Linden Tree Leaves

Genealogy and Ancestry Explorations


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Nona’s Stories: Farming Life and Gingerbread

FarmingLifeAndGingerbreadPhoto001

Me – age 4 years

I remember this dress—it was red with little white stars on it. At home when I wore it, our old turkey gobbler chased me, and when at Grandma Burns house, her old gander chased me.

Our bee apiary was in the peach orchard next to the yard on the East, the hives were under the peach trees to protect them from the hot sun.

Next to the peach orchard was an acre or so of sweet clover, planted there so the bees could make clover honey—much liked by many people. When it was in bloom it looked like a purple sea—and the sweet odor could be smelled quite a distance.

Often I couldn’t resist picking boquets of the sweet blossoms—and just as often I got stung by the bees—it was a joke in the family when they saw me in the clover patch, they got out the bee-sting medicine.

Just beyond the clover patch, the Bottoms lands started. The road in front of our house cut through these Bottoms—the old road was a “cordory “ road—logs laid side by side on the almost marshy Bottoms land—the trees grew so thickly and tall with many vines—including pink wild roses, that it was dark (and scary) in these lowlands. But us kids did venture in there sometimes—but not for very far—mostly to gather the marsh daisies and purple and yellow violets. Only small animals lived there—raccoons, ’possums, rabbits, and wild cats—these were domestic cats that had returned to the wild state.

There were many birds, especially little screech owls, and it made the dark, gloomy Bottoms seem even more eerie with them calling to each other.

In the Fall the cotton, corn and cane fields were cleaned by raking the dead stalks into long ricks in the adjoining fields. These were burned—always at night. There was no danger of the fires spreading as the surrounding field was raked clean, and the ricks were burned only on still, windless nights.

I was curious as to why they were burned at night—Ralph, Harry and I were allowed to go along to watch—Dutch was three years younger than me, so was too small to tag along.

Dad said the night burning custom was for the benefit of the screech owls, they knew this long standing custom of night burning by the farmers—and came in flocks from the Bottoms to catch the field mice and rats, swooping low to catch them. This was a great benefit to the farmers as the rats and mice destroyed much grain. The burning was also to destroy insects, especially the cotton-bole weevil.

A neighbor had a “cane press” and we took a lot of our cane there for “pressing” – extracting the sweet juice—which was made into cane syrup—and the Sorgum cane was made into the thick, dark sorgum molasses.

In Winter, when it was very cold, the sorgum would be so thick we could eat it almost like taffey—first buttering our fingers so it wouldn’t stick to them. And it made wonderful gingerbread— eaten hot with real butter and homemade applebutter. My mother used the recipe that Grandma Burns’ mother had brought with her when she came by wagon train to Texas from Tennessee in 1851, it had been handed down from generation to generation, and it was given to me, too. I’m enclosing a copy of it. It’s by far the easiest and best I’ve ever used.

Dad took our corn to the mill to be ground into corn meal, and wheat to be made into flour. There were big wooden barrels for each in the smokehouse. At hog-killing time—the first real hard freeze of Winter—the fat was “rendered” and 25 lb cans of lard stored in the smokehouse, along with sausage, slabs of bacon, and hams which were “cured” by smoking with hickory wood chips.

The corn fields were always the furthest from the Bottoms lands—otherwise the raccoons would destroy the corn—they dearly loved the green corn when it was in the roasting-ear stage, and a single raccoon could destroy a dozen ears of corn in a single night. We always planted plenty of pop-corn so that we would have corn to pop over the coals in the fireplace on cold Winter nights. We often made pop-corn balls, too. We didn’t have any pecan trees, but had several Black Walnut trees, and in the Fall us kids gathered the Black Walnuts for use in the Winter.

 

Southern Gingerbread

(from Tennessee 1851)

1 cup sorgum (nor syrup)

1 cup sugar

1 cup boiling water

1/4 cup melted shortening (original recipe called for lard)

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice or cloves

Combine ingredients in order given. Beat thoroughly. Pour into greased, floured iron skillet and bake in moderate oven until top cracks and a straw inserted comes out clean.

Serve hot with butter or cold with whipped cream and applebutter.

Us kids made our own bubblegum—Mae and Gae Marshall taught us how—using a small amount of beeswax, from sunflower stalks and the rubber from snake vine—so called because of the spotted and mottled leaves. It wasn’t poisonous. It produced black berries, under the black peel was a layer of rubber-like material—this made bubble gum that was better than any that can be bought today—and we could blow huge bubbles with it.

I’ll include the recipe for Black Walnut Chocolate Cake in my next story.

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Lambkin the Goat Kid

One morning in late Winter we woke to find the snow had been silently falling during the night—a very rare happening at Uvalde.

So we quickly had breakfast and went out for a walk in the snow with the dogs. I’m sure it was the first snow they ever saw. But they seemed to enjoy romping and playing in it.

LambkinPhoto001

Me and Buff and Duff at the Milam Six Mile Ranch

They were completely baffled when they were chasing rabbits and they suddenly dived under the snow and disappeared from sight.

They looked so puzzled, and would run in circles looking for them.

We walked for miles, going to the big pasture to check on the livestock there.

And it was a good thing we did for we found coyotes had attacked the goats and killed several—one had a little kid, and it was almost frozen in the snow.

Ray had on a sweater under his jacket, so we wrapped the kid in it and hurried back to the ranch house.

We built a fire in the big iron cookstove and warmed blankets to wrap it in. I fixed it a bottle of warm milk and started teaching it to take its milk from the bottle.

Kazan and Scotty were delighted with the new “bottle-baby”, but seemed upset by its constant “ba-a-a-ing” for its mother.

Kids are much more vocal than lambs. We mis-named it “Lambkins” – jokingly using the name at first, but it “stuck” so that turned out to be its permanent name.

The puppies watched the feeding process with great interest. But they didn’t understand the “baa-ing.” Scotty climbed into the “nursery box” with it and whined and licked its face, but Kazan just stood with his forepaws on the top edge of the box, ears pricked up and turning his head from one side to the other, face wrinkled in puzzlement.

But, strangely, the little kid seemed to be comforted by Scotty being in the box with it, and soon quieted down. Maybe it felt less alone in a strange place.

None of the baby animals we had while on the ranch seemed in the least afraid of each other. They hadn’t learned about fear and danger.

Scotty loved them all, showing his love by licking their faces.

Kazan played and romped with them but he never licked their faces, or a person’s hand. That form of affection seems to be something dogs have learned over the many  years of association with man.

LambkinPhoto002

Me feeding Lambkin. Sleeping porch in the background. Lambkin grew fast, eating a quart of milk each feeding. He preferred to take his bottle while standing on his hind feet like he is doing in the picture. He soon developed a fine coat of glistening-white mohair. The ranch goats were fine-bred goats, raised for their mohair. They were sheared each Spring, by a shearing crew that went from ranch to ranch.

Scotty would bed down for a nap with whatever “bottle-baby” we had in the Nursery-box at the time, but Kazan always sought a dark place where he could hide alone for his naps.

Lambkins took to bottle feeding without any trouble, and soon there was less “ba-aa-ing” at night. Scotty slept with it in the Nursery Box, and I guess he was a comfort and a consolation, something alive and warm, and it didn’t feel so lost and alone.

In a week or so it was out of the box and scampering all over the house playing with the puppies. In  a short time it started some bad habits—nibbling on the bedspreads and any other cloth it could find, including our clothes. And it could jump amazingly well—and high—up on a chair– then to the tabletop—or dresser top, which was its favorite spot, and study its reflection in the mirror.

So we had to put it out in the yard, much to the disappointment of Kazan and Scotty. We brought a big turkey-coop into the yard for a shelter for it, and told Buff and Duff they were to watch it. They understood, and would have guarded it with their lives. They were used to all sorts of ranch livestock and were trained to protect them.

In the daytime I let Kazan and Scotty out in the yard to play with Lambkins and they had a lot of fun. Lambkins could jump up on top of the coop and look down at them, but try as they might, they couldn’t jump up there with him. The dogs kept a watchful, though bored, eye on all three of them.

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Hanse and the Snake

One Spring morning we went out to feed the saddle horses and milk the cows. The grain for the horses was kept in metal barrels in the barn.

We opened the barn door and discovered Hanse the Cat with arched back, fur standing on end, fearfully surveying the area of the grain barrels.

We thought there was at least a six foot rattlesnake hiding there, judging from his actions. The two things Hanse feared the most  was coyote pups and snakes—in that order.

So we got a hoe to kill it with, and slowly and carefully moved one of the barrels—there was a meek little chicken snake hiding behind it—it was only about two feet long, but when Hanse saw it he took himself with all possible speed to the hay loft—leaping the bales of hay two at a time—spitting, snarling, and hissing. He must have thought that little snake was going to swallow him alive.

We killed the snake and took it outside and buried it.

Actually, it would have done a lot of good in the barn, as chicken snakes also prey on mice, but they do kill baby chicks, birds, and rob nests of eggs, so we thought it best to get rid of it.

Anyway, Hanse made his attitude clear—”either that snakes goes or I go!”

We fed the horses and milked the cows, and went back inside the barn to fill Hanse’s bowl with warm milk—he was still hiding in the hayloft—we could hear him grumbling and growling.

We finally coaxed him to come down for his warm milk.

He walked gingerly and slowly in as wide a circle as possible, because of the stacked hay, around the area of the barrels, eyeing them suspiciously, and snarling under his breath, ready to flee if even a straw moved.

For weeks he wouldn’ t go near those barrels.

Hanse was given to us by a neighboring rancher, who had an over abundance of cats. He assured us that Hanse was a “marvelous mouser.”

He just didn’t like varmints of any kind and was scared to death of anything larger than a mouse.

A friend caught a barn owl—they are really beautiful birds– and offered it to us but we were afraid Hanse would have a nervous breakdown if we put it in the barn with him.

Barn owls are excellent “mousers” and will remain in a barn.

They sleep quietly in the rafters by day, and hunt mice at night, swooping down almost noiselessly. They don’t  “call” as the screech owls and Great Horned owls do.

I was always amazed that so large a bird as Who-Who made so little noise when flying—there was hardly a whisper of sound as he glided down from his tree to the post-top.

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Rattlesnakes

One night we were awakened by the spine-chilling sound of rattle-snakes under the house. Anyone that has ever heard a rattlesnake rattle will never forget that sound.

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With a magnifying glass you can see its head at the top of the coil, a little to the right. It was facing Ray, coiled to strike as I took this picture-and it did!

It sounded like there was more than one, and we could tell by the sound of the rattle that it was a large snake. This wasn’t long after Scotty had been bitten by one.

 

We could hear it strike the armadillo’s shell. Two armadillos had tunneled under the yard fence, then under the house in the Fall. We  didn’t mind as they could do no harm and had told the dogs it was alright, so they didn’t bother them.

There was no fireplace at the Milam Six Mile ranch, big cast iron heaters and cook stove were used. But the brick chimney serving as flues for the woodstoves extended down to the ground under the house for a supporting base for the bricks.

Around this base the pack-rats had built a nest. Pack rats are the bane of every ranch in Texas. It does little good to destroy the nests—they will build them back in one night.Rattlesnakes also den up in these nests in Winter, and feed on the rats.

The armadillo’s shell protected them from the rattle-snake fangs, so they were unharmed.

In a short time, Buff and Duff started barking so we knew that one of the snakes had crawled out into the yard.

It would be much too dangerous to go out in the yard with a lantern to look for the snake, and we knew the dogs were wise in the ways of rattlesnakes and would stay out of reach.

As soon as it was light enough to see we got dressed and went out to check on the dogs, and they were still keeping tab on the rattler. It was coiled up near the woodpile not far from the kitchen door. If there had been others they had left the yard. Ray got a rifle with which to kill it.

When rattlers come out of hibernation in the Spring, they are in a vile mood, partly blinded by the bright light, and strike at any sound or any thing that moves. I guess this one was mad as a hatter because the dogs had been harassing it most of the night.

Though Ray was out of reach, it could hear him and struck at him. When he stepped back it heard the sound and started crawling toward him, rattling, with its head drawn back to strike. He killed it with a shot from the rifle.

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A very angry rattlesnake-headed for Ray, and ready to strike. It was so angry it started chasing Ray, rattling furiously.

I don’t think this was the rattler that bit Scotty, as one this large would surely have killed him.

After this we got the chores done early– and on a ranch there are a lot of chores—so as not to be out after dusk.

In Texas every Spring people have “Rattlesnake Round-ups.” And a lot of rattlers are killed. The type there are very large. Not at all unusual for one to be six feet long.

A few days later Pop Milam came out to the ranch from town and told us a Mexican ranch-hand on a neighboring ranch had been bitten by a large rattler. He was alone on the ranch, had no transportation, and the telephone was out of order, so he could get no help and died.

After this we kept a spare horse in the corral at night. We decided on the horse I always rode, a big grey horse named Gray Boy, because Eagle, the horse Ray rode, was too headstrong for me to handle—in case I should be the one for a “mid-night ride” for help.

In the next story, I’ll tell you about the mischief Grey Boy got himself into, and the results.

 


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Nona’s Stories: Grey Boy and Alonzo

After hearing from Pop Milam about the ranch-hand on the neighboring ranch being bitten by the rattlesnake, and dying because he couldn’t get help, we had decided to keep one of the saddle horses in the corral at night—just in case we should need to go for help, or get to town.

We kept “Gray Boy,” the big gray horse I rode because he was easier to handle than “Eagle,” the dark red, rather spirited horse that Ray rode.

We kept the grain-(oats)- in the barn in metal barrels, that we fed the horses. There was a side door opening from this area of the barn into the horse corral to make it convenient when feeding the horses.

This door was fastened with a latch on the outside. We had seen Gray Boy nibbling at this latch several times—he knew perfectly well that the oats were kept just inside this door. But we didn’t dream he could open the latch with his teeth. And one night he did open it—and ate so much of the oats that he foundered himself.

He was a pretty sick horse when we went out to the barn the next morning and found what had happened.

We sent for the Veterinarian, and brought Gray Boy up near the yard and tied him under the shade of a huge oak tree.

His feet, just above the hoof, was very swollen and he seemed to be in a good deal of pain.

Ray had to go to the big pasture to check on the cattle there, so I was alone when the Vet arrived at the ranch.

He got out of his car and was bending over examining Grey Boy’s feet and didn’t hear Alonzo walk up behind him—the deep leaf mold under the trees deadened the sound. Naturally, Alonzo thought the Vet was there solely to scratch his head, so he gave him a little push on the rear to get his attention—the Vet wasn’t’ expecting this, of course, and toppled over head-first under Gray Boy.

I was washing dishes in the kitchen and heard the Vet yelling “Help! Someone! Help!” I thought he had stepped on a rattlesnake or something as bad, and looked out the kitchen window—the Vet was going round and round the big tree, and Alonzo was following him—stopping once in a while to shake his head in bewilderment at this new game of Follow The Leader.

Gray Boy was watching this strange turn of events with interest.

I went out to try to explain to the Vet that Alonzo just wanted his head scratched, but the Vet insisted Alonzo was chasing him  and refused to believe he was only following him, which was true.

He made a wild dash for his car and refused to get out as long as Alonzo was there.

So I took off my apron and tied one apron string to his horn and led him to the corral, he had a “now what have I done?” look.

When the Vet got back to town, he told Pop Milam “that big red devil of a Bull” attacked him and chased him. Pop Milam told him Alonzo wouldn’t hurt a horsefly, was too lazy to chase anybody—and didn’t even know he was a bull.

The Vet made two more trips out to the ranch to check on Gray Boy, but refused to get out of his car—just sat and blew the horn, until we went out and penned Alonzo.

His orders were to keep Gray Boy tied up where he was, with a rope short enough to prevent him from lying down, and to treat his feet by standing them in buckets of water to which some sort of medication he left was added.

I guess this treatment made his feet feel better, for Gray Boy didn’t try to lift his feet out of the pails of water.

We brought a big metal tub, and filled it with water for him to drink, and brought his hay to him—he wasn’t to have any grain for several months.

Alonzo thought this arrangement was just wonderful, and invited himself to dinner—every day. He even insisted on drinking from the tub, too, it didn’t bother him that we had to carry that pater in buckets from the well! Alonzo elected himself to keep Gray Boy company and spent most all his time right there. Gray Boy didn’t seem to mind sharing his food and drink with him. And I think even enjoyed his company.

Of course, when we went out to feed and take care of Gray Boy, Alonzo had to have some attention, too—and a lot of head-scratching. He was delighted with this new set-up.

When Gray Boy had improved enough to turn him loose in the “trap,” Alonzo went along with him, grazing close by.

The first evening when feeding time arrived, Gray Boy stood about a hundred yards from the corral where we were feeding Eagle, and whinnied. We thought maybe his feet were hurting him and felt sorry for him. So we took a block of hay and each of us carried a pail of water—for Alonzo was with him and could drink a pail of water all by himself. They both seemed to enjoy their little “picnic”.

The next evening the same thing happened. Only when they had finished their “picnic”, both walked spryly to the corral for their second helping!

Gray Boy had just become used to this special treatment, and somewhat spoiled for attention. Alonzo had been spoiled all his life.

I didn’t want to ride Gray Boy after his “illness” for fear his feet might hurt him, so we brought a bay named Captain, in from the big pasture, and I rode him as long as we were at the ranch.

In the Spring there is much riding to do on a ranch looking after all the new-born calves, lambs, and kids. And trying to protect them from roving packs of coyotes.

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Guinea Chicks and Turkeys

GuineaChicksInHatPhotoOne Spring afternoon Buff, Duff, and I went for a walk. The wildflowers were in bloom, and the tall grass lush and green. Suddenly Buff stopped, ears pricked up, tail wagging, looking at something under a low shrub. I knew it wasn’t a rattlesnake from his actions, but thought it might be baby rabbits n a burrow, or a burrowing owl. But when I investigated, I found a guinea nest with eight guinea chicks that were no more than a day or so old. They are beautiful, black with white chest and chin—look like they are wearing little white bibs! They look very much like quail or pheasant chicks, and are much smaller than chicken chicks.

I knew they would fall prey to skunks, snakes, or weasels, so I put them in my hat and took them back to the house.

The “laying” flock of chickens at the ranch were White Leghorns—averaging from 150 to 200 chickens, but about a dozen Rhode Island Red hens were kept as Mother hens. The Reds are good laying hens, too, but are the best for sitting hens and for raising baby chicks. Too often the White Leghorns will change their minds about sitting and leave the nest after about two weeks—it takes three weeks for the eggs to hatch. Or desert the chicks when they are still too small to fend for themselves.

I knew one of the Red hens had been sitting for a couple of days. So that night we put the Guinea chicks under her in the nest. She didn’t seem a bit surprised to find she had “hatched” eight chicks after sitting just two days on an eggless nest. And proudly and happily accepted the little chicks.

The next morning we put her and the chicks in a coop. The coops were especially made for the Mother hens and chicks. An “A” type frame with closely set  boards on the sides and ends to keep rain out, with air holes near the top of the ends like this. The coop is set on a plant platform to raise it above the ground in case of rain—cold dampness will quickly kill young chicks. The platform extended out several inches all around the coop like a little porch. In the daytime the coop was raised about 2 or 3 inches so the chicks could go in and out, and closed at night. The extended platform prevented small animals from digging under the coop at night to get at the chicks. Fresh clean straw was put in the coop each day. The Mother hen was kept in the coop for about two weeks until the baby chicks were old enough and strong enough to be outside with her. At night the Mother hen would always return to her own coop, and they were closed up for protection. The coops were under big shade trees to protect the hen and chicks from the hot sun. The Texas sun can be awfully hot in the Spring and Summer—not at all unusual to be 107o—110o.GuineaChicksFeathers2

Guineas are exotic, semi-wild fowl. Almost all ranches had a small flock of these kept for “watchbirds.” They will not roost in hen houses, but in trees. They fly almost as easily as birds. Absolutely nothing can come around at night without them hearing it and giving the alarm, a peculiar chattering which the whole flock takes up. This certain chattering is used only as an alarm, and the ranchers knew what it meant—something prowling around.

Guineas are a gray color, which tiny white polka dots. Their heads are blue, with rose color markings, and have top-knots,

They are smaller than chickens, their meat very dark and bluish, their eggs about half the size of normal chicken eggs.

They are not eaten, though they could be.

They stay to themselves in a tight little flock, apart from the chickens, and are always rather wild. I never heard of a pet one.

They will not lay their eggs in the chicken nests, but always hide them out in the brush. And for that reason few of the eggs or chicks survived. Snakes and small animals usually found and destroyed them. We always searched for the nests and retrieved the eggs and put them under the Red sitting hens.

But we had to be very careful in removing the eggs from the Guinea nest, never touching the nest or anywhere near it—they can smell or in some way detect that a human has touched the nest, and will abandon it. We used a long stick to  rake the eggs away from the nest several feet, then they would be picked up by a wooden spoon which we were careful never to touch the bowl of. We kept this wooden spoon hanging outside the house so there wouldn’t be any human odors on it.

GuineaChicksFeathers1We had to use the same procedure with turkey eggs, except that a wooden spoon all their own was used.

The ranch turkeys were the Buff Bronze type. They were white with wings and markings of  a bronze-buff color. There were usually a hundred or more in the flock.

This color was so hunters wouldn’t mistake them for Wild Turkeys, which are black. And also this breed of turkey is larger and doesn’t wander so far from the ranch house, so is less likely to be killed by coyotes. They roosted in the grove of oak trees near the hen-houses.

Part of the turkey flock was marketed in the Fall for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Many ranches had Peacocks, but there were none at the Milam 6 Mile Ranch at the time Ray and I were there. There had been some earlier, but they had been sold. They are very noisy.

-Nona


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Nona’s Stories: Lightning in the Storm Cellar

When we lived in North Texas, we had a storm cellar a short distance from the back door. Everyone there had these storm cellars in which to take refuge from tornados. That area was known as “Tornado Alley.”

Some of these cellars were under the houses, but that was not a good place for one because people could be trapped by the wreckage of the house, and couldn’t get out.

Ours was about twelve feet square, with two double beds, an iron stove that was a heater, but had two “caps” on the stove top so it could also be used for cooking. The cellar was kept well stocked with food, beds ready for sleeping.

Tornados usually happen from 4: p.m. to 4: a.m. and many a time we had to get up in the middle of the night and dash for the storm cellar, sometimes when it was raining hard, so a change of night-clothes for each of the family was also kept in the cellar.

The cellar, of course, was underground, a stairs leading down to it. The earth was mounded up slightly over the cellar so that the door could have a very slight slant. It was pulled down by a heavy chain to close it, and the chains secured to hooks set in concrete, to prevent the tornados suction pulling the door open. The flatter anything is on the ground, the less likely it is to be picked up.

The only thing protruding above ground was the stove-pipe from the heater. It quite often was blown away, and had to be replaced.

One night there was an especially bad storm approaching, with a lot of wicked lightning. So we all went to the storm cellar. It was Spring, so we didn’t need to have a fire in the heater. There was a bed on each side of the room, the heater between them.

These beds were the old-fashioned fancy iron beds—quite common and plentiful then -(but much sought after now). The rollers or casters were the usual metal ones. The floor and walls of the cellar were concrete.

We were all sitting on the beds eating sandwiches and could hear the roar of the storm and hail, the sound coming down through the stovepipe. Suddenly there was a deafening explosion and blinding flash, a huge ball of fire sort of bounded from bed-post to bed-post.

Lightning had struck the stove pipe above the storm cellar, traveled down it and exploded the cast-iron heater, then leaped to the iron beds. Where each leg of the heater and each leg of the beds touched the concrete  floor there was a blackened, burned hole in the floor.

None of us was touching the metal of the beds, or the floor, and none were hit by the pieces of the stove. We were not hurt, just had that odd feeling of shock.

It was one of those stranger than fiction things.

-Nona