Letter from Birdland: Chores much more fun in good company
Spring cleaning in Birdland is always a busy time, but this year, we are planning for a certain gathering in June and needed extra help.
Thinking back on some of my grandmother's stories about the threshing, where her mother would spend two days cooking, and neighbors would show up to work all day, the men in the fields, the women in the kitchen, and then feast in shifts (men ate first, then women and finally children), we decided to host a work party of our own.
Ours was more modest than threshing a whole season's harvest, so I only cooked for two hours, and then friends began to arrive in shifts. We had indoor chores — a crafting project — and outdoor chores — spreading mulch and planting. I had advertised some chores involving a sledgehammer, and that sounded particularly attractive to one strong young man.
The first friends to arrive, Karen, Laurel and Sheree, voted for the indoor crafting project, so we began at the dining room table stenciling some tea towels. It was quite a production, and we had a nice little assembly line going. Two of us sponged paint onto the muslin through the stencils, each with a different color. The other two carried the stamped towels to a drying rack.
Of course, there was lots of visiting to be done, and some of the lines moved faster than others. Meanwhile, Ellis and Jimmy stacked firewood and then toted rubble of bricks and cinder blocks to fill potholes in the driveway. There, the sledgehammer came in handy to knock the rubble into shards of gravel — and then knock it solid into the potholes. Later, we'll order up a load of "dirty oversize" to spread up and down the lane, covering the potholes for a few more years until they start sinking again down to the tectonic plates.
I had fun juggling the two groups: the ladies' tea towel party and the teenaged boy muscle party. When the sledgehammer broke, I had to come up with another fun outdoor activity, and this one involved monster trucks. We had some shrubs that had died in last year's drought and needed them pulled up to plant new ones. The dead ones were a mess of thorns, and my idea was to sling a rope around each and tie it to the truck and pull it out.
The boys enthusiastically embraced that idea, and those sticker bushes were out and the new ones planted before you knew it.
Meanwhile, inside, all the tea towels were stenciled, and it was time to eat a little. We visited and chatted more, but just as my morning friends were leaving, some others showed up for the afternoon shift.
These friends were ready to work outside, so we put on gloves and pulled out rakes and shovels from the basement. We had mulch to spread and bulbs to plant, and a spiral herb garden to improve. I'd been dragging home rocks from my walks in the cornfields for years, especially from the meadow back of the Benson timber. A few years ago I made a spiral herb garden with these rocks, but this year, I decided to make the mound higher and begin again.
Luckily, we needed dirt moved from the end of the driveway where the garage will go, so when Ken and Sheryl showed up with their two boys, Daniel and Douglas, and a few minutes later, Ken and Rebecca arrived, we had plenty of outdoor chores. Of course, with the arrival of the second shift came the rain.
It might have been better to do the outdoor chores in the morning and save the crafting for the rainy afternoon, but the rain was light and warmish, and nobody minded.
Try as I might, I couldn't get them to come in and eat snacks before the work was finished, but snip snap, the work was done as if by magic, with one Ken helping Rebecca with the mulching and the other Ken helping his sons with the dirt mound.
Sheryl planted bulbs while I ran around like one of my chickens when she can't remember where she hid her nest. When we ran out of bulbs and mulch and the dirt mound was high enough and the tools were cleaned, I was finally able to convince them to come in out of the rain and eat.
Work in beauty; party in peace; blessed be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She has recently befriended Karen "Crazy Chicken Lady" Carney, who tells her that the Champaign City Council study session on the backyard chicken ordinance has been tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. June 11 at 102 N. Neil St.