awful thought,
“What will happen to Christmas if Santa stays caught?”
No thought for his safety, he knew what to do,
He leaped to the cobwebs and began to chew.

His teeth flashed in the light from the Christmas tree,
And in no time at all, he had chewed Santa free.
“Oh thank you kind sir,” said Santa to the mouse.
“You’ve saved me, and Christmas, so for you and your spouse,

I’ve two pounds of cheese and chocolates to share,
And a castle to live in under the stair.”
Santa dished out the presents in the blink of an eye,
Then whisked up the chimney with a wink for goodbye.

Stars twinkled above as he jumped to his sleigh,
“Up Dancer, up Prancer, let’s be on our way.
Merry Christmas,” Santa called, as he zoomed out of sight.
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Merry Christmas 2017

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2017

Blog followers have asked how I can remember all the things I share about on the Blog entries.  My secret is that we have on file 51 years of annual Christmas newsletters highlighting our newsworthy activities of the year.  So you can see a sample, this year I’m sending you our Christmas greeting via the Blog.

In the July of last year, I was in the hospital with a heart attack and two heart arteries completely blocked.  My cardiologist told me that I am his “miracle patient” for 2016, “We did not think you would make it.”  The Echocardiogram last week showed my heart functioning at 50% output – normal is 50% to 70%.  Last year in the hospital, my heart was at 15% – so I guess I am a documented “miracle”!

I came home under Hospice care, and this past March 20th, I was discharged from Hospice care.  I was improving, and no longer qualified for Medicare support.

Last year I reported that Ashley was half way done with the illustrations for my next book, Danny the Dragon.  Illustrations done, I chose to go with Christian Faith Publishing, a hybrid publisher.  Danny has passed their editor’s desk, and is now in Page Design for formatting/typesetting, as they work the book through their system.

Ashley did a cover, so after the publisher makes a trailer and a website landing page for ordering, Danny the Dragon can be ordered via Barnes and Noble online, or on Amazon. Danny will be available in paperback, hardcover, or e-book.  WHEN, we do not know, but February is a guess.  I’ll send out a letter as soon as we know.

On my Blog entries which you have been getting, I’ve started a new series, a flashback to my youth growing up on the farm north of Ionia Michigan. I’ll continue sharing episodes from my unpublished book, Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On Grandpa’s Farm, and perhaps throw in some other memories.

Ionia friends from high school days may have visited the place back then.  Spark some memories, and stay with me as I reminisce about days of my youth on the farm.  My nephew Kim is still there, maintaining the place.

Thanksgiving week, we had a young couple for lunch who are missionaries in Zambia, Africa – here in the US for furlough and to raise support.   “Home” for them is a tent in a base camp on the edge of civilization three hours by jeep from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.  From the base camp they go out to villages with a translator to teach locals how to farm “God’s Way,” and to witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They train locals to be pastors, then they can move on.  The pastors they train also learn how to raise vegetables to sell, so they can be self-sufficient without a job interfering with their work.

They shared a video of catching a cobra that had gotten in their shower.  I now appreciate the security of our house all the more, although we did have some toads get in.

Most of all this year, I thank God that I am alive!  I thank you and all the people who prayed for me, and all those who came to help me from Hospice, and The Crossroads Church, and neighbors.

I can look forward to wishing you a Happy New Year, and share again with you next year!  Be blessed, and celebrate the birth of Christ, and have a happy year ahead.

The Blog is interactive!  I’d love to hear from you by comment or email.

Bob & Betty

Christmas Special Offer

Christmas Special Offer

The perfect gift for children of all ages for Christmas — a rhyming story picture book by Robert Z. Hicks!

Mouse in the Manger is the Christmas story told by Micah the mouse who was a secret observer of the birth of Christ.  Beautiful illustrations by Ashley Otis brings the Christmas story to life.

 

Tommie Turtle’s Secret is a beautiful hardcover picture book.  Tommie’s secret is revealed in this fun rhyming story of the day he raced Speedy Hoppy Bunny to teach the bunny valuable lessons about friendship.

My special offer is buy 2 books for $20 and get a third book FREE!  Choose any combination of the two books.

You can view a video of both books, and get all the details to order at www.dannythedragon.info    (If you are curious about our website address – take a look)

Local friends: You can order by calling us and coming to pick up your books.  727-842-8314

99. Springtime Symphony in the Apple Orchard

99.  Springtime Symphony in the Apple Orchard

Across a small open field south of the house there was an old orchard with big gnarled apple trees. I would sneak through the tall grass in the orchard, and hide and dream under the trees.

 

SPRINGTIME SYMPHONY

The black bug sat in the apple tree,
Strumming a banjo on his knee.
He sang a love song melody,
To a ladybug as pretty as a bug could be.

While he sang the beautiful melody,
A beetle added harmony.
A grasshopper fiddled and fiddled with glee,
Rubbing his legs enthusiastically.

They all sang high in the key of C,
With the bass notes hummed by a bumblebee.
They sang of Bonnie over the sea,
Of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

They sang of life’s sweet mystery,
Of battles fought and victory.
They sang of the West that used to be,
With pulsing rhythm and poetry.

Sometimes they sang a little off key,
With marvelous creativity.
The butterflies danced so prettily,
In a swirling aerial fantasy.

I close my eyes for the memory,
To relive that childhood reverie;
Of a wonderful springtime symphony,
And a boy in the grass ‘neath the apple tree.

98. Once I Was a Kid – The Farm

98.  Once I Was a Kid – The Farm

It was 1942.  Pearl Harbor was attacked the previous December, and the United States was at war.  For a seven year old boy, a move from “Big City Detroit” to my grandparent’s farm in the country near Ionia Michigan, was like moving almost to heaven.

The farm was a wonderful place to be seven.  “One hundred sixty acres,” Mom said.  The house, barn and buildings were on forty acres west of Michigan Highway 66 that ran north and south dividing the property.  East of the highway was 120 acres of fields divided by a lane that stretched to distant trees.

The house was a big old, two-story farmhouse my grandfather built at the turn of the twentieth century, finishing about 1903.  Mom said that Grandpa had somehow used work horses to combine three houses to make the house.

The bigger part of the house had three bedrooms upstairs, three bedrooms downstairs, and a living room with a front door that was rarely used.  The smaller part housed the kitchen, dining room, and an unheated work room we called the “back room,” which had a back door and porch.  There was an attic over the kitchen.  The kitchen door was our main entrance.

Two tall pines stood guard on the front lawn; and two more at the northeast corner of the house next to the rock garden that spilled down from the north porch.  When we turned in the dirt driveway, there was a waist high trellis on the left where vines grew up each summer and gave us juicy blue grapes.

The driveway curved behind the back porch and by the front of Grandpa’s big shop building.   It went almost one hundred yards; past the windmill and a big sweet cherry tree, to the granary and the barn, where it turned back out to the highway.

The garage was attached to the side of the shop, and a tiny brick chicken coop sat in the shade of a tall mulberry tree behind the garage.  Daddy later built a big chicken coop connecting the back of the garage to the brick coop.

Big maple trees by the driveway and behind the house framed the picture-postcard view of the grassy field to the West, with the green lawn of the backyard in the foreground.  A huge old weeping willow tree was the centerpiece and backdrop for the view from the kitchen window.  The branch on the side toward the house had been cut off to provide an unobstructed view.

It was in this setting that I had more delightful experiences while growing up than a small boy could ever imagine.