Winter Fundraiser 2014, Day Five
Y’all may have noticed the increase in the number of the Baron’s posts the last day or so. That’s because the initial rush of the fundraiser has died down, and he no longer needs to stay at a dead run to keep up with acknowledgements and such. So he has more time to actually write or edit things.
Each fundraiser teaches me something about this oddest of jobs as proprietress of Gates of Vienna. At our wrap-up I’ll share the one I’m learning this time… if I remember it. One this is for sure: it was worth it to climb up here to take the long view back down to our beginnings before the beginning of the blog. While I can no longer imagine what we’d be doing if we weren’t here, I still find it hard to credit that we’re still here…
One of Anne Tyler’s books opens with an old lady lying in bed thinking over her life and her improbable children. She recalls an incident in which her grown daughter is looking at some photographs with her. The woman remarks that it’s a picture of herself and the daughter disagrees vehemently, repeatedly. Finally the old woman sighs and says, “All right then. It’s not me”…Sometimes I look back at the years I describe below (with so much left out) and think, “That’s not me”. Another part of me surrenders and sighs, “All right then. It’s not me…”
Turn the kaleidoscope, Harry.
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Where was I? Oh right, chasing those cows away from our bush peas.
Life in the Country
As I was to learn, an elderly neighbor’s cattle often escaped her pasture and made their way down the power line to our grass. And our herbs and vegetables, too. She was always apologetic, as were the owners of the escaped pigs who dug up the grass looking for grubs. What an unholy mess! I huffed righteously to the Baron that the owners should “pay for the damage those stupid pigs caused”. He looked at me patiently: “Those people are as poor as we are. Do you think they’d have pigs otherwise?” He had me there. I felt ashamed at first, and then as the season wore on and I saw the vast improvement in our “lawn” — it was green and lush — the lesson sunk in even more deeply.
After a period of rest and recuperation it was time to look for work. The first thing I learned was that there was no work, at least not locally. If I wanted a job it meant a commute into the university’s Human Resources Department. I was given an appointment for a typing test (never my strong suit) and spent some time practicing on the Baron’s manual typewriter. I figured it was an advantage to use the manual and then take the test on an IBM Selectric. I’d be in like Flynn for sure.
The day before the scheduled test, I spent some time mowing the yard. As a kid and then later living in the suburbs, I was always the designated mower of lawns; it was work I liked. Or rather, it was work I liked until that moment, when suddenly I was being stung repeatedly by bees. Oh the pain! I dropped the handle of the mower and ran for the house — and darned if those creatures didn’t follow me inside, continuing their attack. They found their way inside my clothes and their loud buzzy anger was every bit as bad as the repeated stings. I’d always thought bees only stung once.
The Baron knew what had happened so he helped me take off my clothing, bugs and all. He threw it outside and had me stand under a tepid shower while he methodically found each of those demons — many of them were jammed up against the windows since they’d lost scent of me. Having assured me those evil creatures were gone he coaxed me out of the shower; we dabbed each wound with dilute ammonia and then applied wet baking soda. Aspirin for the pain and inflammation and Benadryl to slow the emerging allergic reaction. If welts began to appear on my body or if my throat began to swell, I knew I’d be in trouble so far away from medical help…fortunately the swelling remained localized, though it made my fingers fat and stiff and feverish. How can you have a fever in your fingers? Or your toes? Those things pierced my canvas shoes easily.
Guess who didn’t pass her typing test? With nine wounds on my puffy hands, my speed on that Selectric was as lame as my gait walking on swollen feet stuffed into shoes that were now painfully small.
Those bees? It turned out they were yellow jackets; the underground colony I’d run over with the lawn mower was quite large. That day I was stung the Baron began what would remain a summer ritual right down to the present. When they came after me, he had no scent the disturbed insects could detect so that made it safe for him to move the lawn mower. As evening approached he sat in a chair near where it had been and watched the insects coming home. In increasing numbers they’d spiral down into the hole and disappear. The Baron carefully marked the spot and when night fell he returned to the spot with a can of gasoline. He poured its contents carefully and thoroughly through the area, letting it soak into the ground. The next step was to throw a lighted match as near to the hole as possible and then
haul ass run like crazy to the safety of the house. The next morning there might be a few listless insects hovering over the remains of their home —perhaps they were stragglers who’d arrived back at the ranch after the conflagration. But except for them, that particular area was yellow jacket-free.
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t lurk elsewhere. Oh so many elsewheres. Every summer there is at least one time when the yard surrounding our quiet cottage is punctuated with loud profanities and stomping feet as the Baron flees to the house throwing off his clothes along the way. Sometimes I can be of help since that particular batch o’ bugs is focused on his particular pheromones… Or fear-a-moans, as I’ve come to think of them. In that moment those little monsters want him and I don’t exist. Later, after the Baron’s adrenalin levels have dropped we’ll have the satisfying evening Fire Ritual, followed by the next morning’s Post-Mortem. Over the years, my (literally) far-sighted husband has often spotted incipient trouble. If he’s working in the yard and happens to notice a few of those characteristic spirals downward, he’ll quietly mark the spot. He returns at dusk to see if there’s an evening rush hour — the buggers’ homeward commute after a long business day.
The Baron doesn’t like to kill insects; he figures they all have their place in the order of things. But he makes exceptions for yellow jackets and house spiders. Besides, he’s a guy: for some reason a lot of guys enjoy setting things on fire. Huge house spiders merely give him the willies so he dispatches them. I prefer a vacuum cleaner for such jobs if he’s not around. If he’s home, the best spider removal is to yell, “Baron, eww! There’s a spider in the kitchen.”
Work in the Town
So I failed my typing test. Oops. Certainly my undergrad degree in philosophy wasn’t of much practical help. I quickly learned there were dozens of professors’ wives from which to choose. They possessed the same skill set but it came with a lot more connections.
If I had my druthers working in a plant nursery would have been just fine but after talking to a few managers I learned that the jobs were seasonal and my flimsy credentials — many years of creating my own home gardens — weren’t terribly impressive. I was simply part of a growing statistic: middle class women who’d signed the usual contract: stay home and raise the kids while husband goes out to make the money. At one time I even thought it was a good deal: while my children’s father was in school I’d written all the ‘humanities’ papers while he took the business courses. It was fun. I hadn’t seen the trap or read the fine print, though.