Posted in Raised by a village

What about Uncle Ollie?

My aunt Anne asked, “So, since you’re here, do you want to take Uncle Ollie’s portrait with you?”  

Turning, I replied, “You’ve got uncle Ollie? Where?” 

“He’s been hanging in my spare bedroom for the last 7 or 8 years. He’s creepy.”  

“I wondered where he had been hanging out. Sure, I’ll take him home with me.” 

A few moments later, Aunt Anne brought a large ornate, guilded frame, approximately 20″ x 24″ from 1909 with Uncle Ollie’s cherub face. Painted with soft clouds in the background and exquisite details, his blue eyes seem to follow you. It takes a moment for someone to ask, “wait, is he dead in that photo?” 

Why yes, yes he is. 

Uncle Ollie, my maternal grandfather’s older brother lived for 3 years, 3 months and 29 days from 1906 to 1909. He died of scarlet fever; his post-mortem infant portrait hung around much longer to become something of family lore. In the late 19th century and early 20th century (think Victorian Era), photos were expensive to produce as digital would not arrive in the scene for another century. Childhood and infant deaths were common during that time. People did not own cameras like we do today in the form of mobile phones. Often, families only gathered at deaths, thus the photos memorializing a child would be post-mortem.

Visiting my grandparents’ house as a child, I remember seeing the Uncle Ollie (his portrait) hanging in the living room. Granddaddy said that he liked having him nearby (even though granddaddy was born 5 years after Uncle Ollie died). When granddaddy died in 1980, Uncle Ollie’s portrait came home with my mother and hung in our basement until 2011 when he went to my Uncle Jeff. Now, the portrait’s with me. 

That afternoon, I loaded Uncle Ollie face-up in the trunk of my car. My logic was that he lived long before the horse-less carriage, and interstate traffic would probably frighten him. 

On my way home, I stopped and stood in the cemetery looking at my grandparents’ grave markers.  Alone, behind the church, I asked, “Alright, where’s Uncle Ollie buried?” There came no response. 

Birds chirped and cars passed on the highway. I spoke again to the ground, “Okay, now what am I supposed to do with Uncle Ollie?” 

Yet again, no answers came from any of my deceased maternal relatives. I could imagine them saying something like, “We don’t have a use for his portrait anymore. He’s your problem now.” 

I searched the markers for Uncle Ollie’s name. None found, I sighed and drove the 75 miles home, Uncle Ollie still in the trunk. Jim and I agreed not to bring Uncle Ollie in the house. For now, he’s on a shelf in the storage shed, Jim officially creeped-out. 

Jim asked, “Where is he buried?” 

I said, “Grandaddy was quiet when I asked.” 

Jim asked, “Did you expect him to answer?” 

I said, “Of course not. I was hoping for a sky-written note by an aerial pilot.” 

I tried Google; there’s a site for just about anything. Thanks to findagrave.com,  I found Uncle Ollie buried 3 miles from my grandparents and great-grandparents at Jersey Baptist church. Somewhere between 1909 and 1934, my family became Methodists, and everyone else is buried at Cotton Grove. I guess the reason for the switch will remain a mystery. 

On a more recent trip back to Lexington my brother Kelly and I stopped at the Jersey Baptist Church cemetery.  

It became a game of “Where’s Ollie” as we searched for Uncle Ollie’s grave. I asked Kelly if we should split up and search. He replied, “not unless it gets dark.” In his competitive spirit, he silently said to himself, “I don’t want her to find it. I want to find it first.”

We walked to a section that I thought was too new, and turned right. Kelly methodically searched each headstone and said that he heard a voice say, “turn around” and asked, “who’s talking to me?” As I started back through the section dating from the late 1700s and early 1800s, Kelly spotted the small worn marker that I missed, and he circled around a second time. Third row from the trees, near the edge of a cornfield, he found the headstone of Ollie Lee Hedrick, oldest son of my great-grandparents. There it was, much smaller than I imagined, near two other infant markers. We began to feel a great sense of loss and peace at the same time. An almost delighted energy filled the area, and we said to no one in particular, “He’s not been forgotten.” 

Recently, we found a family photograph from Christmas before my first birthday. There, in the background behind me laughing and wriggling in my mother’s arms, hung Uncle Ollie’s portrait.  He’s been with me my whole life, waiting for us to play a game of hide and seek in the graveyard. 

*****Photo of Uncle Ollie’s portrait below******

Posted in Raised by a village

Scooby to the Vet

I had not planned to be sitting in the vet’s office first thing Monday morning. My schedule included a conference call,  process documentation, commuting and normal farm stuff in the afternoon. It was the 2nd night of a restless fluffy white dog who yelped in pain when being picked up, and a lack of appetite that drove me to change plans. I couldn’t call to inquire about an opening because of laryngitis; one more thing not on my calendar. 

Having lost our 14 year old cairn terrier last year to kidney failure, my mind raced with every imaginable what-if scenario for Scooby. We’re uncertain of his age because he appeared on our doorstep 7 years ago matted, tired and wearing a wire collar.  Yes, a collar made of wire. We think that he may have been a backyard breeder dog, or he lived with someone who had no appreciation for this bundle of fur. At his first checkup,  the vet estimated Scooby to be around 6 years old. So, his official record has him at 13 years old.

I’m thankful for every time that this little fluffball is there to greet me at the door. He is just as happy to see me after 8 hours as he is after 8 minutes. Scooby exemplifies unconditional love. He doesn’t care what you say to him, he just wants to be close to us humans. During thunderstorms,  he prefers to lay on my chest or on top of Jim’s head. He barks at strangers, birds, deer, coyotes, possums, and things that go bump in the night. He doesn’t love us because of how good we are to him, he loves us because it’s his nature.

A dog’s love is the visualization of how God loves us as well. And it’s the fear of the loss of that outward love that can bring us to tears. There’s scientific evidence that petting a dog can raise serotonin levels and thus improve mood in humans.  It’s a symbiotic relationship. 

If it was just the dog, then maybe I wouldn’t have been crying enroute to the vet’s office. But how often is it that just one thing goes awry in our daily plans? This was that unplanned, unexpected thing of uncertainty that made me leak tears like a crack in a vase. It was the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. My sister-in-law reminded me that when we turn things over to God, we know that He has things on His schedule, not ours, but that sometimes, she prays to let this next thing be easy. 

The vet worked us in to her first appointment and examined my now seemingly improved furball. 

Two x-rays later revealed air pockets in his caecum  (the first part of the large intestine that looks like a reverse comma) which is very painful. Along with arthritis and muscle atrophy from an old dislocation accident, Scooby has early signs of hip dysplasia. So he gets gas-ex and aspirin. In other words, he’s getting old and gassy. Just like the rest of us.

To the vets and technicians who take care of our animals at Crossroads Animal Hospital and Henry River Mobile Veterinary Services,  thank you. 

Posted in Raised by a village

No Blood No Bandaid

Within 12 hours, I managed to get fire-ant pesticide in my mouth, sliced open my pinky-finger with the cat food can, and was bitten by a baby black widow spider twice on the leg. Compared with that, I didn’t mind spending 90 minutes in Friday afternoon commuter traffic. 

Thursday after work, I bottle-fed new baby goat John Lithgow. This newest kid was born on Tuesday to Queen Lillian, twin sister of Mary Poppins and daughter of Julie Andrews.  Not yet a year old, Lilly is a teen-mom and a little unsure of the whole mothering role. From day one, Julie Andrews displayed her head-goat status and confused John Lithgow by pushing Lilly away from her own newborn.  Either she was protecting her baby-with-a-baby, was trying to show her the ropes of motherhood, or she was missing her latest weaned twins. Julie Andrews became helicopter-granny-goat and possibly was holding a grudge since I weaned her twins (Bert and Ernie), relegating them to the bachelor pad pasture with Steve and Sam.

Since John Lithgow was a bit confused on who would provide nourishment, Jim fed supplemental bottles of colostrum and milk replacer. I fed additional bottles each evening after work and at 6 a.m. before heading to the office. Normal stuff and John Lithgow drank 4 oz of milk from the bottle with gusto. Then, he tried to nurse from both Julie Andrews and Queen Lillian. 

After bottle-baby feeding, I walked the yard with a bag of fire-ant killer. Sprinkling insecticide on the never-ending mounds of red torture insects, I silently hoped this bag would be the one that killed the queen.  Just then, I bent over as I shook the bag and caught about a teaspoon of the flakes in my mouth.   Bleh! I spat and rinsed my mouth with water for what seemed an eternity. “Jim, in case I fall on the ground, I just inhaled a mouthful of fire-ant killer.” I told Jim.  He asked the obligatory  “What did you do that for?” And I resumed my ant-hill search and destroy mission.

Poison control did not have to be called and at 5:45 am Friday, I opened a plastic can of cat food and cut the top of my pinky. It started bleeding and required direct pressure and a bandaid. Getting dressed, I donned my jeans and immediately felt stinging pain below my left knee. I pulled off the pants, turned them inside out and found a tiny black spider. Two welts rose, and pain shot through my leg. I squished the spider, picked it up with tape and labeled a Ziploc baggie “spider that bit me.” Quickly, I researched spider bite and since my tetanus shot is only 3 years old, I decided to take Tylenol, and applied an icepack to my leg while I drove to work. 

Aside from a bit of nausea, a few cramps and a mild headache, the swelling spots on my leg went away by mid afternoon for the most part. John Lithgow took another bottle of milk and I watched the sunset over the cornfield. 

See, it’s not all goat yoga… sometimes it’s just weird stuff that happens. We keep striving in the craziness that seems to be normal. I can’t fix all of the nuttiness. I certainly can’t please everyone, but for now, my spidey-senses tell me that I’ll be okay. 

Posted in Raised by a village

Back to our regularly scheduled program

“Tell me about your exercise routine” my doctor said a few months ago.

I said, “I do farm-fit. It’s like cross fit, but it involves wrangling goats, hauling 5 gallon buckets of water, and 50 pound bags of chicken feed.  It’s a great mix of cardio and strength training.” 

She laughed and asked, “So are you walking regularly too?” 

“Sure, I walk to the barn, to the mailbox, and I do tai-chi and goat yoga.” 

This is where she paused.   I don’t think that there’s a spot on the healthcare intake form in the system for “livestock lifting” or “murdering chickens”. 

Just ask my niece and nephew who visited from California last week, and they’ll tell you that a nap is required after mucking stalls, planting corn and catching goats for hoof trimming. A cousin asked me if they were here on vacation or in need of a place to do community service.  

I loved having them here. They are funny, bright and growing into wonderful young adults. They ate whatever we put in front of them, including the tofu mushroom spaghetti with Jim’s homemade pasta. 

We went ziplining, hiking, visited family they’d never met, sang along to the radio and laughed at jokes that only we thought were funny. 

When I dropped them at the airport departures this morning at 6 a.m., I saw a soldier hugging his little girl goodbye as he headed prepared to travel back to a base or his next duty station. Cars jostled for a spot next to the curb to quickly let their passengers out to run for the security line. Amid the noise, I tightly hugged my niece and nephew one last time, fighting back the tears, and I caught a security guard watching me hug these two precious 6-foot tall people that looked like me. I waved goodbye, wished them safe travels, with the words “I love you” lost among the whistles from the guards, the roar of the bus engines, and the smell of exhaust fumes.  I realized that this is just another day at the office for the security guard. Like an announcement “we now return to our regularly scheduled program.” With that, I merged into traffic to join the other drivers, knowing that more often than not, our greatest blessings are people we call family. 

 I drove to the office to find myself the first one in my department and a day’s work ahead. By 9 a.m. I was punchy, and my 4 a.m. coffee was gone. One Dr. Pepper and a honey bun kept me going until lunch. 

Late in the afternoon, I arrived home to take a quick break before heading to the barn to give Bert, Ernie and Steve their CDT shots, and to check the latest challenge of #vittlesvault verses racoon; the raccoons managed to get the lid off again and only ate a handful of cat chow. 

Jim and I took some grain to Bert and Ernie since they are now living in the bachelor pasture with Steve and Sam, separated by two electric fences from the nanny goats. At four months old, Ernie is quite amorous, and we don’t need another round of babies this fall.  

In the pasture, I knelt to pet Bert and he climbed on my back. So, this is normal for me: something new and silly with my goats.  Jim laughed as I demonstrated balancing a goat in two yoga poses. Earlier, when I said that I do goat yoga, I meant that I stand in the pasture and do yoga while the goats and donkeys stare at me. This is a whole new expirament with a little goat who back in February was floppy, unwanted by his mother, had to be tube-fed 4 times per day, and slept in a laundry basket.

Tips:

1. Remember,  before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor…she may not have a box to check “goat yoga with a real goat”. 

2. Stretch and be sure that you are comfortable balancing your 20 pound goat.

3. Wear comfortable attire, preferably barn boots and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. I have one pair of leggings that I wear to give shots.  So of you would like to see me do goat-yoga wearing your products, let me know!

Note, goats do not take cash for chiropractic, reiki or massage therapies. But the farmer does!

Pretty good for only 4 hours of sleep.

Posted in Raised by a village

I Know a Guy

When you live in a small rural town, you tend to know a lot of people. Growing up, my cousin’s late husband, “Big Bill”, used to tell me, “yeah, I know a guy…” and I thought that he only had one friend.  Since he grew up in New York,  I thought that he just didn’t have an opportunity to get to know a lot of people because it’s such a big place. He would laugh when I told him that I knew people too.  When I say that I know a guy (or gal), it’s someone I will recommend for farm services….not like Big Bill inferred.  I know a guy who hauls logs, one who will deliver mulch,  one who will trim donkey hooves, and one owns a wrecker service. 

My brother had to call the wrecker service when he discovered that his brake line was bad, thus he needed the rollback to pick up his truck to be serviced.  I arrived home, sat on the front porch and watched as a rollback from the local wrecker service got stuck (up to the axle) in mud.  After 5 inches of rain in three days, there’s no question that the ground would be saturated.  Unfortunately, the rollback driver backed through softer-than-expected ground and was mired.  The driver called the owner (who happens to be named Billy) o bring the wrecker. While we waited,  I introduced the rollback driver to Bert the goat and set about feeding chickens.  I laughed at Sam the goat demonstrating his dislike of the soggy ground by staying on a wooden walkway and refusing to step into the wet grass for a treat. 

 When Billy Hampton arrived with the wrecker, I thought, “there’s the wrecker guy” as I walked over to say hello. I asked, “How’s your mama?” As he instructed his rollback driver to turn the wheel left or right, he responded and I said, “Please tell her I said hey.”  Apparently, it’s not uncommon to have to pull a rollback out of a soft ditch after the rain, but it’s a bit odd for me.  

A few hours later, the ferrier called to discuss trimming the donkeys’ hooves. We talked about goats, livestock, and the trouble with trimming hooves on mini donkeys. Like many people, we keep mini donkeys as guard animals for the goats. Donkeys, including miniature donkeys will kick a coyote or other predator in the head to kill it and protect livestock. Kicking is their natural, instinctual defense, so if they don’t like pedicures, they will kick the ferrier in response. Sure, donkeys are cute,  but they are accurately dangerous. I’ll trim goat hooves all day, but if given the choice, I’d rather a professional trim the donkeys. 

We’ll help the ferrier by sedating the donkeys. It’s a good thing that I know a vet (who is not a guy)! Next, I’ll need to call a guy about gravel for the driveway….any recommendations?

Posted in Raised by a village

The Adventures of WWMLP

A few weeks ago, I stayed overnight with a friend for logistical purposes. Her daughter Ali, gave me her favorite toy, a Wonder Woman action figure and a My Little Pony toy with a purple mane. To me, these two little figurines are like the widow’s coins; they may seem like trinkets, but they represent a great treasure. It’s one thing to receive a gift,  it’s something special to be given a favorite toy by a 5 year old.  

Ali wanted me to have a toy in case I got bored. The past few weeks have been far from boring.  Between hospital visits, healthcare navigation, work, farm life, new baby goats, a car accident, my own trip to the emergency room, and a few UMW presentations and meetings, life has been topsy-turvy.  In the midst of it all, Wonder Woman (#WWMLP) and My Little Pony have adventured into the world.  They’ve been to my office, walked on the nature trail, saved a cat-toy from peril, helped install new packages of honeybees, helped me with a sermon, and they were in my backpack when I was in a multiple-car accident on my way to work.  

No, I’m not placing my faith in an action figure that was conceived by a man in the 1940s. During this stressful time, these little toys remind me to take a break from my spreadsheets, to be connected with my coworkers, friends and family, to do something silly, to be brave, and to be faithful.  I believe that Ali’s gift of her favorite toy was a visible example of how God gave the world His son Jesus.  


I am in the early stages of photojournalling the adventures of Wonder Woman and My Little Pony through Instagram #WWMLP. Just in case you grew weary of my goat and chicken stories, now, you can look forward to the adventures of a Wonder Woman action figure and a purple-maned pony.  There will still be plenty of farm stories….now with an action-figure side-kick. 


Posted in Raised by a village

Ribbons and Sand

I see multiple prayer requests on social media. I pray for healing of loved ones I’ll never meet, and sometimes I wonder if my responses matter. I mostly blog about goats, chickens and farm life because that’s normal. It’s controllable and goats make me happy.

Recently, I sat in a hospital chapel, surrounded by a comforting silence and at a complete loss of words to pray. I cried, I sobbed,  and yet words for a prayer did not form into cohesive sentences.

At the front of the chapel, glass vases sat on a table surrounded by candy dishes filled with colored sand. Each dish contained a small plastic communion cup.  A placard instructed visitors to think of someone, and pour a bit of sand into the vase. It was a community of prayers layered in colored sands of blue, yellow, brown, white and green. On another table, colored ribbons adorned grapevine wreaths with instructions of “say a prayer and tie a ribbon on the wreath.”

It reminded me of the thousands of ribbons tied to the Freedom Bridge fence at the DMZ in South Korea at Imjingak. I could not read the prayers in Korean, I knew they represented a person. The ribbons in the chapel also reminded me of the memorabilia tied to the security fence at the Oklahoma City memorial site.

I took comfort in knowing that my support network is strong. It struck me that those sands were like the ribbons at the Freedom Bridge: ways that people reached out in a time of uncertainty to find comfort. To some, the sands were just colored rocks, but to others, they represented a way to reach out and have a tangible link to others who needed to know that they were not alone. In the moment, the sand was a visible reminder of the interconnectedness we have with each other, even when we are guarding our hearts.