The princess and the toad

As my great-niece Kiera and my great-nephew Brody approach their fourth birthdays in the coming months, I’m finding that while they may both have birthdays on the 28th day of the month — hers in August and his in November — the two talkative tykes are very different people.

He’s blond-haired, blue-eyed and fair-skinned while she’s dark-haired, brown-eyed and darker toned. Those are just the outward differences

Brody is a “Mini-Me” of his father, preferring to spend his time outdoors helping to hunt, trap, fish and work. He gets mud, dust and dirt under his fingernails. Kiera likes frilly dresses, dolls and princesses. She prefers pretty paints on her fingernails — and toenails, too.

Bringing them together for a Buntjer cousins reunion last Saturday at Big Stone Lake, hosted by my cousin Monte and his family, proved to be nothing short of entertaining.

It all began when, just moments after his arrival, little Brody found a rotund yet energetic toad camouflaged in the beach sand on the shore in front of the Buntjer cabin.

With cat-like reflexes he swooped up the toad and paraded it around for all to see. He’d found a friend for the day!

Brody’s mom speculated her first-born son might even skip lunch to ensure his amphibian companion didn’t escape into the wild blue yonder that is Big Stone Lake.

The way he gripped the critter, and his determination not to let the toad get more than a foot away from him in the lake, ensured that this poor captured toad was in for a day-long bout of Brody.

And then came Kiera.

Kiera — the princess-loving, painted toenail promenading preschooler.

She does not like toads. She does not want to be within 20 feet of toads — and certainly not within 20 feet of a little boy carrying a toad.

There arose a battle on the beach. Oh, it wasn’t much of a battle, mind you. Brody stood with his feet in the water, holding his toad as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

Kiera, meanwhile, was mere feet from her mommy, pointing at Brody and proclaiming, “I don’t like toads!” “I’m NOT going over there!” and making various other comments with one mean-looking scowl on her face.

Now, what else is an auntie to do but laugh at the situation?

It all seemed quite funny until I looked over at Brody and saw him give the toad a giant smoocheroo — right on the lips!

Just the thought of it now still makes me feel a little queasy!

If he thought kissing the toad might magically present him with a princess, it wasn’t to be. Then again, perhaps if Kiera kissed the toad she’d find her prince.

If there was to be any magic that day, I think she would have had better luck killing the toad with her scowl.

Family ties on a century farm

For the past three weeks, a large part of my daily life has revolved around century farms.

There are 25 of them this year in the six counties of southwest Minnesota served by the Daily Globe. I don’t recall seeing that many area farms, handed down from one generation to the next for 100 consecutive years, honored in years’ past. I can tell you the special Today’s Farm section included in today’s edition is the largest project dedicated to century farms in the 10 years I’ve worked at the Globe.

While time, resources and unanswered phone calls prevented us from featuring all 25 farms, this special edition shares the stories of 15 families who have persevered and prospered on the prairie of southwest Minnesota – in some cases for more than a century.

While sharing the stories of our area’s century farm families is one of my favorite Daily Globe projects, this year I had an opportunity to interview the present owners of the farm purchased by my great-grandparents, Walter and Vera Aeilts, in March 1914 in Bigelow Township.

The couple raised 11 children, including Will (father of the farm’s present owner, Ailt Aielts) and Hattie, my grandma, who was one of the youngest in the clan.

Now, if you were reading carefully, you may have noticed the first generation and the current generation spell their last name a little differently. Yes, it is a bit confusing, especially considering there is yet a third spelling – Ailts – that also exists today. To make it easy, I’ll just say they are probably all related.

It would take much effort to figure out where the spellings were altered along the way. Just one look at the family tree on my dad’s side is mind-boggling. He had 50 first cousins between the Aielts and the Buntjers.

Fifty! By comparison, I had 15.

Hearing Ailt’s story about how the farm was passed down from one generation to the next was intriguing to me. Like so many other century farms honored, it made sense that the oldest capable son of the family was first in line to take over the farm. Hence, the farm went from Walter to Will to Ailt.

I learned that Walter and Vera had four children in their homeland of Emden, a port city in northwest Germany, before making the trek to America and the land of opportunity.

A century ago, so many families found that opportunity here in Minnesota. And while their days of settlement all share a common thread, just like a patchwork quilt, no two stories will ever be the same. Please take some time to read about these families who may be your friends, your neighbors or even your relatives.

An anniversary to forget … again

I had several different blog topics rolling around in my head for this entry. And then came Monday afternoon.

Darkened skies, constant weather alerts, rain pounding against the windows, pea-sized hail and tornado sirens. My hands began to shake, my stomach started to ache. I literally thought I was going to be sick.

I thought I was over this.

I thought enough time had passed that tornado warnings wouldn’t scare me as much. In recent years, I was more apt to watch the weather out the window than to run to the basement.

And then came Monday.

I don’t know if many of you realized it, but Monday was the 22nd anniversary of a night of horror for residents of Chandler, Lake Wilson and, a little farther to the north, Clarkfield.

I was living in Clarkfield that summer of 1992, working as a 4-H Summer Assistant just a block away from my shared apartment above the town’s post office.

I remember the heat and humidity of that day — June 16, 1992. As I went to work on this day — June 16, 2014 — those thoughts were in the back of my mind. I found myself comparing Monday morning’s humidity to the sultry weather back then. It didn’t seem quite as bad this time around, but then 22 years is enough time to forget certain things.

As the storms began to pop Monday, the dormant fears returned.

My concentration was gone, my productivity wiped out.

I couldn’t sit still.

Unlike that summer night in Clarkfield, where I knew relatively few people in town, the thought of a storm passing through here brought with it a whole set of worries for family and friends.

Are my parents OK down on the farm? Is my nephew out doing weather spotting in Ellsworth? Are the neighbor kids in the basement? Who, what, when, where … why do I have to worry so much!

I’ve managed to keep the tears at bay, but it’s nearly 9 on Monday night and I’m still at the office. I know the tears are creeping up on me — it’s just the culmination of a stressful day.

Thank God we escaped the tornadoes this time. We can live with water in the basement, downed trees and branches, flooding in our streets — at least we still have the roof over our head.

The images I carry with me from the Clarkfield tornado — escaping my apartment by walking on broken glass, stepping over and around downed trees, walking through knee-high water, sharing my grandmother’s quilt with an elderly woman shaking as badly as me, and finding corn kernels embedded in the dining room wall of my apartment — those are things I will never forget.

It took Monday’s storm to remind me that I will never truly be over the horror of that June day in 1992, as much as I want to wipe it from my memory.

Today is a new day and I, for one, am hoping for sunshine.

Take the kids, leave the leeches

The local Optimist Club is hosting an event from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Worthington’s Chautauqua Park as part of Take a Kid Fishing weekend. There will be free hot dogs, free lemonade and even free bait, courtesy of Marv’s Bait Shop.

While I won’t have any kids to take fishing this Saturday, I enjoyed several outings with the nephews and nieces during my vacation last week. It could have been Take A Kid Fishing day every day, had I the patience for such a monumental task. Then again, if the fish had been biting, the kids wouldn’t have been so bored.

Nephews Zach and Blake experienced their first trip to Marv’s Bait — on separate outings. There, we bought the bait some of the locals said was required if we were looking for the ever-elusive walleye.

That would be leeches, for those of you who hadn’t heard the rumors.

Well, I’m not so fond of leeches, using them for the first time on a late July fishing trip to Alexandria last summer. While I detested putting them on the hook, I sure enjoyed reeling in the bass.

This time around, I had two teenage boys to impress. There would be no cringing, no squealing and no horrible reactions to pesky leeches latching onto my finger as I tried to thread the hook through their flailing body.

I was trying to be an aunt the boys could be proud of. I swallowed my fears.

I wish I could say the same for the boys. I had to bait their hooks — every single time.

Oh, I could tell you plenty of stories about the boys and their reactions to the slimy bait. One would hold his fingers over the container but never fully reach in to grab a leech. The other simply dangled an empty hook in front of my face until I put a new leech on it. Neither, of course, would want me to say any more about the issue.

Again, I’ll try to be a good aunt and abstain. It’s so difficult to do, though. I mean, I had perfect blog fodder here!

Suffice it to say, the leeches were pretty successful in drawing fish to the hook, albeit catfish.

Blake had a near panic attack when one yanked the bobber below the water. His fishing rod bent and his reel started to squeal. Ultimately, he handed me the rod and he grabbed the net. It was the biggest fish he ever, sort of caught.

On a different day, at a different lake, Zach was using a twister to taunt a bass he’d seen in the water near a public fishing pier. For nearly a half hour he tossed the lure out in front of, behind and at the fish.

I’d lost interest and was trying to find the panfish when Zach started to holler. The bass finally took the bait.

As all bass do, it put up a good fight until I swept it up in the net and hauled it from the water. The bass was bigger than either Zach or I imagined. In fact, it was the biggest bass Zach has ever caught.

So, there you have it. Two boys, two of their biggest catches and some stories that can be passed down to future generations — all because I took a kid fishing.

Summer’s here. Take the time to enjoy it!

Fish tales

One week ago tonight, as the sun began to set on a beautiful southwest Minnesota spring day, I was thinking to myself that life doesn’t get any better than this.

I had a fishing pole in my hand, a body of water in front of me and two generations of nieces and nephews sharing in an evening of fishing.

Nephew Matt, his son Brody and the first catch of the evening.

Planned by my nephew and long-time fishing buddy, Matt, we set out on a mission to land the lunkers at one of his secret fishing holes.

Dating back to when Matt was just a little tike, we’ve had this tradition. The first one to catch a fish gets the bragging rights for the year. There are no contests for quantity, and certainly no celebrations for snagging a fish stick (a stick in the lake that gets pulled up by our lures).

Well, I’d barely managed to get my line wet before Matt declared that he’d had a hit.

Oh boy, the competition had begun!

Nephew Zach and I were sharing one fishing spot and Matt was across from us as we tossed out our daredevils and slowly reeled them back toward shore.

My senses were on high alert, watching the water and our lines, breathing in the fresh country air and soaking up the sunlight as I carefully released my line to avoid the weeds and the rocks.

My first catch of the 2014 fishing season.

I was so focused on landing a lunker that I didn’t realize what was going on across the pond … at least not until the laughter started.

Matt was trying to fish and yet keep his three-year-old son, Brody, entertained. It didn’t require a whole lot of effort, considering Brody had a fishing pole of his own — one with a sinker, but not a hook.

“Why don’t you have a hook on his line?” I asked.

Matt’s reply was that Brody would get a fish hook on the end of his line when Matt had more time to work with him on his fishing skills.

As this was our first fishing expedition of the season — and one for bragging rights — it was not one of those times to teach Brody.

So, there was Brody, casting his line back and forth not unlike I would envision a fly fisherman. He had the same intent look that Matt and I had on our faces.

Nephew Zach is trying to look upset after I caught my second pike. :)

“I can see why he doesn’t have a hook!”

Matt smiled and nodded in agreement.

A short while later, Brody exclaimed that he caught a big fish — a shark!

It turns out he just lodged his sinker between the rocks, but it could have been a big fish — a sinker-eating fish.

And there we have it, the first fish tale of the season, courtesy of the cutest little three-year-old who wants to be “just like daddy.”

My last catch of the night was the biggest, a 27-inch pike. He also swallowed the daredevil and once Nephew Zach retrieved the lure, it was rendered useless.

Oh, and by the way, it was Matt who lured in the first fish of the season and garnered the bragging rights for yet another year.

After his catch, I landed three northern pike of my own, but who’s counting!

A huge thanks to Nephew Zach for taking all three lunkers off my line. Next time, I’m apparently supposed to let him catch a fish. I have a 10-day fishing and fun vacation, starting today, to work on that, I guess.