You know how sometimes we go in search of words that are soothing to our souls? Well, I don't have to look very far to find soothing words, I just search for my friend, Sally Hazen, and I can always find them. We know her as billyporter and I never did know where that name came from until now. I'm not going to tell you, you will have to read her story for yourself if you want to know.
Her life is as soothing as her words, and I'm going to let her tell you about it without much interruption from me. Let's go to Iowa now and meet the sweetest lady; we'll start with her early life...
I was born in 1957, the oldest of four kids. I grew up in Nichols, as did my Dad. His family weren't the first settlers, but close. We lived on the edge of town and had a barn across the road with part of an acre we call the pasture. The barn was in the country, so even though I was a town kid, we had a chickens, a Shetland pony, sheep, and a couple pigs for butchering, all at various times. Dad fixed the haymow with a plywood floor and we roller skated up there. He put up a basketball hoop, and later, we slept up there on old mattresses. He welded us a merry go round and monkey bars. Dad still lives at home. My Mom passed in 2004. We lost my younger sister in a car accident in 1975 and I also have two younger brothers.
Both of my grandparents lived in the country. They had flowers and big gardens and so did Mom. I hated weeding and picking from the garden so I am really suprised that I fell right into it after I got married. I also love to can and just invested in a pressure cooker a couple of years ago.
My dad's parents only lived a couple of miles out of town and had cattle and a forest of timber. The cows kept it clean. We would walk the long lane and run around up there. It was great fun when all of the cousins were there. We would jump out of the haymow, look for kittens and play with the dogs. Grandma had chickens and sold white rabbits for meat. She never made us eat the whites of our eggs when we stayed because she could feed them to the cats and dogs. We rode on the little tractor with Grandpa to take hay to the cows. When Dad took us there we would stand in the back of the truck with the wind in our faces or sit on the wheel wells. Those were the days of no regulations! The farm was sold a few years ago and the person who bought the timber cut all the oak trees to sell. From the stack, there were quite a few. With no cows, it was overrun with poison ivy and poison oak. I know because I touched the poison oak. I'd never seen it before.
Sally, was there anyone who had a special early influence on you?
Even though all my older relatives were an influence, I think my Great Aunt Bess was my biggest. This was my mom's side of the family. She lived on the farm across the barnyard from my Granddad. She was his sister, and her husband's mother owned both places. They had no kids. We would visit Granddad and Grandma, then walk over there to visit for the rest of the night. She would meet us at the door and always say "Howdy Do, Folks! Come on in and have a piece of pie!" There was either elderberry, rhubarb, apple, pear, peach, strawberry or gooseberry pie to eat. Because of that phrase, I made a good friend on Dave's Garden because her mother said the same thing. They had a container of water in the indoor porch that they pumped fresh from the well every day, and us kids always had to have a drink from the ladle. My other grandpa had a tin cup hanging on the outdoor pump and we asked for drinks there too. Any one who came to Aunt Bessy's, friend or worker, was invited in for coffee and pie. She had chickens too, and I remember going down with her to shut them in. She wore a red bandana tied around her curls. I'm never without a red bandana in my drawer.
Thanksgiving was always at our house since we had the room for almost 30 people. They were all from Mom's side. Mom had one sister and brother so there were plenty of kids! Aunt Bess always brought home-made chicken and noodles. She cut her noodles so fine!
We walked to school in town and after school Mom always had cookies or cake coming out of the oven. Otherwise, we would snack on the big, four square crackers/saltines and watch cartoons. I used to bake a lot too, till we started gaining weight. I still like to bake bread.
We lived catty-corner to the Catholic Church and they had a huge orchard of old apple trees. We would sneak over from the pasture and climb the trees, sampling the apples. I remember the really huge apples and think they were the Wolf River. They were too sour to eat. I think between the Church's apples, the gooseberries Grandma had, and our grape and apple trees, I developed my love of ''grazing.''
I grew up climbing trees, playing in creeks and riding bikes. I did like playing with the baby dolls, but had no interest in Barbie. Mom sewed all our doll clothes so we had a ton of them! There were a lot of kids my age in town and we would play outdoor games all afternoon. Long ago I wrote down the games and rhymes we used to say, to count out who was it. I re-read it recently and realized I had already forgotten a few.
My mom sewed all our clothes, but sadly the sewing gene never made it to me. She would rather sew than go outside and I was the opposite.
You mention your grandsons often, Sally. Would you share with us a little now about your family?
I married a guy who also grew up in Nichols, as did his grandparents. We have one daughter and she has two sons, ages 6 and 4. In June, she will be having twins! A boy and girl. She was only trying for another boy, LOL! They live on a farm with Egyptian horses they just sold, chickens and meat goats. They are trying to start a business with the goats, and we get a lot of fresh eggs. My dad still had his mom's big heat lamp to warm the chicks, and her roosts, so now my daughter uses them.
My husband and I used to go on vacations and although I miss seeing other places, we both think we have enough to do in our own backyard to keep us busy and happy. We take country rides in the old Jeep and I take along tubs and a shovel in case I need to rescue any plants. I have quite a few rescues. We also have a 1963 Galaxie, but we only ride the highways with it.
When I started putting in all the flower beds, I also took over the mowing. I found I liked it and it's my Zen. I wear headphones because it's so loud and I don't ride, I push. I have decided the next mower will have self propel for the ditches.
I am happiest working in the flower beds. I say my best prayers then. Maybe it's because I'm already on my knees! I walk across the road and look the length of my yard to see what I can do to make it look better to those who pass by. I want to brighten other people's day with color and scent. I may not sew, but I lay out quilts of color anyway. One year I received an anonymus "Turkey Note" of appreciation. I still don't know who sent it, but it felt nice and now I try harder to make my beds pretty.
I think you love your life, my friend. What do you see in your future, Sally?
I see me, as a very old woman, still on my feet, working my flowers and garden as long as I am able. I have older gardening friends in town who inspire me to work towards that goal. I've learned a lot from them. I have learned to stop and smell the roses and if the floors need swept, there's always tomorrow. It's a good thing we never have company or my philosophy would be a bit different!
We put in a pitcher pump outside and I couldn't be happier. I love hauling water to the plants without having to drag the hose around. If I had one in the house, I would use it. I think my grandparents are smacking their heads saying, "Use the hose!" I loved pumping the water at their houses so it's a good memory. Now my grandkids have little watering cans and can water anything they want. I'm making a good memory for them, too.
I have an adirondack chair and at the end of the day I sit in it and just let the tired drain out of me. I remember sitting in them at Aunt Bessy's and was amazed even then, that they were so comfortable, even though they were so big. They also had a glider that you sat in and pushed with your feet. I wish I had one.
The best times of my life were when we went to the ''cabin.'' I was four when we started. My granddad bought a small two man camper and he and my Dad built a large screened in porch on it. There were a few summer homes around, but it was mostly just us there. Cedar trees grew everywhere so it was all pretty private. Walt and Jean lived just up the sand road. My sister and I would take a bucket up to scoop water out of a basin they had outside. Mom used it to prime the pitcher pump. Past Walt's, was a huge levee, and on the other side, the Mississippi. It was the backwater, so we were pretty safe. We knew we were to never try and swim in it and Dad always took us for a boat ride after dinner. One year we had the john boat and when the motor stalled, my sister and I rowed over and got a water lily with Dad halfheartedly ''cussing'' us. I never smelled anything so Heavenly, or saw anything so different. Lily pads are a special memory. Sometimes we put the big boat in at Muscatine to take the long way there while Mom took the car the short way. I never failed to get poison ivy, but we could run wild and I did, through weeds and trees. I had my husband take me there many years ago and I was shocked that it was wall to wall houses. We felt like intruders so I never even got to see the levee. We just turned around and left. I had a heavy heart.
What about the animals in your life? I know you have a special place in your heart for all of them.
I was four when a German Shepard decided to adopt us. We didn't get to have her very long. My sister and I were playing in the sandpile by the sidewalk when a teenage girl was walking home. Missy bit her hand. Dad put her in the chicken house for two weeks and I sneaked over to see her. After her time was up, Mom and Dad decided to have her put down. Mom said I told Missy to lay down and she did. I still miss her.
I was also four when we went to Tama, Iowa to see the Indians dance. I remember a small boy, maybe two or three with bells and feathers on his feet, and he did a little dance. It was so cute! We both got a headdress with feathers and were so proud of them!
Another wonderful memory is the Weed Park Zoo in Muscatine with Dolly the elephant. Earlier this year, they did an article on her. She's still alive in the Denver Zoo and is 47 years old. I'll bet if I saw her and called Doollyyyy, she would remember. We would call her to feed her the treats they sold. We were able to touch her trunk. Later, they built a double fence around her and you had to throw it to her. They had a lion who would roar till he had an audience, then turn and squirt everyone. There were alligators with pennies on their backs that people threw in. There were tigers, monkeys, a snake house and buffalo, among other animals. In the park was the BEST merry go round! How to describe it? You could stand on the seat and grab the poles. They moved back and forth so you could move it that way. It was so neat! Now it looks so small in the picture above.
Cats always seem to find us and I have two, seven year old indoor cats that we adopted when they were five weeks old. Both are boys. The neighbor cats both eat and sleep outside in the insulated cat boxes my husband made. One of them comes in to sleep during the day. Both of them are boys. We've taken a lot of ferals into the Humane Society to save them from starving or getting sick over the winter.
I never used to take a lot of pictures. I never wanted to waste the film. I see a lot of you smiling and agreeing. With digital, I love to photograph everything. I walked all over town and took pictures of the houses that still had gingerbreading or other features on them before they changed. I photographed the bricks uptown with a few 1928 carvings. Then I ended up taking pictures of every house in town, and alley views. I wish I had done that when I was a kid. If I could go back for one day, I would be riding my bike all over town taking pictures and talking to all the old people one last time.
I loved to read and Mom was generous with the books. I read Aesop's Fables and almost every moral stuck with me. Not that I adhered to them, but I sure repeated them! Today, my favorite sayings are "There's never enough time in a day." (I want that on my headstone) and ''There's never a perfect day." No matter what I set out to do, I never completely get it done. Something more important always comes up.
I think simple pleasures are best and I feel I grew up in the best of times. I have one foot in the past and one foot in the present. I see what people mean by the good old days. It wasn't the economy or the jobs. Those were tough. It's the memories you made with your family and relatives that you want to pass on to your kids and grandkids. I've learned a lot about the customs of Iceland and Romania, and I see how we've gotten away from ceremony. I think ceremony is important.
I can say that I am happy with the place I live, with what I have, and am even happy to be the age I am! Life has been good to me and I try to pass that on to others even if it's with a smile and a wave. I believe good vibrations coming from people help to make the world a better place.
One last thing, Sally, where on earth did billyporter come from?
Back in the 70's we used to listen to a Mick Ronson Album called ''Play Don't Worry'' and Billy Porter was one of the songs. Mick played with David Bowie, who I still love.
My husband's brother had both albums and they disappeared during a party. We tried to find it years later, and they were no longer remaking it. One day I found it on a CD in one of the record catalogs and ordered it. Now I can find it on Youtube, LOL!
Since a couple of the Dave's Garden names I chose were taken, Billy Porter popped into my head. I'm glad. I like being Billy or BP :o)
Sharon, thanks to your memories of your childhood, mine became more important.
Sweet!! Thanks for reading my 'memory' articles. I agree, our memories shape us more than we ever realize. It's such a treat to read about your life, your childhood memories, your joy in your home and your family. That joy shows through all your words, it's no wonder they give me such a lift.
Soon you are going to have twin grandbabies! How exciting that will be. You are such a good grandmother. I am already anxious for the stories you will tell, the memories you will make. I hope you'll let us all know when the big event happens and that you'll share with us as you make all those new memories.
Sally, you've brought much sunshine into my life over the years with your words. I wish for you that same sunshine in your future. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.
Friends, don't forget to click on Sally's photos to enlarge them, and if you hold the browser over them, you will see their descriptions. Thank you for joining us this week for Spotlight. Tune in again next week to see who Nancy brings to us.
Wishing all you Moms a very Happy Mother's Day!