‘Nice as red-haired doughnut’ coined for local treasure
Myrtle was a redhead. For the record, red hair comes in high-voltage frequencies same as microwave and X-ray, Myrtle being on the high-energy end of the red-hair spectrum. Myrtle was the wife of Cousin Harold who farmed opposite the field called Poznock’s because John Peter Paul Hanover Ezekiel Poznock owned it last.
JPPHE Poznock was his real name on the theory that people with long names generally amount to something. Our father referred to him as John Peter Paul Hanover Ezekiel Poznock uttered in its entirety, if mostly out of exasperation, because when land rent came due John Peter etc. Poznock wanted it paid on the date due. Precisely as stipulated in the land contract, on the date due. Not the day before, not the day after, not a week either side … on the day exact.
Our father ought have had the foresight to notice that with a touch more lenient contract language this could have been avoided, never mind it was darn unusual for someone to take contract language as serious as did John Peter Paul Hanover Ezekiel Poznock who could have gone on to some statutory fame with a mind like that. This precision often happens when people sell land, they being ever after haunted by the regrets of what might have been.
Perhaps it was this sense of “mighta-beens” that is the motive to exact a degree of punishment, even to the point of awkwardness, of the rent paid precisely on the due date. Not the night before, not the morning after.
Our father had set out on the purchase of the Poznock 40 because our dairy herd had entered the exultant station of a Grade-A, a milk supply that by its most basic definition meant stainless steel including a bulk tank that kept the milk just shy of freezing, the barn aisles to be white-washed in clockwork regularity with a thick new shell of lime whitewash.
The result was an interior so bright the cows were put off from entering the barn for several days. So much so that silage and ground feed had to be laid down to lure them in the barn and overcome their fear of new whitewash.
After a couple of days they got used to the over-bright aspect of the barn except for a few of the more dim-witted cows. As a farmkid, I believed Guernseys a shade more stupid than Holsteins as Guernseys always held back the longest from entering the barn after whitewashing. By this juncture we usually had had enough of bovine reticence that with a nod and whistle to the border collie was a signal to slip around the dull beast and hustle her along.
To acknowledge here the benefit of a border collie who loves nothing more than the chance to be sent after a cow’s ankles. This was kept to a minimum owing good milk cows slosh the milk out of them if hurried.
Our father forbid “siccing” except as a last ditch motivation, explaining why some farms didn’t and wouldn’t have a border collie for a cow dog because the breed yearns for this particular opportunity, a dog seemingly at full-cock all its life.
This, of course, created an uneasy sense on the farm, what with the dog watching your every signal for the chance to carve in on a swooping attack to a cow’s hind end. So hair-triggered is a border collie, we too longed for the chance at a stupid cow and the excuse to touch the dog off, same as dynamite.
You can’t very well do this when the whole mob of them is standing doe-eyed at the barn door, mesmerized by the new whitewash thinking it some sort of camouflage for the meat truck.
It is true that cows could smell the meat truck in the yard, a coincidence they communally calculate as always ending up with the loss of one of their race. Whitewash was likewise suspicious, enough so that none of the cows would enter the barn.
Cows also noted the situation when the intended meat-truck victim was kept in her stanchion overnight as the rest of the herd went to pasture. As a farmkid, I watched as they all passed out, leaving the one behind, to wonder as a kid might if mourning has a smell.
The night before that cow got the best alfalfa, best grain mix, a generous extra of silage. As a Christian farmkid, I always felt the same sense of the communion table, as being a killing supper, if a trifle lacking in a good spread that even a Guernsey would have noticed.
Our township had an undue share of red hair, to think that same genetic toxin was the water; my father was a redhead, Myrtle was red, the Altenburg’s entire from Kenneth down to Kenneth junior, Harold, Tom and Mary were reds. Some of the Soiks were reds, same for the Laskowskis.
The unofficial, not to be published operative of a redhead is they aren’t good at math, if better at poetry than the average person. The consensus being that redheads are better cooks than blonds if math is avoided.
I never knew whether Myrtle, wife of Cousin Harold across the road from the Poznock 40 could do algebra but she could cook. At Myrtle’s farmhouse, something was cooking every hour of the day, her stove always at fire, whether bread, pie, bacon frying or pot of coffee.
Myrtle always had something going, a stew, a porridge, a spare pot of potatoes. By some occult reason, Myrtle was the last person on our end of the township to practice the art of the wood-fired range.
My grandfather on my mama’s side had a wood-fired range a long time but eventually even he relinquished its place to a propane Tappan. He was of the belief that the soul of agriculture is duly and directly attached to the farm kitchen, whose most lenient apostle was the wood range, a luxury grandfather did not forego entirely to the luxury of propane, for alongside his fancy new stove was an enamel “garbage burner,” as was the only decent way to do morning eggs and Saturday night popcorn.
In that I already mentioned Myrtle was red-haired, her height was about five-foot-even, a robust one hundred and thirty pounds. Make that one forty. Myrtle, an otherwise slight woman, could carry two full milk cans across the yard. A rare man who could carry two full milk cans across the yard.
Was said of Myrtle that she delivered three of her children in the bed of the pickup truck on the way to the hospital, with such efficiency they turned around and came home. She maintained it was a “darn sight” more comfortable chore in the straw-lined pickup truck than in a hospital bed. I took her word for it.
The optimal moment at Myrtle’s kitchen was a winter morning devoted to doughnuts. It seemed as if every loose soul in the township showed up for a share of her lard-fried doughnuts, hot oil doughnuts that slid like oversize wedding rings on the fingers of everyone in her kitchen, like as not standing room only.
That winter morning in Myrtle’s kitchen was a combination of circus and French follies, on account of the summer dress she was wearing in the middle of the winter. Every man and boy of any active biological inclination whatsoever was ready to marry Myrtle on the spot, if it included her doughnuts.
A distinct linguistic localism evolved around this event, “nice as a red-haired doughnut.” The expression making no sense to anyone outside the township since doughnuts don’t ordinarily have hair, much less red hair, and who’d want hair in their doughnut and then say it was nice?
Sometime later the road by Myrtle’s place was renamed from the Maine School Road to the benefit of President Hoover who isn’t remembered so kindly. I once suggested to the town chairman the road south of Highway 54 be renamed Myrtle’s Road.
He quoted state guidelines that public roads can be named only after important persons, flowers, birds, native mammals or heroes of the nation. My thought precisely.