Jan 21, 2007

Midwife to a Burro and Four Other Things

by Liz Adair

Marsha Ward tagged me in internet tag, and as "it" I have to write five things no one (or at least very few) know about me. I, in turn, get to tag five others. Marsha said I could tag ANWA sisters who are not regular bloggers on this blog, and they could post here any time--even if it's someone else's day. It will be a bonus posting on that day.

So, check the end of this posting to see if I have tagged you.

Five things most people don't know about me. Hmmmm. Let's see.

1. I once played midwife to a burro.

This was after my Mother Earth decade. We were rid of the cows and chickens, though we still kept pigs and fed them bakery scraps. Derrill and I were keen backpackers, but arthritis was setting in, so we decided to get some burros to carry the gear. I found a fellow who would sell me a jenny for fifty dollars and ten home-made pies, and I had him deliver the burro on Derrill's birthday.

Well, nobody can have just one burro. We ended up with three jennies and a jack--a gelding, supposedly. We found, in the course of things, that the gestational period of a burro is a year. A little more than a year after we bought our gelded jack, we had our first baby burro. Talk about enchanting! There is nothing cuter. They are all limpid eyes and soft, fuzzy ears.

It was during this time that my mother was dying of Hodgkin's Disease. She was hanging on for two things: the return of my daughter from her mission in Bolivia, and the birth of the first burro. She was able to see both of them, but two weeks after Terry got home, my mother passed away.

The death was not unexpected--in fact my mother and I had spoken of it quite openly. Intellectually, I was ready for my mother to die. What I wasn't ready for was the emotional toll, the emptiness, the frustration of not having her there when she always had been before, the finalty of the situation.

Two weeks after the funeral, as I was alone on our little farm, I looked out the window and saw, at the bottom of the pasture, a little knot of burros gathered together. They stood unmoving for the longest time, and I began to feel uneasy. I got the field glasses and looked again, and I could see that Molly was in labor. Each time her back arched with a contraction, two little hooves protruded from under her tail. This had been going on long enough that I knew she wasn't going to be able to manage this herself. I got on the phone and tried to call Derrill. Then I tried to call the vet. Nobody answered, so I headed out to the pasture.

We had had to pull several calves during the Mother Earth era, so I knew the process. I grabbed the legs and hauled on them during the contractions, but I made no headway. I stuck my hand up in the birth canal and found that the nose had caught on a bony place, and the head was tipping back. I hooked a finger around it and pulled it down, and with the next contraction I pulled on the legs again. Success. The little body moved a few inches. The next contraction gave us a bigger gain, and by the third contraction, the body was hanging half out.

Finally, a little burro lay lifeless on the grass. I stared at it, gut-shot with another loss, when one thick-lashed eye opened and then another. The head raise, she looked around, and then she tried to stand. Her knees wouldn't lock at first, so she skated around like a water bug, as she looked for the udder.

What a high! I stood a ways away, watched, and grinned. It was weeks before the smile left my face. In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm still smiling. But, something else happened that morning. I realized that this was a gift to me. It was like the Lord was showing me the lesson of the continuum of life. I had eased my mother out of this world, and now, I was easing a new life in. I have been ever grateful for that gift.

2. I wrote the book and lyrics for a three-act musical play entitled The Stuff of Life. It must have been around 1982, when an LDS entity ran a contest asking for submissions. My friend Mary Safsten and I decided to collaborate on a play. Well, the powers that be cancelled the contest, but we forged on, finished the play, and pitched the stake presidency about putting it on.

They said yes, but only if Mary would direct. She said yes, but only if I would produce. So, we did.

It wasn't half bad. Mary is a very talented lady, and the music was wonderful. She's aso a great director. The play was too long, but when someone in a Pittsburg stake asked to put it on, I shortened it, and I think it turned out well.

3. I beat my brother in Scrabble by 200 points. My brother, Ron Shook, has his doctorate in linguistics. He knows all the two-letter words and can define each. We don't bother using a Scrabble dictionary when we play with him, because he knows all the words. Whenever he comes to visit, we play at least eight Scrabble games a day.

I should have known something was wrong when my score was 200 points higher than his. Afterward, on his way home to Utah from Washington, he passed out, fell, and cut his head open. When he came to, he patched himself up, drove on home, and went to the doctor. It turned out that his carotid artery was 90% blocked. They did a roto-rooting procedure, and he's fine now. Thing are back to normal in Scrabble, and when the planets are all aligned just right, I may manage to beat him, but never by more than a few points. The last game I played with him, he got three consecutive seven-letter words.

4. I lived in Alaska when it was still a territory. My family drove up the Alcan highway in 1951, when it was still a gravel road. My father had been transferred to a hydro-electric project they were building on the highway between Palmer and Anchorage. I was nine years old, and I attended school at Palmer for five years.

Those were magical years, and my memories of long, chilly bus rides to school; of indigo nights with the snow shimmering in the moonlight; of ripling, colored bands of light dancing across the sky; of a moose sleeping under my bedroom window--all these and a myriad more are as vivid today as when I was young. We left Alaska when I was fourteen, and I always begged my dad to return. His answer was to remind me that I didn't have to go out and start machinery at forty below. He finished his career in Arizona and Afghanistan.

5. I was 65 before I learned what the (dubiously) funny part behind the line, "Pull my finger" was. That was just last week. My daughter Terry has an interior wall that they left unpainted because they planned to cover it with rock. They are now beginning that process and told the little kids they could scribble on the wall, because it will soon be covered. Addy, my fourteen-year-old granddaughter, an artistic child with a wicked sense of humor, did a large-as-life caricature of the Sistine Chapel painting, where God reaches out over the expanse of the sky to touch Adam's finger. In her picture, she put that one-liner in a little word bubble over Adam's head. I finally asked my husband why everyone laughs whenever some comic says it. I think I need to have a talk with my granddaughter.

Those are my five things. Now, these are the people that I tag: Joy Smith, Tina Scott, Anna Arnett, Cecily Markland, Terry Deighton.


  1. Liz:
    That was great. Really fascinating. What interesting experiences.
    Valerie Steimle

  2. Liz, this was wonderful. I love the part about midwifing a burro and how seeing the little one come "to life" was a gift. Fascinating. Rene

  3. Liz,
    It was fun learning about you. I believe you can consider yourself lucky to have both delivered a baby burro (they are so cute) AND to have won at Scrabble ... and all in one life time!:-)

  4. Great post, Liz. I especially liked the Alaska bit, since I've never been there--or North Dakota! It's my dream, along with the Grand Canyon hike. Well, Alaska, anyway. I haven't found any urge to go to North Dakota yet, only that it's there. But Alaska! I've wanted to see it ever since I memorized "The Cremation of Sam McGee, way back in elementary school.

    Your life is fascinating, and your writing compelling. It's a pleasure to call you 'friend.'


  5. I loved reading these things about you, Liz! I can relate to your many different "decades" as you put it. I've played midwife to a number of cats and dogs and a couple of cows and one horse...but never a burro. The scrabble thing is funny. My "mother by marriage" and I love to play Scrabble together. Of course it is not as intense as you describe...but we have a great time. I challenge my husband to Scrabble when he watches football...it's the only time I can win because he gets so into what's going on on the TV!Your stories are beautiful...can't wait to read more.

  6. Wow, Liz. Great stories. Very touching tale of the burro's birth. (BTW- Your Scrabble master brother Dr. Shook gave me all my B's in the USU English department. He was a great prof, esp The History of the English Language.)
    Jennifer Griffith

  7. Thanks for telling me that, Jennifer. I sat in on one of his classes last year and wanted to enroll right then and there. He's such a brilliant fella, but such an old shoe. All my children and grandchildren say hooray when Uncle Ron comes.

  8. All I can say about the pull my finger thing is you must not have had many men in your life growing up. We ALL learned to clear out of the room if my dad tried that one when I was-- well, since I am the youngest, it probably happened before I was born!
    This was cool. I got insight I never dreamed I'd have.


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