Ma and changing color of hydrangeas
by Ronella Stager, Columnist
May 09, 2012 | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An early morning call from a reader reminded me I haven’t mentioned lately the old favorite, the wide leaf hydrangea, the one with the beautiful large blue balls of blooms which may sometimes be pink. She wondered what she could do to make hers turn pink. The answer is that it would be difficult to change one from blue to pink since it is the acidity of the soil that makes one blue and alkaline soil makes one pink. Occasionally a hydrangea will be partly blue and partly pink which doesn’t make for a very striking plant. I would suggest that you start feeding a fertilizer which is non acid but not to hope too much. The best thing is to buy one already pink and keep it fertilized with alkaline fertilizer. And no, rusty nails won’t do.

My caller mentioned that she had such fond memories of Ma and going to Ma’s mail box to meet the mail carrier, a pretty big event in those days. The mail was Ma’s “window on the world”. The mail carrier brought many things to Ma’s door. There were her letters from relatives, especially her sister Rose, the Courier Journal, a couple of magazines, her mail orders from Sears, Roebuck which might include a new Sunday dress and new shoes and hat every spring, or it might be a bundle of quilt scraps from Sears, or it might even be a box of baby chickens. Then it might be some special eggs for her to put under an old setting hen to get new strains of her favorite Rhode Island Red chickens. There were many wonderful things which Ma had access to from her catalog.

Ma seldom had an opportunity to go to a store and I think she really didn’t want to shop in town. Pa could buy her quilting cotton and lining and any material she might need. He was a wonderful shopper and was very careful. I often think that Ma never thought of herself as isolated since she had women friends a mile or so away whom she visited if the weather permitted and had family visiting on week-ends.

Ma had only two fears that I remember and those were a mad dog and venomous snakes, especially rattlers which were sometimes found in her front yard, just “passing through”, I suppose. She would never try to kill a rattler and ran to get into the house and shut all doors and windows if she thought she saw a mad dog, which, in those days, was a pretty common occurrence. Ma might kill a chicken snake that was invading her hens’ nests but she rang the big dinner bell for Pa for the bad boys. If Pa wasn’t working in the river bottom field, he could hear that old bell and it meant “come quick”. Ma never learned to shoot a shotgun and had no intention of doing so. That was Pa’s job.

One of Ma’s outstanding qualities which I rarely mention is her innovativeness. She could do much with a saw and a hammer and some nails. She invented little hen houses for each hen that had chicks. She built them in a semi-circle in the back yard, the side of the back yard that was near the big hen house. Each little house had a door with a fastener which she could fasten up at night after the old hen and her babies had gone inside. Then in front of each little house was a little fenced in yard which had a top so that the babies could get out for a little run but the old hen could not. That was when bad weather was threatening. If the day was clear, she let the old hen and chickens out to roam around. If a sudden storm came up, my job, if I was there, was to chase down the baby chickens and the old hen would follow. How I loved to do that. There might be six or eight little houses with the mothers and babies. They were portable and could be moved to different spots if she chose. I have never seen any like those. It was her own invention.

Ma must have been delighted when screens on windows and doors came along. She was forever patching a screen door where some careless person had put a hole in her screen. She had a method of extracting a tiny wire from an old piece of screen and weaving it in and out to close a hole.

Ma had no kitchen cabinets so she built floor to ceiling shelves on each side of her kitchen window where she could keep everything imaginable. Then she made muslin curtains to hang over the shelves. She also closed in one end of her back porch on the other side of her kitchen. She then built many shelves on that end. Everything had a place and everything was always in its place. My grandfather might have gotten around to building all those things but that was not her way. “If I can, I will do it myself” was Ma’s philosophy. Ma never ploughed a field not did she ever hoe in a field. Nor did she ever strip tobacco but she was sure handy with a saw and hammer and nails.

At the end of the day, she was freshly bathed and dressed for the supper hour which was always timed for his convenience. Some things were planned for his sake and he did the same for her. I remember knowing that Pa smoked cigarettes and a pipe, occasionally a cigar, but he also chewed tobacco and dipped snuff but he never dipped nor chewed at the house. Neither of them ever nagged or quarreled at the other, at least not in my presence and though he was fond of teasing her, which she disliked, he never, ever criticized her. What a happy home away from home for their little grandchildren. If you were very, very lucky, you had a Ma and a Pa like mine.

Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632.
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