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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Some People Count Sheep

© Another Day in the Country

When my Aunt Gertie Schubert couldn’t sleep, she didn’t count sheep. Instead, she counted the houses in Ramona, going up and down the streets of town in her mind. Sometimes she would add a new wrinkle, just to keep things interesting, and she’d count how many of the houses in Ramona had just one person living there.

Having lived in Ramona for lots of years, she knew most of the people in town. She could remember when she taught their children in second or third grades. She kept track of her friends and neighbors in her scrapbooks that she called “This and That,” with newspaper clippings from when people she knew got engaged or when they got married.

As she counted houses, she remembered neighbors spouses, who’d left town one way or another — either divorce or death. And, if by chance, she was still awake after mentally perusing the town, she’d start out in the country counting the families that used to live in the countryside surrounding Ramona. “By the time I get through town and start out in the country, I’m asleep,” she’d say.

The topography of the town changed slowly as a once thriving downtown slipped away with our business district dwindling down from a mercantile, a hardware store, garages, creamery, bank and even a real estate agent beside the doctor’s office, to just a post office. While change was slow, it was steady.

The country schools had gone, long before Aunt Gertie started counting them — she loved country schools and always wanted to teach in one; but I don’t think she ever did. Instead, she taught in the elementary school right here in Ramona and when the surrounding community began to shrink, she taught in a consolidated elementary in Lost Springs.

Remembering didn’t keep Aunt Gertie awake at night — like it sometimes does me. It soothed her soul and put her to sleep.

After Aunt Gertie was gone, we found a box of keepsakes that were too numerous and bulky to go into her “This and That” notebooks. The box was full of clippings, wedding invitations, napkins from the wedding receptions, notices of children born, and those little handouts they give at a funeral. A history of lives in a box. Once or twice, we discovered a lipstick stain on a reception napkin. This meant Aunt Gertie couldn’t get an extra wedding napkin for her collection and saved the one she had used.

Many, many years later, when we came across another of Aunt Gertie’s keepsake boxes, my sister said, “I’m tossing this. We can’t keep everything.”

“You’d better look inside first,” I cautioned.

She opened the lid and exclaimed, “Look at this. You’ve got to be kidding. Here’s Becky’s engagement announcement.” Becky is our cousin and Becky is now a grandmother several times over. The box wasn’t thrown away, once again. It’s still setting on a shelf at the office.

When my mother couldn’t sleep, she didn’t count houses in the town where she lived — it was way too big. Mom recited Bible texts. She started at the beginning of the alphabet with “A — And God said..,” and “B — Behold, I bring you good tidings,” you get the idea. I don’t think she ever made it anywhere near X. She’d be asleep.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know enough Bible texts to follow Mom’s method of counting sheep. I do know the houses in Ramona, but I don’t know for sure who lives in all of them because some of them fluctuate wildly from one week to the next. Sometimes, especially on Sunday night when my deadline for the newspaper is looming, I go over possible topics to write about in my weekly column.

Usually, if I can’t sleep, I just grab a book and begin to read. After a few pages, my eyes are tired and my mind has calmed. I lay the book aside, take off my glasses, and turn out the light. Tomorrow is another day in the country, and a body needs to rest.

Last modified April 9, 2015

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