March 24, 2005

A Poem, "One Small Note"

While searching for my mother, I found the contents of my 30-year old orphanage file in New York City.
A Father James Gusweller who was associated with St. Barnabas Orphange when Sandra and I were there in 1954 located our old files in a basement.
The contents included a letter from our mother that she had written to us almost 30 years earlier!
No one remembered about the letter! In it, she said she had to go away for awhile but she or our father would come back for us!
She wrote, "Whoever is reading this to my babies, give them a kiss and tell them that mother has not forgotten them."
This was the first inkling we had that our mother might still be alive. I wrote this poem after receiving her letter.
One Small Note
Where is my mother in this world?
She left so long ago,
And all I have is one small note
That's treasured more than gold.
"I've had to go away awhile.
I hope my days I'm gone are few.
Kiss Sissy and take good care of her.
I will not forget about you!"
"Who ever reads this note to my babies dear,
Please kiss them both and tell them not to fear."
Where is my mother in this world?
I've wondered since a child.
Did she go away expecting to return?
Or did she go away not knowing where to turn?
Has she thought of me and sister Sandra too?
Has she looked in vain and found the options few?
I love you, mom, though I'm a mother and a wife.
I took good care of Sissy.
But we've missed you all our life.
Where is our mother in this world?
She left so long ago.
And all we have is one small note
That's treasured more than gold.
~Linda Cash (1986)

March 20, 2005

Did You Know This About Me?

I wanted to call this, "My Obituary" just to get your attention, but the idea got Jim unsettled and he said the boys wouldn't like it either. So, after some thought, I've renamed tonight's chapter.

The Terri Schiavo story is big in the news right now. Just yesterday her feeding tube was removed for the 4th time. Her husband who lives with another woman and has a least 2 children by this mistress, wants Terri to die because he insists that she would not have wanted to be kept alive with a feeding tube. Her parents are pleading for Terri's life and it's seems that the President of the United States may play a part on whether she has the tube or not. Congress is expected to vote on the case any minute now!

For the record, if life support would give me another chance to enjoy my family and friends then I'm all for it. But if a feeding tube and/or other support would just keep my body alive and I would have to be taken care of by other people, then please let me go in peace. I've taken care of enough people like Terri to know I would not want that, nor would I want my family to keep me that way. When I go, learn from me and remember some good things about me every once in a while.

I encourage everyone to think about what and who creates within you feelings of cheer and satisfaction. It occurs to me that I am the best person in the world to appreciate my past accomplishments, reflect on my brightest joys and plan my future goals. So, let's get started!

Becoming a Registered Nurse has always been an off and on goal. Even after being an LPN for 35 years, I still sign up at the local college for RN classes!. On the other hand, I'm such a good LPN that I'd never be an even greater RN. Just to walk across a platform in a graduation gown would be something I know I'd feel very good about.

I was surprised when I figured out that I've had less than 7 years of formal education? Grandma believed in holding a child back to start school until they were 8 years old and by the end of my second grade, grandma had us hidden way back in the Ozark Mountains where she proclaimed to be our teacher but we rarely spent an entire day under her tudor. When I was 16, I spent a few glorious months as a freshman at Ozark Academy in Arkansas. There I took flute lessons and was soon playing in the band. English was my favorite class! Grandma also ran a nursing home and my sister and I spent more hours than children were legally allowed washing dishes and pots and pans before and after school. I'll write more about Ozark Acadmey later.

We next moved to Laurelbrook School in Tennessee where I was placed in the 11th grade. Because Laurelbrook's high school diploma isn't recognized by the state, I took the GED after graduating from Laurelbrook to qualify for LPN school. I spent a busy year with a wonderful family in Dayton Ohio while I attended the Dayton School of Practical Nursing there. I was 18 years old and worked nights at Kettering Hospital to help pay my way through the LPN course. A lifelong thank-you to Kathryn and Bob Flood for providing this opportunity to me. I'll write more about that exciting but busy year too.

My really happiest moments are when I'm going to school, having to read books and take tests to challenge myself!

I regret that my education has always taken a back seat, because choosing what I want has always been difficult for me to choose. I'm usually helping others; cheering then on to what's next! I should have gotten more education because it's such a "high" for me and I would have made such good use of it. Maybe it will still happen. If I was rich, I'd spend more time in school!

While we lived in Michigan and the boys were small, I was a correspondent for The Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph, Michigan, I learned how it feels to be filled with ambition, confidence and purpose. Those eight years were crazy because I ran after every fire, accident and unusual event in our town 24/7 except when I was working as a nurse in another town. I covered town meetings and school board meetings as a reporter and could quote every word. I enjoyed writing about people and telling their stories. Police Chief Jim Kesterke, presented me with an award for always providing first-aid first before I brought out the newspaper camera! My monthly newspaper "string" was longer than most other correspondents' but Bill Cash was quick to point out that even a 17-foot string didn't make us very much money!

I couldn't have been a such a successful correspondent without my longsuffering, chain smoking editor, Tom Brundrett. He taught me everything about journalism and computers at the time. We spent so much time together that our spouses were jealous but they needn't have worried. I was known as a fair and honest reporter and was always respected by the officials in our town.

Teaching CPR for the American Red Cross and volunteering at special events in our county was exciting for me. I also worked closely with the firemen and policemen keeping them all updated in CPR. I don't think my teenage Billy appreciated my close association with the local police at the time, but he knew I was happy and looked forward to teaching those classes.

Photography developed from a sense of wanted to start my own business and make money at it. My diary reflects how scared I was to take that step to order the studio equipment. I remember the day it arrived, I cried because I thought I'd never be able to understand the f-stops and shadows and light placements. But, I became the best wedding photographer in the county and shared that business with Billy and Philip as they often helped me with setting up the studio and accompanied me on weddings. I still shoot weddings but have left the studio work behind for awhile.

Friends pushed me into studying for the Ham Radio license. I was sure I'd never pass something like that but wanted to enter into the world of electronics and Amateur Radio.. Today I'm proud of that license and plan to join a radio club in Columbus, Ohio. It can be a rather expensive hobby and I don't have much equipment but it's a fun experience I look forward to. I'm looking for a service oriented radio club.

Winning an elected position on our township and becoming the township clerk probably was the catalyst for my divorce from Bill Cash. As with most of my interests, he was usually quietly pessimistic and not overly supportive. I'm sure he thought I'd make a fool of myself by running against a lifelong incumbent for the township clerk position. It was many months of hard, hard work. I went to most every door in our town and depended on a very loyal election committee who advised me, made calls, passed out pamphlets, put up signs and in every way gave me unconditional support. We marched in the July 4th parade, attended pancake breakfasts and kissed a lot of babies (just kidding). I won a four-year term and another 4-year term the second time around. Billy and Philip are still in awe about my political experience.

About then I also took the Emergency Medical Technician Course (EMT) so I could volunteer for the local ambulance service. I considered becoming a Paramedic but discovered that my body mechanics were not good enough to protect my back while lifting heavy people and big stretchers. Working as an EMT was short-lived but I look back at that experience with satisfaction and pride.

My work with handicapped children at the county school for MRDD was very gratifying. For 5 years I was one of the nurses at Blossomland Learning Center in Berrien Springs, Michigan. I loved every child and knew each of the 250 little ones by name and history. They taught me about being positive no matter what the handicap, enjoying life no matter what the challenge, and the pure pleasure of little accomplishments!

I have a little picture on the wall by my bathroom lightswitch that says, "If I can't do great things, I will do small things in a great way." It really works for me! I appreciate knowing that with only a few months of formal lessons I can enjoy playing the piano, the organ, the flute and the accordion. I have books of published poetry and award-winning photography. I have traded on E-bay and learned how to post on the World-Wide Web.

It is beyond imagination what I would be doing today if I had 18-20 years of education like I helped provide for my first husband and children. Certainly I would not be working in a nursing home passing medications to the elderly, nor would I have a second job working 12-hour shifts for an MRDD facility where management is sporadic at best. My hourly pay would be far more than the pennies I make now, and I would be part of a creative team to help make whatever I'm doing far better than it was when I got there.

The best I can offer my jobs now is a cheerful attitude, dependability and error-free nursing.

Proof of what can happen if I'm given the opportunity to shine is my history with Teresa's County Homes in Berrien Springs. Teresa hired me as her floating nurse for the three Assisted Living Homes she owned there. Because Teresa is a very smart and talented businesswoman, the 40-bed homes prospered and she was able to move to sunny Florida and leave the day-to-day management of the homes to me. I was made the Administrator. I worked closely with her administrative assistant, Marian Mendel to keep the homes above census and site-free for several years. I really loved the employees, some of whom will read this story. Marian is a jewell of a woman. I appreciate the trust Teresa had in me and will never forget what I learned about being a good leader.

Above all, I am thankful for what I have now. My children cherish and love me and would be at my side in a moment if I called. My baby sister that I practically raised is a happily married woman in control of her destiny. The mystery of our mother has been solved. My husband today thinks I am more of an angel than I really am. He brings me purpose and vision. We look forward to the next 55 years with confidence, optimism and contentment.

March 19, 2005

Carver Creek Walkabout, part 2

I'm glad you are taking this walk with me. Step carefully because the path has high weeds and each leaf is full of little chiggers that bite and dig in to your skin with a vengeance. A dip of kerosene will get rid of most of them but they will itch for weeks! After we get there, we have to check each other for ticks too. Especially on your legs and back and in your hair because if you don't find them before they settle in, you'll probably have to pick off a few from under your arms and around your waistline after you go to bed tonight.

We're on our way to the Bleven's boys house on a sneak visit because grandma thinks we're going to help Cindy Westbrook with her chores. Actually it's 3 boys and 1 girl who live in the large unpainted bare house by the side of the road. Mr. Blevens is mean and loud! Mrs. Blevens is meek and usually hides in the bedroom if anyone comes by. Elijah is the oldest and doesn't say much. David likes Cindy (they later married) and Amos thinks Sandra is cute. The girl is awkward and silly and giggles as we enter the doorway.

I see a playpen full of dirty clothes and bare mattresses without sheets or pillows. In the kitchen is a hot woodburning stove and a large bucket of lard sitting in the window sill. The few dishes scattered around are dirty but ready to be used for the next meal. Several skinny dogs are growling but not moving after Mr. Blevens gives them a swift kick across the room.

Amos and David want to go for a walk with us but I feel uncomfortable and want to leave. In the end, I wait on the path for them to return laughing and acting like fools, I think. It's difficult for me to play and have fun and tell jokes. I wish I could be like Sandra and enjoy sneaking around. The boys tease me a little and they all laugh at me for being such a stick-in-the-mud and seriously threaten me if I even think of telling on them.

So, let's you and me continue our Walkabout of Carver Creek from one end to the other. The next place after the Bleven's house is a couple miles on down the road. Tommy Wake and his family live here but Tommy is not SDA and he rides the bus to the public school in Annapolis. Grandma REALLY doesn't want us associating with Tommy, but Sandy has a crush on him too and we usually find an excuse to stop at his house once in awhile.

Tommy's dad has a little farm and some cows and they have a big house with a front porch and some outhouses. They have indoor plumbing, but we don't ask to use it. We like Tommy's mom a lot because she is nice to us and always offers fresh cookies and milk. One day she left the creek for some reason and after that it was only Tommy and his dad and no more soft chewy cookies.

Here I will interject that when Sandra and I went back to the creek some 30 years later, Tommy was living on our old property in a nice modern mobile home. Sandra was especially thrilled to meet Tommy again and they chatted about old times for several minutes before we went on our way.

After Tommy's house, the road goes uphill and around a large sweeping curve. Perfect for sledding in the wintertime! At the bottom of the hill on the left is an old schoolhouse. In front of the schoolhouse is a well with a hand help pump. You hold the handle and pump up and down to get a gush of sparkling cold water.

It had to be primed each time we wanted to get water from the well, but it was the best water around!

Later Grandma would teach school in that little schoolhouse where we played kickball at recess and memorized Bible verses for every class! On Saturday nights Jimmy would play his fiddle and the boys would buy our apple pies.

Grace and Albert Jordan lived next up the road and they remain my friends even today . They helped grandma get a better house. They rushed to help when we got sick. Albert showed me how to milk cows and Gracie showed us how to make butter. One night I ran to get Albert when I thought our house was on fire. I'm sure he recounted that experience with a good laugh every time because the "fire" was only a bunch of lightening bugs Sandra and I had captured that evening.

The last house in the horseshoe would later become our second house on 5 acres of land overlooking Albert's pasture and Carver Creek. Looking over the hillside 30 years later we were awed by the beauty of it all. When we lived there, it took so much just to survive that we didn't see beyond our childhood vision of hard work and demanding grandmother.

If you continued on to forge the creek again, there were several families we didn't know very well. They were mostly city folk who came from St. Louis on the weekends. Later, Charlie and Eva would move down from St. Louis and take Sandra and I under their wings. But that is for another story.

One family on the other side of the creek was known to us because a young man lived there who became a frequent guest at our house. Norman Reynard was tall, good looking and oh-so polite. He had only one arm due to an accident earlier in life but there was nothing he couldn't do or lift! Norman lived with his parents and helped take care of their farm.

Grandma said Norman had eyes for me. I didn't know what that meant, but I could count on Norman to show up when there was heavy work to be done. Whatever I was doing, Norman would be at my side to offer a helping hand. He was sweet and kind and serious like me. Norman never did anything to make me feel uncomfortable.

I'm sure Grandma wouldn't have cared if I was 14 or 41 if she thought she could gain a son-in-law to help take care of her too. Norman was in his early 20's and handicapped so I'm sure he wouldn't have minded taking a sweet teenage wife. I was terribly naive about it all and thought only of taking care of Sandra and finding my mother. No one had ever stayed long enough in my life to teach me how to love someone.

But in the end, Norman drowned trying to cross Carver Creek on his John Deere tractor on his way to our house after a storm. I figure he was coming to see if we were ok. Maybe his judgement was blinded a little...? I really missed Norman after that - for more reasons than I understood at the time. But, like others in my life, he was gone and I moved on.

March 17, 2005

Carver Creek Walkabout, Part 1

Sometimes it's hard to imagine the primitive conditions we tolerated in Missouri, especially the first couple years when we were in our pre-teen years. Our house was open to winter's blast and summer rains. Our toilet was a neighbors outhouse a half mile down the path, surrounded by spiders, snakes and scorpions. We had a small sink attached to a wall, but no water. We had no electronics of any kind because there was no electricity. We cooked on a big bellied stove that got so hot it almost burned the house down. Or, if the fire went out in the winter time, we woke to everything cold and frozen.

Yet, I don't remember Sandra or I complaining. Instead of brushing our teeth at night, we pulled out the chamber pot. In place of warm pajamas, we put on extra sweaters and even our coats on the coldest nights. We piled the bed high with all the clothes we could find. We snuggled close and when one of us turned over, the other turned too so we would stay a bit warmer on both sides!

Breakfast was usually one pan of something cooked on top of the stove. Usually corn meal mush or maybe grandma's all-time favorite, tomato gravy and biscuits. I always wished I hadn't seem so many big green worms on the tomato plants and all those wiggly little worms in the flour jar!

We did have was the unconditional acceptance of several families that lived along the creek that bordered our house. Like a horseshoe, we lived between two crossings of Carver Creek and if the creek came up after a rain, we were stranded there until the water went down.

We were about in the middle of the 5-mile stretch of gravel road. The first house was the home of a middle-aged couple named Vernon and Juanita. I believe both have passed on, so I can be honest and say he would be listed today as a child molester. His wife was diagnosed by the state as legally insane and they lived on her disability income. They were the only family on the creek to have a TV and we would beg grandma to let us walk there on Sunday afternoons to watch Lassie Come Home. Vernon would select one of us and sometimes he insisted that both of us sit on his lap and watch TV. We tolerated his lap and his wife's strange behavior for a few moments of watching a normal family life on TV.

Next down the dusty road was the Jimmy Jordan family. They lived in a little white house with a roof that was probably not over 5 feet high. It was small even to Sandra and I at that time. Mary kept the house clean and warm! Their epileptic daughter, Lilly, was our best friend. They had lots of chickens and plenty of eggs! I think the hen house was bigger than their home! They had a little wood stove in the middle of the tiny, tiny living room and a big cook stove in the kitchen. Mary could cook some delicious meals and we lived for the after church times when she would invite us over for for Sabbath dinner!

Jimmy played the fiddle like an Ozark Mountain Master! We were always mesmerized by his bow flying back and forth and his foot keeping time with the music. My book will provide some titles to some the songs he played.

When Lilly wasn't busy helping her mother with scrubbing clothes, canning food or cleaning the house, she would walk down the road to our house. We knew she was coming down the road because we could hear her "hen-cackling" laughter from a long way off. Lilly's infectious laugh was sweet music to our ears! She laughed at everything - sometimes imagined - but clearly funny in her mind.

Sandra and I would dance with delight when we heard her laughter as she rounded the corner of our road. We knew she would take us for long walks in the woods and show us eatable plants and good mushrooms. We would come home with tasty greens for salads and mushrooms to be sprinkled with seasoned flour and fried to a golden brown.

But Lilly was prone to frequent massive seizures. Many times our happy outing would end with her having a seizure in the woods or on the road. We learned to sit and wait until she woke up and we would help her back home knowing that she wouldn't be out and about for a day or two.

There were several other very interesting families on down the road. I will post more about them later and I hope you are enjoying my little book.

March 13, 2005

Dedication for my book, "Dusty Angels"

I am a survivor!

My sister and I grew up fleeing from Child Protective Service workers who only saw a glimpse of the conditions in which we were being raised by our grandmother.


This is not about the ancestry of the Brantley family, the Mascunana family or the Cash family.
It is a biography about my life and those who helped create the paths I chose
I must write this so that my brothers and sisters
will know who I am!
My mother will understand why I can forgive her.
My children will know the long journey I took
before they were born.
It is a gift to myself and a legacy to the future!
Dedicated to Jim - The True Love of my Life.
I am and will always be - Your Angelwings!
To my baby sister Sandra - You will always have
a safe haven in my heart!
To my children Billy and Philip - You are the Joys of my life.
Both of you are following your dreams for higher education,
and each of you are married to perfect mates!
Katie Yoshihara for Billy and Shelley King for Philip
"I Must Have Done Something Good".

March 12, 2005

"Something Left Behind" The Letter. 'Kiss My Babies for Me'

I remember the overwhelming loneliness even for a 3-year old little girl. I remember feeling the wet tears on my face as I peered out the window of the noisy 18-wheeler as it rushed down the highway away from the bright lights of New York City. Where was my mother? I felt sure she would return to get us and we wouldn't be there. Was she looking for me and baby sister now?

As I watched the stars throughout the long dark night and covered baby sister with a blanket, I knew our mother was in every car that passed by, in every light that blinked in the sky and standing in every window of every house along the way. I felt that somewhere in the darkness she was looking for me. And I was right!

It would take almost 40 years to discover a letter our mother had sent to the orphanage addressed to Linda and Sandra Brantley. We could not remember that someone had read the letter to us when we were just babies. In it she said she had to go away for awhile but she would return. "Whoever is reading this to my babies, please give them a kiss for me and tell them that their mother has not forgotten them".

I didn't understand then of course, but our grandmother, Carolyn Mascunana, had arranged for our truck driver uncle get us from the St. Barnabas Orphanage in New York City and include these two babies in his weekly "load" from New York City to Tampa, Florida.

No one knew what had happened to our mother, Dorothy Brantley, but she had disappeared leaving her 4 children alone there in New York City. Our father, Robert Brantley, was in the Navy cleaning up from the Korean War. We lost contact with our two older siblings. No one knew where either of our parents were. No one knew about the pink envelope tucked away in the orphanage file!

I didn't want to leave the orphanage. I begged to stay and wait for our mother. It was not until our grandparents gave up hope of either of our parents returning and it looked like I might be adopted out, that they sent for the two of us. My screaming rages at being separated from Sandra had prevented my adoption so far.

The trip remains nothing but a blur of bright lights that I concluded were search light from my mother. When we arrived in Tampa, there was some disagreement over who was really suppose to get us. Uncle Harvey and Aunt Tina Kruse were on record as adopting us, but that was the first of many underhanded things our grandmother did to keep us away from our parents and other family members for many years.

The sweetness in the family came from our grandpa, Jorge Mascunana. He was grandma's second husband and actually no blood ties to us, but he was longsuffering and patient when grandma was in a rage. He was kind when she was cruel. He was polite and gracious when she was mean and spiteful! He was small in stature. She was a giant of a woman. Everyone eventually left us all alone with this evil woman.

My sister and I were often afraid. The years that followed were spent being pulled from one place to another. Grandma would sometimes become a screaming maniac who would whip us until blood ran down our legs as she threatened to send us back to the orphanage. We lived in rat infested rooms and cold filthy trailers. We lived in cave-like places near Chattanooga, Tennessee and half build shacks in Missouri. We clung to each other and grew in our love and dependence on the other.

Each of us developed the innter strength to survive - each in opposite ways! I have a strong belief in a Higher Power and Sandra has strong belief in herself. I collect angels. Sandra collects witches. I'm devoted to taking care of others. Sandra takes good care of herself and others. I spent a lifetime of taking care of grandma until she died at over 100 years old! Sandra never forgot what grandma did to us but she accepted grandma's apology near the end of her long life.
When I was 13, I was a barefoot girl chopping firewood to keep us warm from the cold Missouri winter. We lived in a half-build house along a winding creek deep in the woods about 100 miles south of St. Louis. We had no electricity or running water. We bathed in the creek and gathered food from the woods. We probably would have died had it not been for the friendship and kindness of the few mountain people who lived within walking distance along Carver Creek near Annapolis, Missouri.

We still keep in contact with Grace and Albert Jordan of Carver Creek. Albert provided firewood from his sawmill. He shared milk from his cows and eggs from the chickens. Gracie canned jars and jars of vegetables every summer. We enjoyed playing with their little sons, Randy and Roger.

We still speak fondly of Lilly Jordan who taught us what wild plants were best to pick from the forest floor and what mushrooms were ready for the plucking after a summer rain.

The pets, it seemed had better living quarters that we did. The cat and dog shared and old weatherworn doghouse while Sandra and I wore threadbare coats to bed and huddled together to keep warm during those bone chilling 40 below winter nights. We knew that if it snowed during the night, we would wake to find tiny threads of snow on our bed that came through the cracks in the walls.

Grandma, stout and tough, would pile her bed high with old clothes and rags and snore the rafters loose! Grandpa refused to endure the cold winters and remained with his large Spanish family in Tampa.

We were cut off from the world. When kids our age were screaming over the Beatles, we were chopping firewood and emptying chamber pots. When "Lassie Come Home" was a family show, we were husking corn and picking out the worms. When Country Music was really country, we had no radio or TV.

One day in 1963, grandma told us that the president of the United States had been shot and killed. We didn't know who the president was! Our friends were orphaned wild animals. Our toys were Indian arrowheads and pretty stones from the creek bed. Our schooling was grandma on a "good day". Raging creeks and flat tires regulated our rare trip to "town".

Grandpa knew we needed his love and support. He sent large packages of toys and pretty clothes to cheer his two adoring adopted grandchildren. (They had adopted us by then.) Every day, Sandra and I would run the mailbox by the edge of the road and watch for the tiny dust trail that signaled, "Johnny the Mailman" and a quick break from grandma's backbreaking garden. For many years after we left there, I sent a Christmas card to "Johnny the Mailman" at Annapolis, Missouri. I never knew his name. I wonder if he knew how much we loved him!

Family and friends didn't ever come to visit, but they did send care packages. Our relatives never knew that grandma didn't let us keep the gifts they sent. She said we needed to share with "those less fortunate". She told us that she sent our precious treasures across the sea to the poor children of China.

In Missouri, we were often sick with raging fevers and lung wrenching coughs. Grandma's remedy for a bad cough was a teaspoon of Kerosene on a spoonful of sugar. Earaches were treated with warm onion juice poured down the ear. A pain in my side called for an over night lemon juice poultice. Sore throats got wrapped with wool and plastic for a day. Deep cuts were sewed together with needle and thread! We grew up thinking this was normal.

In the Springtime, Sandra and I would dance with delight as we hunted barefoot in the thick woods for Springly mushrooms and tasty greens. The angels must have been busy protecting us two little girls running around deep in the Missouri woods alone and barefoot! On the small wood-burning stove, grandma would fry the mushrooms in her unique but tasty bug-infested batter and she would steam the greens with a little butter. Sometimes we got to eat some of the warm corn meal mush she cooked for the dogs.

The Missouri summer storms sent us cowering together in fear; not only of the lightening but that the creek would wash our house away! Carver Creek curved its way around our house and across both ends of the gravel road to our section of the Ozark Mountains. When the creeks came up, no one went out or came in until the floodwater receded!
We learned how dangerous our creek could be when our good friend, Norman, tried to cross the raging water on his John Deere tractor. The tractor was washed away and he was drowned.

The Missouri Mountains may be a great vacation place for some, but Sandra and I knew its monstrous secrets. There were Rattlesnakes on the path to get drinking water from the spring deep in the woods. Water Moccasins lay sunning on the over hanging branches and dropped down beside us as we bathed in the creek. Leeches stuck to our legs or slid into tiny body openings if we lingered too long on a warm summer day.

Sandra and I would argue over whose turn it was to carry the water bucket from the insect-filled spring, but we didn't ague over who would go because neither of us would travel those paths alone! It seemed we could never get the bucket full enough not to splash on our already cold, blue legs, or full enough to please grandma!

Our ankles were swollen and red from constant flea bites. Mice ran across our bed at night and ate any treats we tried to hide from grandma. Each morning we would scramble to help each other untangle cockroaches from our hair! We tried to ignore the cooked worms and weevils in our food. I learned to eat without getting sick by setting aside a bit of food on my place and pretending that it contained all the insects that had been in my food.

To celebrate becoming a teenager, I planted my own little flower garden. I broke up the ground with a heavy old railroad pick! I had already learned how to change tires, mend fences and carry 50-pound bags of feed to the old barn for my pet goat that I milked twice a day. We cooked, sewed, cleaned, canned food and tried to study from any book we could find.

One summer day, a strange car did indeed stop at our house. It was our dad! Grandma didn't seem surprised to see her son. I knew it was my dad the moment I saw him even though I hadn't seen him since I was an infant. Grandma let him drive us to town for commodities and we went swimming and had a picnic.

But our dad only stayed a few days. He was there to offer us a nice home and a new mother!