‘Washing Day’ at the VanHaren household

It’s funny how memory works. I woke up one day about a week or so ago thinking about how Mom used to do the laundry before the REA extended electrical lines into our neighborhood on Konitzer Road.

But I never really got involved in that chore except for hauling water from the well, so I asked my sister Joyce what she remembered. And boy was her memory precise. So I asked her to write it down.

So here’s Joyce’s story. Thanks, Sis.

Washing Day

Hauling water. The well was up by the barn. Dad carried the first two pails when he came in from the morning milking and poured them into the reservoir on the old cook stove and filled the copper boiler on top of the stove to begin heating. Then Roger and I would make a few trips with a pail between us.

My first job was to wipe down the steel wire clotheslines to remove the rust and bird poop and hang out the bag of wooden clothes pins.


‘Just a boy and his dog’

I spent a lot of time with my dad when I was growing up. We did chores together – milking, feeding, cleaning out the barn, making wood, harvesting crops, etc. He taught me many useful skills that were helpful in my adult life. And I was able to pass some of those skills on to my sons in our summer painting business.

Dad had a great sense of humor and an ability to tell a story that I always admired. He also had for making monotonous jobs easier by singing. He loved “The Red River Valley” and several other old favorites, but I think his No. 1 song was a tear-jerker called “Old Shep.”

“When I was a lad and Old Shep was a pup, Over hills and meadows we’d stray. Just a boy and his dog, we were both best of friends; We grew up together that way.”


Technology can’t erase memories of ad jingles

In a noble attempt to make us technology-relevant, our kids have, over the years, given us a number of electronic devices as Christmas presents. These have included a video camera, hardware and software for our computer, a digital camera, a webcam, CD and DVD players, whatever.

And except for the digital camera (which Marilyn carried with her everywhere for years, until she got a smartphone), the one that had the most impact, I suppose, was our TiVo. TiVo was a revolutionary way to watch TV. It put us in control of what we watched, and when we watched it. It managed our TV for us so that we never had to miss our favorite programs. And we didn’t have to schedule other activities around the TV.


The curious case of the thrashing cat

I am not a cat person. I don’t dislike cats, nor do I particularly like them. I’m sort of ambivalent about them, except, of course, when they’re kittens. Everybody likes kittens, don’t they? Who can resist those little fluff balls with their big, curious eyes?

The reason I bring up the subject is that there’s a black and white (mostly black) cat that roams our neighborhood, and at least twice a day he/she (?) cruises through our yard, climbs the berm in the backyard, plops itself down in the dirt and wriggles around on its back like it’s having convulsions. This goes on for about five minutes, and then it gets up and walks away.

This cat pays no attention to the birds perching on my bird feeding station; it just walks on by to its favorite spot, flops over onto its back, and thrashes around in the dirt. Pretty curious. So I went online to see if there would be an explanation for why a cat would carry on such a weird ritual.


My first car was quite an adventure

When I was a teenager, one of the most thrilling things that could happen to a kid was to get his first car. For me, “my” first car wasn’t really mine, but I was the one who used it most of the time.

It was a green 1932 Plymouth Phaeton four-door sedan that my parents bought in 1955 when I was 16. That made us a two-Plymouth family when very few people had more than one car. (Our other car was a 1951 robin’s egg blue Plymouth Cranbrook four-door sedan that my parents bought brand new – their first “new” new car.)

That old 1932 Plymouth cost my parents $35, and I drove it for about two years whenever I had to be somewhere for school events and my folks needed the ‘51. I didn’t drive it to school on a regular basis because it just wasn’t that reliable.


Navigating ‘the winds of change’ in your body

Today I’m providing a public service about a topic which some may find indelicate or inappropriate. Nonetheless, I’m going to charge bravely into the breach and help my public to understand one of the problems that almost everyone faces at one time or another.

One of the numerous side effects of taking as may pills as I do is that I sometimes have a gaseous stomach. This can be the stuff of comedy. Garrison Keillor used to have a whole section of his annual joke show dedicated to this topic. There are hundreds of YouTube movies. For lots of people, it’s a subject we don’t discuss in polite company.

I’m talking about something that we all do once in a while. The polite term is flatulence, and I am nothing if not polite, so I’ll tiptoe around the most popular term – because if I used it you’d probably start giggling.


‘In like a lion’ and other weather sayings

One of the problems of writing a week before publication is that it’s hard to be very topical. For example, I’m writing this on March 1, and you’re reading it on March 8.

See what I mean? Anything I write is on a seven-day delay.

So, anyway, March is coming in like a lion. It’s snowing big time outside. Quarter-sized flakes have been piling up since before dawn. Winter has returned. But if the old adage is to be believed, March should go out like a lamb, meaning that spring is in sight.

We thought it was in sight a couple of weeks ago when some of my friends were out playing golf and one of my neighbors was raking his lawn in the 60-degree weather.

I’m not much of a believer in the old-time weather adages – or are they superstitions? You know, like the groundhog sees his shadow so we’ll have six more weeks of winter. But which groundhog do we want to believe: Jimmie in Sun Prairie, or Phil in Punxsutawney?


Good neighbors and the Golden Rule

My cousin Wayne Konitzer died a few years ago from a very nasty melanoma. Wayne was enough younger than I am that I didn’t “know” him very well, but my mom and dad knew him and loved him, and that’s enough evidence for me that he was a good guy and a good neighbor.

After I finished my column about neighbors last week, I went back into my “archives” because I remembered that I’d written about Wayne’s neighbors and the way some of his friends and neighbors came out to help him.


Farmers work to be good neighbors

Fred Rogers used to start his kids’ program with an invitation for us to join his neighborhood. Remember?

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

“A beautiful day for a neighbor.

“Would you be mine?

“Could you be mine?

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

We recently moved into a new neighborhood and were immediately welcomed by our neighbors. There were two parties to “meet and greet” with food and drinks. Neighbors have helped by blowing our snow and mowing our lawn. It has been great.

We had great neighbors in our old neighborhood, too. People were willing to help each other out whenever help was needed.


Revisiting the world of penny candies

I recently bought Marilyn a treat, a bagful of those little heart-shaped candies with the sayings printed on them. It always used to be fun to take a handful and make up some romantic sentence, but these were different. Instead of sweet nothings, they had things like “text me” and sayings in the cryptic language of the texting generation, most of which I couldn’t decipher. But it got me thinking about candies from my kidhood.

When I was a little kid (a phase that for me lasted into high school!), my sister, Joyce, and I and all our neighborhood friends used to walk home from school every day. We lived on a farm about 3 miles from St. Anthony’s School in Oconto Falls. Almost everyone in our neighborhood was Catholic, and we all went to St. Anthony’s.


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