I was raised on a farm in rural Eastern Oregon; three miles from the nearest town, with its two grocery stores, single gas station, lumber yard, hair salon and bar. Not quite Mayberry: we had neither sheriff nor jail. My sister and I helped out on the farm from a very young age, and we considered the adult neighbors our friends. We used to “help” Jim when it came time to harvest his corn, running through the field, picking up ears of corn the harvester had missed, and tossing them onto the flatbed. Jim gave us a penny per ear, and sometimes, a stick of gum, which was the real treat.

Our dog Duchess had nine puppies. Two of us were thrilled about that.

Our dog Duchess had nine puppies. Two of us were thrilled about that.

Despite the relative safety of our surroundings, or perhaps because of it, Mom felt it was important to stress the dangers inherent in the larger world. It’s OK to accept gum from Jim, but not from someone you don’t know. If someone other than Noma tries to give you cornbread, just say no. So begins the story of The Cutterman.

There had been a story on the news of an event that took place far away from our safe land – probably in California, because that’s where all the Bad Things happened. A child was kidnapped by a stranger who offered candy, and that child was later found murdered and cut into many pieces. This story was horrific, and our mother hoped hearing it would prevent Julie and me from getting into cars with strangers. If you know Julie, you’ll know why our parents were worried (I only wrote that because I know she’ll read this, and we’re on opposite coasts, so she can’t slug me).

And so it was, on a sunny spring day, that we found ourselves riding our bikes (hers a two-wheel bicycle, mine a child’s tricycle) up and down our long driveway, to the paved road and back to the house. On one loop, as we neared the paved road, a big, scary car pulled into our driveway. A stranger! In a Volkswagen Beetle! We, naturally, were in his way, and the driver got out of his car to a) ask us to move to the side, b) ask whether our parents lived in that house, c) ask for directions or d) lure us into his big scary car with candy, then cut us into A MILLION PIECES!!!!!!

I think we all know what his intentions were. Which is why Julie and I dropped our bikes, turned and ran back up the driveway, screaming: “THECUTTERMANTHECUTTERMANTHECUTTERMANTHECUTTERMAN!!!”

Evil Cutterman moved our bikes out of his way (Ha! We slowed him down! He won’t catch us now!), returned to his car and slowly followed us up our driveway.

Mom, hearing the infernal racket, stepped outside to learn what terrible evil had befallen her beloved daughters. We ran past her, into the house, screaming, “THECUTTERMANTHECUTTERMANTHECUTTERMANTHECUTTERMAN!!” Stunned, and having no idea what we were screaming about, she watched us

Back when life was fun. Before the brothers arrived.

Back when life was fun. Before the brothers arrived.

run past, and into our bedroom, where I’m quite sure we hid under the bed or some equally secure location. When the man got out of his car, he was equal parts stunned and apologetic. He had no idea what caused us to run screaming away from him, he was very sorry, he hoped he hadn’t done anything to alarm us, he just wanted to sell encyclopedias, or Fuller Brush or something. At that point, realization dawned, and Mom burst into laughter as she realized why we had been screaming, and what must have caused it. The Cutterman did not try to sell Mom encyclopedias that day, or any other day. He drove away, somewhat rattled, and never returned.

Ever vigilant, Julie and I remain in full possession of all our limbs.

13 Very Important Things I Learned From My Dad

I’m a little late for Father’s Day, but nonetheless, wanted to wish all the fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, godfathers, cat fathers, dog fathers – who am I missing? – out there a happy day. I hope you let someone else run the barbecue just this once.

In honor of Father’s Day, 13 Very Important Things I Learned From My Dad.

They don’t build outhouses on big foundations. Also see: your cousin wears shoes until his toes poke through the end. You don’t need new shoes.

At some point in my early teens, my feet started to grow, and grow, and grow. There was no stopping them. I bypassed my mother and older sister’s shoe sizes, and soon was wearing my brothers’ shoes. They finally stopped at size 9. I, on the other hand, was 5-foot-4 on my tiptoes, and about 110 pounds soaking wet. Pretty sure I didn’t need size 9 feet. I was lamenting this one day, when Dad told me “they don’t build outhouses on big foundations,” meaning, I was a mansion, not an outhouse. I think.

A foreign language. Also see: certain words are only suitable for use when fixing a tractor.

My dad is Basque. His parents both came to Oregon from the Basque Country, and spoke only Basque. As small children, my sister and I asked my dad to teach us Basque, and he taught us to say “big pig” and “little pig.” Not only did we have a grand time insulting people at school, we also got much enjoyment from ridiculing my mother when she pronounced the words wrong. She rolls her Rs funny. Bahahahaha! There were other Basque words which I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to hear. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much repetition of them, so I’ve forgotten them all. Silly Mom, with her rushing us into the house, calmly saying, “Dad’s fixing the tractor, we need to go inside now.” Just think of the fun I’d have now, calling my co-workers names in a foreign language, if only my Mom hadn’t been so short-sighted.

When Dad says, “Stop it, or I’m going to pull this car over,” he’s not kidding. And he doesn’t care whether you’re close to home and people you know might see you. Bend. Over.

Anything can become soup. Also see: Mom’s sick and I have to feed four kids. I’ll throw all this stuff into a pot with water and call it good.

I’m not sure what else to say here. When Mom wasn’t feeling well, and Dad took every leftover out of the fridge, added water and made soup, it was some of the best food ever. Young gourmands, we were, and our dad was a master chef.

God doesn’t care what you’re wearing. Also see: stop asking me how you look and get in the car, or you’ll be late for church.

That lesson, God doesn’t care what you’re wearing, he just wants you to come see him on Sundays, was a lesson our minister could have used, when he chastised two teenage boys (from the pulpit) when they showed up for services on a Saturday afternoon wearing shorts.

Dad with me, my sister and my mom. I know it looks like the early ’70s, but since I’m only 24, this was taken in 1993. Cough.

How to dribble a basketball on gravel. Also see: no, I will not put in a concrete driveway, so stop asking!

Not much else to say here. We tried dribbling on the gravel a few times, gave up, and went back inside to cultivate our love of reading.

A little hard work never hurt anyone. Also see: time to put on your irrigation boots. Or grab a shovel, or a mop, or a bucket to pick up the walnuts off the lawn, or feed the cattle, or … you get the picture.

Sometimes to get a calf to take the bottle, you have to stick your fingers in its mouth. Also see: yes, I know it’s gross. Shut up and do it.

To be fair, it wasn’t all the time, and only when the calves were really, really young, and didn’t know those rubber things we were shoving in their faces provided them food. But calf saliva is so slimy, and I was a girl.

Cattle can be ridden like horses, but it’s probably not a good idea. Also see: your cousin does a lot of dumb things. Don’t try to be like him.

That’s right, Gus trained a steer to let him ride it. Briefly. Dad let us watch once. Funny stuff, watching Gus get bucked off a small steer. My sister says she remembers riding Sergeant the steer. She probably did. Not me. Wouldn’t touch that “opportunity” with a 10-foot pole.

If you break a rule (or a law), you will get busted. Also see: the neighbors calling to report Angie speeding while driving home from school.

From an early age (Mom has eyes in the back of her head), we were conditioned to believe we would get in trouble if we did something wrong. Other kids could get away with it, but not us. I’ve seen other kids get caught, but for the most part, even as adults, we’ve not dared test Karma to find out what would actually happen if we tried something forbidden.

If Susie jumps off a cliff, should I let you do that, too?

An old parental standby. Though seriously, I wasn’t asking to jump off a cliff with Susie, I was asking to watch the same television show!

We have no rattlesnakes here. They all live on the other side of the river. Also see: Angie’s face years later when I realized that not only might a rattlesnake slither across the bridge to bite me, RATTLESNAKES CAN SWIM!

If you run away, don’t take anything you didn’t come with. Also see: that suitcase you have packed that’s “hidden” under your bed? It stays here.

Running away naked is not a tempting option for a 10-year-old. Running away with out my blankie and doll? Not happening.

What are the key life lessons your dad taught you? Any special memories you want to share?