Requiem for a Wacky Quacky
Chapter IV = Homestead Holidays
“Yoo-hoo – Fern. Are you home?” Lizzy Stultz was calling at my back door. Country people usually go calling at back doors. They don’t want to make tracks on clean and neat ‘front room’ floors. It seems to be a carry over from the days of “Best Parlors” being used for formal occasions.
“I’m coming, Lizzy,” I called as I hurriedly wiped my hands on a towel. Lizzy had a wonderful sense of humor and a bubbly laugh. She didn’t mind being called ‘Lizzy’ instead of ‘Beth’ Her story of learning to drive a Model T – tin lizzy – across fields and through fences explained her nickname to anyone who wondered.
“Well, what are you doing today?” she asked as she settled into the kitchen rocker.
“I’m making mint jelly for Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Oh really!” She fingered the heap of felted leaves on the counter that I planned to steam to extract the mint flavor. “Don’t give any of it to Billy or any other male visitors.”
“Why not?” I asked as I quartered apples for the big canning kettle.
“You’ll have them all howling on the back fence. This isn’t mint – it’s catnip.” Her eyes sparkled as she nodded at me.
“You are serious aren’t you? How could I be so stupid? It looks like mint and has a minty odor,” I gasped as I threw down my paring knife.
“Yes, catnip and mint look alike and both smell minty. They both have small purple flowers too. Don’t feel stupid. The catnip has a fine mat of felty hairs on the leaf. Mint is smooth. See here, you have some real mint mixed in.” She chuckled a bit and then continued, “You can make jelly of catnip. After all, we all know the benefits of catnip tea.”
After a pleasant visit Lizzy went home and I called Paddywhack to come take a walk with me as I looked for real mint. We walked through the flat strip of meadow beside the stream and attracted sticktights and burrs until my jeans looked like hairy, baggy, harem pants. Poor Paddywhack kept shaking her beautiful ears to dislodge the pesky things. As I pushed my way through the weeds and brambles, I envisioned this land freshly ploughed and harrowed for next years garden and made a mental note to have it done right away so the vegetation would have time to decompose and nourish the soil.
Pockets full of mint, the real thing this time, I started back to the house to finish the mint jelly. I kept looking down at my jeans collecting more and more thistle burrs and saw a ball of black fur all curled up in a patch of clover. “Oh look at the kitten Paddywhack,” I called as I sat down on the ground to comfort the poor lost creature. “Oh, it’s so precious. I wonder if it has a mommy nearby or did someone drop it on the road to get rid of it.” Paddywhack turned her head first to one side then the other trying to make sense out of the words I spoke. I stroked the kitten’s head and felt it press against my hand as it started to awake from its sleeping, position. When its head came out from under a bushy black tail, the white stripe, small beady eyes and pointy nose showed a different kind of cat – a civet cat or skunk. He loved my scratching between his ears and thoroughly enjoyed the attention. Paddywhack rubbed noses with him as I murmured soothing words, “You’re so beautiful. Your hair so silky. I didn’t mean to disturb your sleep.” I eased myself to my knees and then stood up as I saw he was becoming bored and wanted to go back to sleep.
Back at the house I stripped off the prickly jeans and vacuumed them along with Paddywhack. While boiling down the jelly, I thought long about my Thanksgiving blessings. A warm nest of a home, a micro world of all nature to be observed in the land around me. A new experience with a trusting skunk, eager for acceptance. I wondered if our preconceived notions do a disservice to our animal neighbors. Best of all, I had happy children growing in a natural environment. I could not wish for more at this Giving Thanks time of year.
I give Thanks for all of You in My world!
Marilynn Burr Houck
Frederick, MD 21701