Junk Pile

Shattered glass glitters from the rocks. I spot the danger just as Baby Brother begins to climb towards its shining surface. His fleshy palms and fingers grabbing for the next hold. His billygoat-like brother is next to him, faster and nimbler, aided by his longer legs and stronger hands.   

“Get back from there,” I yell to the boys.

They laugh and run away, chasing each other around the house. 

Although they are naughty, they have only just entered the crime scene. They have an air-tight alibi, they were both napping inside after lunch, so I rule them out as suspects.

Daddy Longlegs is inside, working in his office, so although he is also naughty, he is ruled out as a suspect to the mess.

Suddenly, the culprit is in front of me.

She is big, hairy, farts in her sleep and is carrying a rusty, metal light fixture in her mouth.

“Coco, don’t chew on that,” I say.

She throws it up in the air and goes after it with a woof, not listening to me at all, much like her human brothers. She has been raiding the pile of old tin cans, liquor bottles, unmarked plastic containers and scrap metal from discarded farm equipment that is in the woods behind our house.

These are the last vestiges of the original landowners.  

From the junk pile, I have learned that Old Pappy was a drinker and Mammy liked condiments and perfume. They were not concerned with how plastic becomes brittle and breaks down into smaller pieces and eventually into microscopic particles that end up in our water, soil and air. Or that the small mountain of glass bottles would be carried by a brainless dog and dropped onto rocks to splinter into a thousand shards close to where little boys like to walk barefoot.   

I would venture that Old Pappy and Mammy were less concerned with caring for their environment and more focused on staying out of the way of rattlesnakes, finding ways to put food on the table and keeping the pigs and chickens in the yard.    

Although dealing with the junk pile makes me irritated and angry, especially when the dog brings hazardous materials to the boys to play with or litters the ground with rusty metal and glass, I cannot fault Old Pappy and Mammy for surviving in the best way they knew.

Likewise, we are surviving in the best way that we know how which involves taking care of our tiny plot of land and one another. We try to use fewer plastic products, create less waste and recycle what we can because trash does not disappear. It gets hidden under brush and bramble until February when everything on the land is laid bare.

And the ugly pile of trash is still there, not going anywhere until the dog moves it.      

The Missing Chicken

“Well, guess where I’m heading?” Daddy Longlegs asked.

We had been playing phone tag all morning and finally connected after a few rings.

I couldn’t even begin to guess; he was a man of great mystery and intrigue. Sometimes he would call on his way to Lowe’s or the bank with a similar impossible query.

I always guessed wrong.

“The Home Depot?”

“Nope, good guess though.”

He stoked my ego a little to encourage the guessing game.

“I give up, where are you going?”

“Back to Publix.”

“Weren’t you just there?” I asked.

“Why, yes, yes I was but when I got home, I found out my chicken was missing.”  

He laid out all the facts like he was narrating for CSI- middle of nowhere, Tennessee, special edition.   

He was at the grocery store, put the chicken into the cart with the other list items, including: yogurt, bread, bananas and instant oatmeal. He checked out and drove home, nothing unusual there. Then he unloaded the groceries and discovered the chicken was missing.

“So what did you do?”

“I called right up there and said, ‘Hey, do you have my chicken?’”

“And what happened next?”

I was on pins and needles.

“They said, ‘Well, yes, we do have your chicken. We just put it back in the meat department.’”

We both were glad they weren’t holding onto the chicken at the front like a lost purse or blankie.

“So, I said I will be right there to pick it up and they said, ‘Take your time, we’ll get your chicken back to you.’”

“How is that for customer service?” I asked. I really wasn’t sure.  

“They were going to keep my chicken,” he said, still incensed at the bird-napping.  

I can only guess that Daddy Longlegs is going to propose keeping chickens, to cut out the middleman, but again, it is hard to tell with a man of such mystery.

Savage Life

The boys are in the kitchen eating cereal and toast. Carbs with carbs, just the way I was raised. Baby Brother is standing on a two-tier stool to reach the counter and Little Legs is perched dangerously on a backless bar stool.

Usually, we eat at the table, but the Wildings surrounded me and demanded breakfast before I could think straight enough to get them to properly sit and patiently wait. The thought of the boys being proper and/or patient is a bit of a joke. I had to throw gummy fruit snacks down the hallway to distract them long enough to make a dash for the toaster.    

Little Legs hops down from his stool to retrieve a Matchbox car that is essential to his breakfast process. And during his brief absence, the dog takes the opportunity to grab the unguarded toast in her mouth and swallows it with one gulp.  

There is no hesitation, chewing or remorse involved. Carpe Diem, Seize the Toast.

Little Legs turns around as the slightly burned, mostly uneaten bread disappears whole, like a mouse down the throat of a snake. Little Legs throws his hands up in the air and screams the worst insult he can muster with the limited vocabulary of a three-year-old.

“You a toast eater! You a bad dog, you toast eater!”

It is a dog-eat-toast life here in Tennessee.

Savages, all around.

The Painter

“Brother, what happened in here?” Little Legs asked.

I heard the concern in his tinny voice as I let the dog outside. An urgent need to lay eyes on the scene and the siblings overwhelmed my senses.   

Forget about the dog, I thought, as I ran through the house. I made it to the room just in time for Little Legs to repeat his question, mirroring my thoughts as I surveyed the situation.  

“What happened in here?”

An artist had clearly been at work. He used just one color and painted everything, including himself, with it. Baby Brother was now a brown boy living in a brown world.

He looked up at me with big, wide, innocent eyes and said, “Poop.”

“I see,” I said.

To further emphasize, he reached around and placed a hand in his diaper.

“Poop,” he said.

“Yes, now I really see.”

I struggled to hold down the creeping vomit long enough to remove the boy from his crib for a handoff to Daddy Longlegs in the shower. Baby Brother splashed in the water and knocked over bottles of shampoo and conditioner while the clear water turned brown and then clear, again.

Mama Said

As soon as the boys woke up and peeked out the window, they wanted to go outside. Overnight, their Tennessee world of greens and browns transformed into a brilliant white that demanded exploration.  

“Wow,” the boys said in unison with their mouths and noses pressed against the glass.  

It was the exact thing that I said when I woke up, minus the drooling at the window. Clearly, the novelty of the first winter snow does not wear off, whether one has seen it three or thirty-five times.  

Little Legs raced around, gathering things to take outside.  

Within a few minutes, he was prepared. There were three Matchbox cars, all of which he was to later lose in the snow, two mismatched shoes and one bright-green fisherman’s hat.

He said, “Let’s go outside. Ready, set, go.”

As though turning a trip outside into a race has ever worked to speed up a slow-poke, I thought. Then I realized he used my let’s-turn-things-we-don’t-want-to-do-into-a-game technique against me. The boy-sponge was absorbing too much.

I stared at him for a minute trying to remember when he changed from a toddler into a boy, a real boy. Someone who likes to stand up when he pees and eats cereal out the box and hugs his brother when he cries.  

Meanwhile, Baby Brother plopped down in front of the door, requested a “baabaanan” (banana, obviously) and waited to be clothed for the outing.

“Wait just a minute, little boys. We need to eat breakfast,” I said.

It was 7:30am. I glanced at the outdoor thermometer and shivered, 32 degrees was cold, even for someone with Hoosier blood.

“After breakfast, we can bundle up and go outside.”

They accepted the plan, perhaps encouraged by the early morning rumblings of their tumblies. Baby Brother grabbed his toast, smashed it into a ball and returned to wait by the door. Little Legs chugged a glass of milk, took one bite of oatmeal and declared, “We ready.”

“It’s going to be cold. You both need to wear layers, coats and gloves,” I said.

“What’s layers?” Little Legs asked.

“Wait and see,” I said.

I pulled shirt over shirt onto both boys and zipped them up into sweatshirts and double sweatpants and socks. I separated out the coats, gloves and hats into big and little and the pirates decided that they had waited long enough. They mutinied.

“We want out. We want out,” the ambassador for all small boys in the house shouted.  

Baby Brother cried and pulled at his sweatshirt.  

“We don’t want gloves or coats, we want out,” Little Legs said.

They took to pounding on the door and screaming like they had lost their minds, one feeding off the other. I tried to grab Baby Brother to put a glove on his hand and he turned into a jellyfish in my arms and squirmed away. Little Legs kicked and twisted when I tried to work his arm into the sleeve of his coat.

“Fine, let’s try it your way and see what happens,” I said.  

They laughed in delight at their victory and ran outside and after the second armful scoop of snow started to melt in his hands, Baby Brother cried as it stung his skin.

“It is too cold for us. We want back in. We need coats and gloves.” Little Legs said.

“Interesting,” I said.

Nice to meet you, Neighbor.

Two blonde heads bobbed up and down in a cherry red, Power-Wheels Jeep. The driver was Little Legs and his passenger was Baby Brother, who appeared quite content at being driven through the yard, happily bouncing next to his best friend.

A black dog orbited around them, her range getting wider and wider with each pass, until she appeared next to the beehive. Her nose led her along the ground. She sniffed each side of the box and was in the process of sniffing the small opening when I waved my arms to get her attention and yelled.

“Get back, Coco!”  

The warning came a second too late. One of the guard bees found her and gave her warning sting on her rump. She raced off with the fur raised along her spine, she yipped and rolled in the leaves and yipped more.

Then she went straight for the road, temporarily insane from the sting and pulled forward as though by a powerful magnet.

“Stay here, boys. Do not come any closer.”

The jeep boys stood up to do their part.

In unison, they chanted, “Come back, Coco. Come back.”

She did not listen. Rather, she ran faster.

Meanwhile, a big, white truck barreled down the narrow, country road.

I screamed for Coco to stop and to come to sit and stay and every other command she might have picked up over the past year to no avail.

I clomped after her in a pair of slip-on clogs that were one size too big and threatened to roll with each little rock and twig.

Over the road and through the neighbor’s yard and back over the road she ran blindly.

A woman walking her two, well-behaved dogs pulled off to the side of the road to watch with anticipatory horror of what was about to happen.

When much to my surprise, the truck slowed to a crawl and pulled off the road. The door opened and a man in jeans and a ball cap that seemed like a halo stepped out.

He crouched down and the dog ran right into his outstretched arms.   

“Thank you,” I said closing in on the wild animal.

I gushed about the bee sting and the failure of the invisible fence and the boys in their jeep. He patted the dog on the head and shrugged his shoulders in a no-big-deal kind of way like he didn’t just save the day.

“No problem. Nice to meet you, Neighbor.”  

11 Cents

Little Legs sat on the couch in full cartoon-zombieboy-mode. His eyes were transfixed on a big, red dog that galloped across the screen. And although Little Legs didn’t have any Goldfish or animal crackers, he flipped something back and forth with his tongue. A flash of silver caught my eye.

“What is in your mouth, Little Legs?”

He extended his tongue to reveal a shiny dime which he then retracted like a lizard that had just caught a fly.  

“Show me again,” I said.

At first, he shook his head.

“Please,” I asked.

He grinned and stuck his red tongue out with the dime still perfectly balanced at the end of it. With the lightening bolt speed of maternal reflex, I grabbed the dime before he swallowed it, accidentally or not.

“My dime,” he said with a whine.

He held his hand out expecting the return of his treasure.

This time, I shook my head in refusal.

“Do you have any more change?” I asked.

“What’s change?” Little Legs asked.  

“Change is what you just had in your mouth. Do you have any other coins?”

I had to work fast to find out if we needed a metal detector or a trip to the ER.

“Just a penny,” he said with a laugh.

“Where is it now?”

“I swallowed it,” he said.  

“Did you really?”

“No, I was just joking,” he said.

“That’s not a very funny joke. I thought you swallowed a penny.”

“I did,” he said.

“Did you really?”  

“No,” he said.

“Where did you get the penny from?”

“From Da-da,” he said.  

Of course, I thought. The coins came from the same place as his sense of humor, his father.

Daddy Longlegs.

Trying to Leave

“See you tomorrow,” the boy yelled and ran out the door to meet his father. The boy wore sweats, a long sleeve tee-shirt and a florescent green fisherman’s hat that he was rarely seen without due to its dual powers of providing invisibility and being waterproof.

The guys were headed off on an adventure and Baby Brother was already loaded up in the car. Little did the boys know, the “adventure” was only a trip to the grocery store and a pass through the car wash.

The boy’s mother yelled after him, “I’ll see you later today.”

Her word crystalized in the air and disappeared like snowflakes on a warm nose; she was heard only by the dog who wiggled and wagged her tail, delighted at the attention. The animal was a black lab mixed with an Australian shepherd, a perfect blend of intelligence and energy… for another family… the woman always said when describing the dog.

“I’ll be back in just a few hours,” the woman muttered to herself.

The dog sat next to her and looked up with big, hungry eyes that begged for a snack.

“Let’s go to your kennel and I will be back to get you out in a bit.”

The dog sighed as the woman dragged and pushed and pulled her to the kennel; her furry legs locked in passive resistance as she stubbornly refused to cooperate with her imprisonment.

Winded and a little sore, the woman stood up and stretched.

Spying an upturned dump-truck, a rubbery blue popper and a wooden ball, she gathered up the toys and delivered them to the toy room or the-room-formerly-known-as-the-living-room. A bottle of water and a discarded pair of socks on the ground caught her eye, and she swooped in on them with a hawklike speed precision. They were her prey, destined to escape and return to the wild of the house in a short matter of time.

The ticking of the clock reminded the woman, she had to leave; the dishes, the laundry, the trash, the catbox, it all would have to wait. And it would wait.

 Mama had places to go.

Sweet Bee

The tribe of three marched through the woods, crunching leaves underfoot, hitting trees with sticks and reuniting acorns with their tops or “fingerhats.”

It would be hard to not hear the group, even though Little Legs periodically turned around with a finger held up to his lips.

“Shhhh….” He hushed his brother and mother who walked silently behind him, “deer might be sleeping.”

The trio emerged from the trees with bits of leaves in their hair and burrs on their pants, but otherwise unscathed from the potentially dangerous trip into Nature.

Of note, everything feels dangerous to the anxious/neurotic parent: grocery stores, backyards, stairs, uncut grapes and hotdogs, the list goes on and on.

“Let’s take a break here,” Mama said.

There was a flat rock wide enough for three behinds to rest on it, although, she knew that the chance of three behinds resting there for longer than a minute was slim to none.

Little Legs squatted down to draw on the rock with his hitting stick. Mama stretched out her legs and began the laborious process of picking burrs from her pants. Baby Brother dug into a pile of leaves, pushing the debris to the side as he went deeper towards the earth. He was a natural digger with strong hands and a need to make holes, he was in his element.

“Baa…baa…” he exclaimed in a higher pitch that made his mother take notice.

“What did you find?” Mama asked.

Baby Brother held his finger out and smiled at the buzzing yellow jacket that he had beefriended.

The social wasp buzzed comfortably on the end of the boy’s finger, exchanging curious looks and bee to boy, boy to bee noises.

Mama, who did not understand their language, screamed and reacted with a quick and well-placed flick, sending his friend backwards into the air and into oblivion, for all she cared.

“Bee,” Baby Brother exclaimed proudly, unaware of his brush with danger.

He stared at the empty end of his finger/bee-launch pad and then at his mother, in disbeelief, that his striped friend was suddenly missing.

“Easy come, easy go, Sweet Bee Boy,” Mama said with a twinge of regret at the interrupted friendship that was quickly replaced with a much greater sense of relief at not dealing with the pain and swelling of a sting.

Haircut Day

I gathered the ragamuffins close to me as we walked across the parking lot. It was haircut day and Little Legs happily skipped along, certain that he was about to get a lollypop. Baby Brother, on the other hand, was very unhappy about missing his morning nap and increased the volume of his screams the closer we got to the entrance.

At the door, we were greeted by a woman who was no less than seven feet tall. Her bleach blonde hair was piled into a messy bun on top of her head, adding another three inches to her already impressive height.

“Happy Halloween, boys.”

“What’s your phone number?” the very tall woman asked, the only information required to check-in.

She hunted and pecked out the numbers, one by one.

“Ok, I see we’ve had Little Legs here before,” she peered down as Little Legs reached up for the bowl of Dum-dums on the counter.

“Karen is going to take you,” she said, sliding the bowl back from the edge with a throaty, barmaid laugh.

“I’m done with kids for today, I got mine off to school and I’ve been marinating ever since.”

I glanced down at my watch; it was only a few minutes after 10. Two hours of marinade should be enough to tenderize even the toughest bird. I assumed she needed a little more time and sauce to reach that sweet spot. We simply were not there, yet.  

Instantly, I felt grateful for Karen, whom I had never met, but would be handling the scissors that the still-marinating, very tall woman would not be using in my son’s hair.

Until Karen emerged from the back of the salon.

She grabbed a slip of paper from the register and held it out to me with hands that shook like leaves in the breeze.

“This look right?” she asked.

It was our information, I wanted to say no, this doesn’t look right. Nothing about those shaky hands with a pair of scissors seemed ok. Instead, I nodded.

“Let’s get started,” she said.  

She held out a shaky, crooked pinky to Little Legs; he wrapped his fingers around it and walked to her chair to get another unique, impossible to repeat, haircut.

“You’re next, Baby Brother,” I whispered.