Spotlight: Deanna Vensland (Sashagirl)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on September 5, 2011

The person you're going to read about this week is bound to become an instant "old friend." We have crossed paths a few times here on Cubits, mostly in the Jigsaw Puzzle forum, and I always thought I'd like to get to know her better. I know you will like her to. She goes by the name Sashagirl.

 

When I was compiling responses for my Roving Reporter article a couple of weeks ago, I didn't know what to do with Sashagirl's childhood memories. They were totally compelling! Yet her response was quite long, and I just couldn't bring myself to ask her permission to cut it down. There was only one thing I could do. I had to ask her if she would let me devote an entire article to her. I laughed at her answer …. “Nancy, your note made me break out in a cold sweat!” Ha! Thankfully, though, she consented to do it, and I asked her to send me even more. Now, it's once again a little long, but when you read it you will see that there is nothing to cut out of it. It's perfect, just as it is. Here we go ….

 

"I'll never forget those hot summer nights...."

Sounds like the lead in to a steamy novel doesn't it? Hardly.

Hot summer nights was life on the farm in the steamy mid-west, mid 20th century. Of course we had no AC, or even fans that I remember, except for a little table fan that Mama and Daddy had in their room.
We had no cement pond, either. But...we had a horse tank! My brothers and I asked Mama if we could wash it out and use it for a swimming pool. She said yes! You never saw four kids working so diligently, and without provocation, to fill up that "pool". We hauled bucket after bucket of fresh well w
2011-09-04/nap/8ea6c6ater, until that tank was nearly full. The well water was icy cold, so it took a day or two in the sun before we could use the tank to cool off after the days chores were completed, but oh my, we thought we were in heaven, cooling off in that tank. The cows, however, were not so pleased to discover their water tank on the wrong side of the fence. They made their displeasure known.


Long story short....our "pool days" were short lived, as the fence separating the cows from their water source didn't stand a chance against those cows. sigh...and it was such a nice "pool.” Ah well...

I grew up on a small farm, by today's standards. It was 160 acres, where we grew beans, corn and alfalfa (for hay). We had a beef herd...and a bull named "Bosco". Now Bosco was generally a good natured bull, which apparently lulled us kids into a false sense of security where he was concerned, even though Daddy repeatedly cautioned us to never turn our back on him.

At that point in time,my visits to the barn lot were limited pretty much to climbing the windmill to look for my brothers when it was time to call them in for lunch. It was a wonderful lookout tower, as it was about 35 foot tall. I could see anywhere on our farm from near the top of our windmill.


I guess I should have been paying more attention as I descended the windmill that day, because as I stepped of the ladder rung, I heard the first "Snort". Uh-oh....I looked toward the yard fence, I looked towards the corn crib. Then...I looked at Bosco. Bad move. Bosco snorted again and pawed the ground, then snorted again. I screamed and ran, fast as I could...for the corn crib. The good news is, I outran Bosco. The bad news is, Bosco wasn't going anywhere but into the corn crib. He had me literally "up the crib" for nearly an hour until my brothers came riding up on the tractor, wondering when lunch was being served! They maneuvered Bosco back to the pasture so I could climb down. Soon after that event, Daddy found Bosco a new home. Poor Bosco...

We weren't a dairy farm by any means, but we usually kept a dozen milk cows on hand, mostly Holstein or Guernseys. Of course we milked those by hand, in stanchions. No milking machines for us. The only electric appliance we had, as far as milk was concerned, was the evil milk "separator.” Gads, I still remember those disgusting paper discs after the buckets of milk were poured through. May I gag again? Thanks. But, on the plus side...milk (blue john, we called it) came out one side and the most luscious cream came out the other side. Talk about Heaven in a pitcher...the cream, NOT the blue john.

(note from Nancy: Blue John is defined by Urbandictionary.com as a derogatory term for skim milk)

Next, came washing that horrid machine. I hated that chore, but it must be done to keep producing that miraculous cream and the disgusting blue john. Mama was insistent on that point.

The boys, my brothers, somehow loved that blue john. Gag. Not I. But the luscious cream? Much to my detriment, I learned to appreciate it at an early age. It was so thick and pure, it would mound on a spoon. Mama sold the cream to the local creamery. Their truck came and picked it up, but I honestly don't remember how many times a week they stopped. I DO know that Mama was able to purchase some pretties for the house with her2011-09-04/nap/873af6 creamery money, and that gave her pleasure, for which I'm thankful. She so deserved it!

She didn't sell ALL of the cream, as we churned all our own butter. Nothing better, as you all know. We also made our own cottage cheese, too. I liked the butter better.  Mama baked at least three times a week, in order to keep us "bread snappers" (Daddy's term for us kids) supplied in bread and other baked goodies, and let me tell you, Mama was a fantastic cook and baker!

As much as possible, she tried to time her baking so that there was fresh bread or goodies coming out of the oven about the time us kids got home from school. All those fresh baked "scents" rolling out of our house when the bus dropped us off, nearly drove the other kids nuts! You'd see them hanging out the bus windows, just so they could get an extra sniff of Mama's baked goods, before the bus moved on. None of their mothers baked like Mama did, so we were the envy of every kid on that bus. What could be better than fresh baked goodies as an after school snack?!

We had huge vegetable gardens (yes, plural). Mama and I canned 200-300 quarts of fruits and veggies a year, plus we froze a lot too, and made jams, jellies and preserves. We had a huge strawberry bed, and an even bigger asparagus patch. We sold strawberries and asparagus, but allowed very few friends in our gardens. We harvested for the customers, so our beds wouldn't be torn up.

We put up our Kraut in quart jars, rather than in crocks like a lot of people do. It was my first canning experience "all by myself, ' and I was so p2011-09-04/nap/bb9dfcroud!! I was seven years old. By the time I was 10, I cooked my mothers birthday dinner - Fried Chicken, milk gravy, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, fresh garden salad, and chocolate cake with mint powdered sugar frosting. All from scratch. Isn't that something? She was so proud, she always said it was her best gift ever.

Since we raised a beef herd, we had our own beef butchered, and Mama cold packed several canners full each year. How delicious that was, each jar full surrounded by it's own gravy. If you've never had canned beef, you have no idea what you're missing! Think about the best roast beef you ever had then triple the flavor. Yum!

Of course we raised chickens too, and we butchered and dressed our own free range chickens. Mama couldn't stomach wringing their necks, so we went the ax and tree stump route. It did the job. The worst part was the smell of that pot of boiling water and dunking the carcass in it, so we could pluck them. I shall carry that smell to the grave, but I sure loved the finished products, 1001 ways to prepare fresh chicken. Oh, yeah.

As we were growing up, I had no idea we were organic growers. We didn't use any chemicals on the produce or antibiotics on the livestock, and everything was free range. I don't know if any of that stuff was available, I just know we didn't use any. The closest we came to weed control or chemicals was a hoe and a corn knife connected to our hands.

I never, ever, ever remember even one of us kids saying "I'm bored" when we were growing up. There were never enough hours in the day to do all the farm chores that needed to be done.

Since I was the only girl (and no, I was not spoiled - quite the contrary), I had to primarily stay indoors and help Mama with cooking, cleaning, baking, washing (wringer washer), ironing (yes, everything!). I worked the veggie gardens and helped preserve the harvest, plus processing the cows milk, and mending clothes. I wasn't allowed in the barns or around the cows much. Daddy thought I might be exposed to something too indelicate for my eyes. He was quite old-fashioned that way. I wasn't even allowed outdoors, when he and the boys were castrating hogs!

Speaking of …. oh my, we loved those Rocky Mountain Oysters! Daddy was very meticulous about the proper cleaning and processing of them. When they came into the house, they were already cleaned, sliced and soaking in salt water. I was so naive that I didn't even know what they really were. All I knew was that for supper we'd be having the best “tenderloins!” LOL

One “castrating hogs day,” a long time friend of ours stopped by and Daddy invited him to stay for supper. Jr already knew what a good cook Mama was, so he gladly accepted. He ate a hearty meal, then leaned back, patted his tummy, and said, "Mable, that's the best meal I ever had, and those tenderloins were the best I ever ate!!" Daddy looked at JR. and said, "What tenderloins? We just had Rocky Mountain Oysters." Jr's eyes got big, then he ran out back behind the house and up-chucked. Can you believe that?! I never understood that, after he bragged about how good they were.2011-09-04/nap/d5065c

Daddy was a steelworker during the week, and came home and worked the farm on the weekends. Or at least, that's the way it seemed to us kids most of the time. The rest of us farmed full time, and not without some resentment I might add, but I've come to realize that us kids didn't see or understand the whole picture. Don't we all do that at some time in our lives-form an opinion, without all the facts? God help us.

Anyhow …. poor Mama was responsible with making sure we accomplished all the things Daddy laid out for us to do during the week while he was gone. She had her hands full, keeping all her work done while keeping us four kids in line. The old saying, "Kids will be kids" certainly held true for us. She was forever rescuing us from our own folly. Like the time I drove our new Case tractor (with all three brothers on board) into the creek, or when one of my brothers shot another brother in the lip with his BB gun, or when same brother broke his arm while we played acrobatics on the front lawn, or when my twin brother got thrown off the cow he was riding and injured his back, or how about the time she had to rescue one of the brothers who got hung on the barn hay hook? I could go on and on. A "boring" farm does not keep kids from mischief, quite the contrary it seems.

Growing up on our mid-western farm in the 50's and early 60s was hard, and us kids were exposed to heavy responsibilities at an early age. But, we had each other and we shared those responsibilities, making them seem lighter.

We had tragedies, like the year we lost the whole beef herd from some bacteria in the creek. The rendering truck came for days and days to pick up dead livestock. That's the first time I ever saw Daddy cry, and not a one of us kids understood the scope of his grief. Bless his heart. But above all, we were loved and we were given the tools and the training to make it on our own as adults. We learned to love God and family and our fellow man, and this great earth that has been granted to us as a stewardship.

High School was my favorite part of childhood, and music was my passion at that time. I was in every musical group I could be in and did a lot of solo work too, at regional and state levels. I was honored to be selected to be in the All-State Choir, both my junior and senior years and was chosen to sing the solo at our Commencement exercises.

I participated in track and girls' basketball (we still played three on three-half court). I think we were unique in Iowa for playing half court. I played guard. I loved basketball and still do. My sons and I loved to play “horse” up until they left home, and I still had my share of wins. Ha!
2011-09-04/nap/6b3cd1
After High School I attended Beauty School. Can you believe the tuition was only around $500 for the 2000 hour course, then? I think that same course runs around $7000 now. Yikes! Even though I dearly loved fixing hair, I never officially worked in a shop, but I've never regretted going to school to learn the trade. None of my immediate family ever went anywhere but mom's kitchen for their haircuts, color, etc, as long they were still home. I also cut my husband's hair, so that tuition money wasn't wasted!

The Vietnam war was going on when I finished Beauty school, and my three brothers were in Vietnam serving in the Armed Forces, so when I saw that the Arsenal near home was needing workers on the ammo lines, I chose to go to work there (feeling perhaps some little thing I did there, might someday help save one of our soldiers' lives - maybe even one of my brothers).

Later came marriage to a Missouri boy, so I got to experience the Ozarks, which I loved. I met and was befriended by many wonderful Christian people down there, and I taught Sunday School for several years in our little Pentecostal church. The toddler thru five year olds were my favorite classes. My oldest son was born while we were there and I always said he cut his first teeth on the back of one of those old pews!

 

While friendships were plentiful, the available decent paying jobs were not. So when my oldest was about school age, we moved back to Iowa where our second son was born. When he was very young, his dad's path took off in a different direction, so now we were a single parent household.

Jobs were not plentiful here either, so I worked from home at jobs where I could take my little one with me. I cleaned homes, did other people's washing and ironing, did some yard work, as well as selling my homemade pies and pastries. I suppose I could have applied for some type of government aid, but I was raised to believe I possessed the skills to care for me and mine. So I did, and along the way I cleaned house for the most delightful little elderly lady that really had me spend more time caring for her myriad plants, than doing actual cleaning!

I credit her with re-awakening my love for plants, indoors and out! God Bless her for that! I needed to be reminded that nowhere do I feel closer to God than in my gardens. I'm not sure how I ever allowed myself to get away from digging in the dirt and nurturing p
2011-09-04/nap/92e062lants, but I had. So starting again was just like getting back on a bicycle. In no time I was back to growing and gardening, and feeling optimistic about life again.

I applied to the Master Gardener program and was accepted. It was taught to us by many of the professors from IA State University. At that time, it was the only volunteer program that I knew of where you had to graduate with a certain grade point in order to serve! I aced the test, knowing full well I'd learn more from being in the program than I could ever give away. I highly encourage any who read this to seek out your County Extension Office and see if the Master Gardener program is available in your area. It's a wonderful program. I loved all the volunteer opportunities, from giving talks to church groups to 4-H troops, from doing radio (call in) talk shows, to building raised beds for wheelchair patients at a local nursing home!

I also worked extensively with my sons school as a volunteer, then was voted in as PTA president which I just loved. I also served on the City Council. This was right up my alley, and I loved it! I even got sent by my school unit to the National PTA convention in DC. Our theme that year was “Children - Our Greatest Treasure.” I'm so glad I got to be a part of that.

I really got to enjoy the school kids, as my oldest son and I coached the city's opening year Dad's Club Soccer team. Our team was the 6-10 year olds, and we took 1st Place Trophy in that age group. Talk about the blind leading the blind. I volunteered to coach before I even knew how to play it.
  Ha ha! 

I actually got my last job - Floral Shop Manager - primarily because of my voluntary work in the MG program and people skills gained through my work with PTA. Isn't that ironic? I enjoyed that job so much, and stayed until I retired a few s hort years ago.


I met my true love and married
2011-09-04/nap/78bd7b him about the time I got that job, and when I retired I envisioned we'd have many more years to enjoy each other. Alas, it was not to be. I lost my honey this past Spring and am still just devastated by his loss. Life does go on, one day at a time, and I am determined to make a difference in others lives, so will get back in to the volunteering that I love so much.

Meanwhile, my family and friends are such a comfort. And.....of course, there's the gardens which must be tended and loved, so I have much for which I'm so thankful.

Roger and I had just 21 years together. I was so hoping for at least 40! We missed our 22nd anniversary by three months.

 (I asked Deanna a few extra questions. How did you discover Cubits? Do you enjoy cooking and do you have a special dish you're famous for? What do you like to read? Tell me about your family.)

 I discovered Dave's Garden while searching for plant care sheets for my floral shop customers. It seemed like every time I looked up another plant, DG plant files came up first on my search engine. After a few times of this, I decided I just had to subscribe so I could have the whole site available to me. I naturally gravitated towards Cubits, because of the respect I feel for Dave and Trish. I think they are an amazing couple.

I have to chuckle at the phrase about being "famous" for any particular cooking. I've always said I'm just an old-fashioned farm cook. I know nothing of haute cuisine. My boys think I make the best fried chicken there is, and I tend to agree. Dizzy Dean said “It ain't braggin', if you done it.” I make a mean pot of ham and beans, too. I learned to cook beans the proper way in SW, MO. Believe me when I say, "Those folks know beans!"

I'm a "throw it together" cook. A little of this, a little of that, until it's just right, and seldom use recipes. The down side to that is, that perfect dish may never be repeated. This fact frustrated my honey, no end. I love to bake, but seldom do, since I love it a little too much ! I generally only bake when company is coming to share a meal. The guests are my safety net.

I do love to read, and lean towards historical and inspirational romance, or good human interest books like the Notebook, or Tuesdays with Morrie, just to name a few. I also enjoy some Danielle Steele, James Patterson, Fern Michaels (especially the Sisterhood series!). I also love any of the Amish books by, or similar to Beverly Lewis. Westerns by Linda Lael Miller! I could go on, but I won't.

My boys are 43 and 35. I'm fortunate that they
2011-09-04/nap/6966fcboth live within an hours drive. Between them, I have six grandchildren, who are growing up entirely too fast. The oldest is 13 and the youngest is two. My only complaint is that I don't get to see them as often as I'd like.

I hope you've enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. I surely have.


 

And this is where the story should have ended, but I had one more question to ask.  Does the name Sashagirl have any significance?  She responded with this photo, and these words.

 

2011-09-04/nap/b1f7d7

 

 

My long haired kitty's name is Sasha, but  I always call her Sashagirl. She's the sweetest kitty, who came to us almost 16 years ago. She was a stray and was starved to the point that at first I didn't even know she was a kitty. I thought she was a rat, until I heard her weak, pitiful purr.  We nursed her back to good health, and she has rewarded us, now just me, with devoted love and affection.


 

Deanna, we thank you for sharing your life and your feelings here today.  As always, I'm happy to call you my friend.  And thanks, dear readers, for your continued support of this cubit.  Won't you say hello to Sashagirl before you leave?  And stop back often.  Sharon will be in this spot next week with more good reading.

Related articles:
interview, sashagirl, spotlight

About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Deanna, I love your story! weeds Sep 17, 2011 10:27 AM 20
One of the best stories Maria Sep 14, 2011 3:08 PM 1
A favorite Sharon Sep 12, 2011 7:23 PM 28
Fun reading, no bull! Lance Sep 11, 2011 5:06 PM 1

Who's Who Spotlight

Who's Who Spotlight articles feature personal interviews and photos of individual Cubits members, sharing with you their talents and expertise in a variety of areas and interests.

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