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NEWS FROM THE HILLS: WINTERTIME REMEDIES PT.2

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ALYCE FAYE BRAGGFebruary has always seemed like a dreary month to me. Not quite winter and not yet spring, it stretches between the two like a dingy, worn-out blanket, frayed and full of holes. Winter's debris seems to collect in this month—scattered paper and trash in the ditch lines, plastic bags festooned on bare tree limbs and empty soda pop cans and bottles nestled in piles of dead leaves.

Although this winter has been almost devoid of snow, normally there are dirty piles of leftover snow in the corner of parking lots and decorating the roadsides. Actually, this has been a really mild winter so far, but you can't help wondering what Old Man Winter might have up his sleeve before the season is over.

An older man told me that unless we get a good cover of snow, that the coming summer will be dry. Then he added, "That's just my prediction." A Jackson County farmer once confided to me that we need a lot of snow in the winter. "It puts elements that are needed in the ground for summer planting," he said. We'll just accept what the good Lord sends us.

The best medicine for the winter doldrums is the brightly colored seed catalogs that arrive this time of year. The weather outside can be cold and dreary, but curled up in a comfortable armchair beside a warm fire with one of these cheerful publications; you are instantly transported to a summertime garden. I wonder how many gardens are planned, planted and harvested in the dead of winter without moving from the armchair.

Yes, we do get anxious for the least sign that spring is coming. The tiny snowdrops, colorful crocuses and miniature grape hyacinths are usually the first flowers to appear in our yards, and of course the yellow Easter flowers. When buds appeared on the forsythia bush, Mom would bring in a few sprigs to force the bloom. We had a pussy willow bush in our front yard, and these fat, fuzzy catkins decorated our kitchen table.

No matter how many spring seasons that we see come and go, it is still a thrill to anticipate its arrival. One of the sure signs of coming spring is the birth of baby farm animals. Honeysuckle had a premature calf, and it didn't survive. She was producing more than five gallons of milk a day, and we were overwhelmed. Criss looked around for a set of milkers and he found them—two little calves from a dairy farm.

The first one was a little bull calf, half Holstein and half Hereford. I want to name him Herman. Then we acquired a little girl calf whose mother was a Jersey and her daddy was an Angus. She is a couple of weeks younger than Herman, and is a feisty little thing. We had a little problem getting them adjusted to Honeysuckle's milk, as it is so rich.

Criss has them lined out now, and they are thriving. From the very first, Rosebud knew exactly what those dangly things on the cows stomach were. She would latch on for dear life and nurse as hard as she could. Criss is certain that Herman is retarded. He wasn't sure where to suck. He'd try the side of her sack, and then run around and suck on Rosebud's ear. I think he needs a GPS system.
I'm anxious for Criss to turn them out of the barn into the meadow. There is nothing any prettier than baby calves running and jumping across a meadow.
We used to have a litter of baby pigs every spring, but we haven't raised any for a long time.

One year when I was still a kid at home, our brood sow, Old Sowpie, had a litter of 13 pigs. She only had 12 spigots, so one little pig was getting left out. To our delight, Daddy let us take one and bottle feed it. Baby pigs are the cutest animals on the farm, and we loved it. We kept it in a box behind the cooking stove and took turns feeding it. Soon it was too big for the box, so Daddy put it back in the pen with the others.

The pig pen was built in a shallow hollow, and the sides ran uphill. We were dying to catch one of the pigs and cuddle it, but we were afraid of Sowpie. I had a bright idea—Daddy had a fishing net with a long handle, and I told Larry to chase the pigs around the pen and I'd scoop one up in the net. Unfortunately, the net wasn't made for a fat little pig and he tore the bottom out of it.

It was a good thing, though. If we had captured a pig, I figure Old Sowpie would have come out of that pen and ate us up. Daddy did wonder what happened to his fishing net. With seven offspring, (three were boys) he was always moaning about the loss of belongings. I heard him say many times that "You young'ens could tear up an iron last!"

Kids and farm animals go together. We always had an assortment of animals, and most were pets. Now we are down to Honeysuckle and her calves, a few laying hens, and the dogs, of course. All of them are outside dogs except Minnie. She really thinks she is a person. We had her to the vet awhile back for treatment for a skin rash. He gave us a bottle of medicine to give her.

(This is sort of an involved story.) I really am trying to be careful, as every time I fall I know that I am going to break something. Sure enough, last Saturday I stepped off the kitchen stoop to put a bag of garbage in the trash bin. It had been raining, and the mud was slick and soft. I slipped, my feet flew out from under me, and I fell full length on my back. I felt a rib pop.

Sadder but wiser (?) I got on my knees and crawled back in the house. I was on the bed and asked Criss to bring me a muscle relaxer. I told him where the bottle was, explaining that it was just a tiny pill. He brought one to me, and I dutifully took it.

A little later, it occurred to me that the pill was not the same shape as my Flexeril. I investigated, and sure enough, he had given me one of Minnie's Prednisone pills.

When I related this to Dr. Ede, he said with a funny look, "How did it affect you?" I answered, "Well, I'm not barking yet, but I have this urge to chase cars!" I can't though—it hurts too much with a broken rib!

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Alyce Faye Bragg
About This Author
She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published.
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