Echo from the Hills

by Alyce Faye Bragg

The sun is struggling to break through the clouds on this last day of February, making way for March to enter our hills. The weatherman is predicting a March lion to usher in our windy month, with some possible snow flurries and maybe a thunderstorm. If the old adage is true, then we can expect some lamb-like weather at the end of the month.

The grass turns greener each day, and the warm sunshine yesterday is surely coaxing out the early wild flowers. This is such a hopeful time of year, with March wind drying up the mud that February has left behind. Spring calves are appearing in the meadows, with trembling legs that will soon become sturdy and are able to frolic all over the hillside.

We all rejoice when spring returns. In Isaiah 44-23, it reads, “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.” The mountains will soon be singing.

The earth is reviving after the long winter sleep, when ice and snow covered our hills and long, jagged icicles were draped over every rock cliff. Spring is a time for re-birth, and the woodland animals are bringing forth their young.  In Sunday school class when I was young, the teacher asked us, “What kind of animals are being born now?” The children piped up with their eager answers ranging from baby squirrels, baby rabbits, baby puppies, etc. One of my siblings chimed in, “And babies!”

It did seem that Mom produced a new baby every other year.  All three of my brothers were born in March—she had seven children in twelve years. As the oldest, I was able to help take care of the younger ones.  I can remember how thrilled I was to come home from school and there was a baby to cuddle and rock.  Grandpa lived with us, and he was a built-in baby sitter.

He loved to rock the newborns, and would rock them to sleep, and continue rocking them until their nap was almost finished, and then he would put them in bed. Of course, the baby would wake up and cry, and he would say dryly, “That baby’s sp’olt!” Yes, and I wonder who spoiled it?”  He was a lot of help to Mom, and was such a good grandpa. I miss him yet.

I have a new puppy that is just as spoiled. She is a baby Jack Russell, and I love her dearly. We named her Pollyanna, and she is really attached to me. I have mourned over Minnie ever since we lost her, and she seems to fill that vacant spot in my heart. She follows me from room to room, and if I sit down, she wants on my lap. If I go to the bathroom and close the door, she sits outside and cries pitifully. After a few minutes, she gets mad and attacks the door, and barks loudly.

She loves for Criss to rock her and whistle. She cuddles right down and goes to sleep—as long as she can feel someone against her. In fact, she is behind my back in my computer chair as I type.  I have learned a lot from my former pets. No table food as I indulged Minnie, and if she goes outside, I watch her every minute. Poor Rosalie ran out behind Andy as he was backing out his vehicle.  He cried harder than I did. This will be my last puppy. I am training her on a puppy pad, and I’ve found out, that is a mistake. Every scatter rug and even my bath mat is fair game.

When I was younger, I would get out of bed and take my puppy outside to use the bathroom. I remember poor Louis would be so sleepy that he would almost topple over in the snow. It worked though—they learned to go outside when they needed to go. Linda Begler helped me to train Minnie. She said, “Just sit her down in the yard and tell her, pee-pee.” In no time at all, she knew what that meant.

I think Jack Russell dogs fare better if they have a stay at home companion. They are perfect for old grandmas, since they are so affectionate. When we return from a church service, she is so overjoyed to see me; you’d think I’d been gone for a month. Not everyone wants a dog, but I can’t imagine life without one.

Polly suits me just fine.

Like the finest potpourri in the world, the spicy scent of sassafras drifts through the house as a pot full of the robust brew simmers on the stove. As faithful as the arrival of spring, this hearty tea makes its appearance each February. We drank it all my growing-up years as a spring tonic, and also because it was so delicious. It has a reputation as being a carcinogen, but after drinking it for almost all my 82 years, I am suffering no ill effects—yet!

Some time ago, one of my readers asked about a recipe for homemade soap. Today I ran across Mom’s recipe:

                                    MOM O’DELL’S HOMEMADE LYE SOAP

Start with one can of lye and five cups of cold water. Mix together in an enamel or iron container (no aluminum or plastic, as the lye will eat the bottom out of it.) Stand ‘way back and stir with a long stick or broom handle, as the fumes are murder on the eyes and lungs. Stir until dissolved, then add ½ cup of household ammonia, ½ cup of borax or Borateem and ½ cup of sugar. To the mixture, add 11 cups of fat (this can be beef tallow, lard or grease.) If desired, add sassafras oil or perfume oil. Stir until mixture starts to thicken, and then pour into a cardboard box lined with a white cloth. Cut into bars within 24 hours, or it will become too hard to cut.

When Mom made a batch of this, she always gave us girls a couple of bars. I saved mine to rub on stubborn stains on clothing before I tossed it in the washer. It really works. It is also good to use as a dandruff shampoo.

Songbirds are trilling their joyous welcome to the new season each morning, and we should be as thankful. Let us take time to rejoice in this beautiful world that God has made for us.

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