Mothers of the Mayflower

Mothers of the Mayflower

Nettie H. Francis

One hundred two passengers. Twenty-four children. Nine cats. One cargo ship, ninety feet long. Sixty-four days on a stormy sea. A possible recipe for disaster—at least in this day and age.

If I had set sail with my children, I would have preferred a private room, catered meals, and disposable diapers. And I would have requested a cruise liner instead of a 1620’s trading vessel.

At the end of the voyage I would have demanded my own bed—not an isolated beach inhabited by “savages;” a lonely place where nearly half of their company would be buried that first year.


I fully understand the meaning of eternity, and it has nothing to do with fire and brimstone. In my world, eternal is described in one word: meals. For me, meals go on and on and on ... forever. When one meal ends, another begins. As the “bread maker” in a family of 11 people, I fix 33 meals a day, 231 meals a week!!! Keeping some variety in that routine - not to mention the preparation, serving, and clean up involved - is enough to wipe me out.

Chickens in the Kitchen

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 27, 2012

It’s spring, and every farm family knows ... the chicks are in!!! And whether we need chickens or not, who can resist spending time at the feed store watching the tiny yellow fluff balls? While some may mark spring with robins, rain or crocuses, I remember it with the familiar sound of chickens ... in my kitchen.
This delightful springtime memory began three years ago when we bought a home on two acres. Our children immediately started planning their farm. For Christmas the boys found two gift cards under the tree, courtesy of Grammy and Grandpa. The next day they purchased wood and chicken wire, made measurements and drew plans. The garage turned into a shop during Christmas break, and our cars were parked out in the snow, but all in the good name of the forthcoming chicken coop. After all of the sawing and hammering was finished, it was more like a castle. We dubbed it the “Taj MaCoop.” The boys painted it barn red and moved it outside.
During spring break, we heard about “Chick Days” at the farm store, so we all drove to town. There they were — two rows of feed tubs filled with soft, fluffy peeps. “Can we please buy the chickens today?” the children begged. “Do your research,” my husband calmed then, “and we’ll come back next week.” The following days were spent reading “chicken books” and making a list of which breeds they wanted.
The farm store received a new shipment of chicks every Monday, so we planned the first Monday after spring break to choose our chicks. That morning, we sent four ecstatic children out the door to school. “Only eight hours until we get our chicks!” one son smiled back at us.
As soon as they arrived home, the children went to work cutting a plastic water barrel in half to make a temporary chick home in our dining room. When everything was ready, we piled into the van, drove the few miles to the farm store ... and stopped. The parking lot was empty. The doors were closed. Pulling up to the front we checked the sign: Open from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. We were 15 minutes late. There was a moment of silence, and then sniffing and sobbing as the terrible truth set in: no chicks today. We slowly drove home, unloaded the empty box and sat in the house looking at the vacant barrel-home. Finally my 9-year-old daughter wiped her eyes. “All day long I kept thinking, ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,’” she said. “And we did.”
The following morning we made another plan. My husband came home from work early, my sons skipped swim team, and at 4 p.m. we trooped into the store. Armed with a notebook, budget sheet and pencils, the children announced to the clerk, “We’d like 10 chicks please.” It took an hour to select the right breeds, and then we were at the checkout register: 10 people, three carts, a bushel of feed, one bag of sawdust, one water bottle, one feeder, one heat lamp and 10 chicks. The boys counted out their money and it was done.
At home, everyone forgot about dinner until the chicks were safely inside their temporary barrel home. By the time dessert was served all 10 of the chicks had names: Henny Penny, Star, Thomas, Blackie, Redwall, Pooka, Blanket, Flower, Pepper and Snowball. No one wanted to wash dishes, no one wanted to fold laundry, no one wanted to do homework. They just held the chicks. At bedtime, the boys carried the barrel downstairs and put it in the corner of their room. By 9:30 p.m., the children were asleep, but the chickens were up scuttling around under the warm light.
The next few days were delightful. Each morning, the boys carefully carried the chicken barrel upstairs to the sunny kitchen. It was comforting to go about my day with their soft peeping in the corner of the room. Within days the baby chicks had grown, and feathers began to show.
Our dining room is spacious, but when there are eight people at the table, two babies in high chairs, and 10 chicks in the corner, things can get a little crazy. One day after the kids left for school, I put bibs on the twins for their breakfast squash. Feeding one baby is tricky; times two and things are downright messy. With one bowl of squash, two spoons, two zealous babies and two “helpful” preschoolers, my kitchen was a slight disaster. Right in the middle of this yellow, pumpkin mess I heard a loud peeping. There was Pooka, the largest chick, perched on top of the barrel.
“Just watch me,” Pooka seemed to say, and took a flying leap, landing at my feet. With squash bowl in hand, I danced around the squawking chicken as my toddler yelled, “A chicken’s out! A chicken’s out!” After a few cha-cha-cha steps, I set the squash bowl safely on the counter and commenced chasing the chicken around and under the table. After a bit more prancing — to the entertainment of my squash-covered twins — I finally planted the flailing chicken safely back in the barrel.
A board placed across the top put a damper on the flying lessons, and when everyone came home that evening I pronounced an end to the indoor chicken home. With a bit of grumbling, the boys removed the “poor little things” to their first night in the outdoor coop.
It’s now been two years since our first chicken adventure, yet we still can never resist the spring chicks at the store. And despite the need to “cut the apron strings” a bit sooner on the indoor pets, my favorite sign of spring is chickens ... in my kitchen.

'Of Mice and Mothers...'

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 13, 2012

“The best laid plans of mice and men ...” I’m not a mouse or a man, but I know full well what it means to have my plans — even my “best-laid-clearly-thought-out plans” — disrupted. From the moment I wake up until I go to bed at night, I’m at the beck and call of people who’re hungry, wet, tired or just need a hug. And when those little sirens go off, I drop whatever I’m doing and answer quickly.
Although I’m a very organized person, I can only reasonably accomplish one or two big tasks each day. A few weeks ago the big event on my list was a visit to the planetarium with my son’s preschool class. Using my well-honed motherhood skills, I set out the diaper bag the night before. I showered the night before. I planned breakfast the night before. At 6:15 a.m., I sent the first batch of people out the door to work and school. The second batch left at 7:15, and the third batch left at 7:40. I had just enough time to wash the breakfast dishes, brush my hair and care for the last four children: one preschooler, two toddlers and a baby. I buttoned up four coats, I tied four pairs of shoes, I loaded four children into the van, and I fastened four car seat buckles. By 9 a.m., we were all standing in the lobby of the planetarium, dressed, fed and (I thought) pottied. It was a miracle.
“Please use the restroom before the show starts,” instructed the planetarium employee. Several of the preschool moms sent students into the bathroom, but since we had all just gone, I took my four children into the theater and sat down. With one toddler sitting on each side of me, and my preschooler a few seats away, I lifted my baby onto my lap. As darkness filled the sky, I started nursing her quietly. But my well laid plans were soon to be thwarted.
Just as Big Bird appeared to tell us about the moon, my 2-year-old daughter began to dance in her chair. “I need to go!” she whispered frantically. “You just went,” I answered, puzzled. She was silent for two seconds before she started again. “I need to go.” The urgency in her voice went up a notch. I tried to ignore her. “I need to go,” she whispered, louder. “Look at the moon!” I pointed out, hoping to distract her. The stars appeared. “Look up there,” I urged again. She had just gone potty 20 minutes earlier.
There were 30 seconds of silence, but her pleading started again. “I need to go!” This time it was desperate. We had only been in the theater for five minutes! I had just paid for this show! I had woken up early to get all of us there! I had carefully planned each shoe lace and hair bow to ensure that we were all ready, and now this! Besides, I was in a dark room with four young children. Should we troop out together? Should I leave several alone in the darkness? I finished nursing the baby, but she continued to whisper urgencies.
Finally, I set my baby down and picked up my toddler, hoping to calm her. But it was too late. Her pants were soaked. “Just wait now,” I said, realizing the worst was over. “I still need to go!” she whispered. There was no chance of enjoying the planetarium, so I picked up my baby, took my toddler by the hand, and felt my way out of the darkness, leaving the other two children to fend for themselves.
In the restroom, I peeled her soaking pants and shoes off of her and set her on the potty. She still had a quart of liquid inside of her! “This is scientifically impossible!” I thought. Once she was calm, I wondered what to do. I now had a half-dressed girl, a pile of sopping clothes, and was juggling a baby in my arms. The show still had 20 minutes, but we had been instructed not to re-enter during the program. However, I had left my diaper bag and car keys in the theater, so there was no way to retrieve dry clothes from the car. “Am I a mouse or a man or a mother?” I thought, frustrated. Thankfully, I’m not a laboratory rat, and it was only reasonable (despite planetarium policy) to go back in and sit with my other two children. Leaving the pile of clothes in a discreet corner of the restroom, I wrapped my daughter’s jacket around her legs and led her barefoot back to the theater.
It was dark inside and I fumbled to my seat. Sitting down, I immediately realized my mistake as the wetness soaked into me; it was my daughter’s previous chair. But not wanting to make more of a scene, I sat quietly, holding my baby and my bare daughter.
Just as I scouted out my other two children (sitting on the laps of nearby friends), Big Bird announced that the show was ending. We had one more glimpse of the night sky and the lights came up. The best laid plans, the best paid for shows, the best moments of motherhood, it was over. We loaded back into the car, one mother, four children and a collection of soppy clothes. We drove home. It wasn’t quite 10 a.m., but I’d had enough excitement to last the rest of the day.
“The best laid plans of mice and mothers ...” Perhaps the best days are those in which I just let life plan me. Something is sure to be accomplished. Something exciting is certain to happen. I’m not a laboratory rat, I’m a mother. And some day I’ll look back and find out there was a plan, after all.

Two Crazy

Published in the Casper Journal February 28, 2012

It’s official: I’m overwhelmed. No, I’m not just overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmingly overwhelmed, and not for the obvious reasons some might imagine. Dealing with teenagers? Easy. Handling my own business? A cinch. Staying on top of laundry? No problem. Raising toddler twins? Absolutely impossible.

Goat Grief

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal January 31, 2012

It’s officially been four months since twin goats and their mama arrived at our house. Thankfully, I can report that our experience has been relatively enjoyable ... well ... except for a few moments of “goat grief.”
The first month of goat ownership was very fulfilling. I loved looking out the window to our pasture where the goat kids played happily together. “I’m a real farm mama now,” I thought. Whenever my own children went outside to play, the goats would run to greet them, bleating happily. Our life was a picture-perfect farm.
Then, one fall day, my preschool son came screaming into the house. “She’s out! She’s out!” Dropping my mixing bowl on the floor, I ran to the door and saw mama goat Vicki happily standing near the road, on the wrong side of the fence. Luckily, she didn’t seem interested in the passing cars, and was content to simply eat the grass “on the other side” which must have been greener. My immediate instinct was to phone my husband. “No,” I told myself in my best farm mama voice, “I can handle this goat.” With my wide-eyed preschooler and toddler twins watching, I walked around Vicki, blocking her from the highway, and gave her a gentle push in the direction of the open gate. No good. She loved that grass.
Putting all dignity aside, and ignoring thoughts of how I would look to the passing drivers, I put a rope around Vicki’s neck and attempted to drag her back into the field. Nope. She was stronger than I was, and resisted the pulling.
“Wait here,” I instructed my amused children. Running into the house, I came back with an apple. “Goats love apples...don’t they?” I wondered. Just then my phone rang. It was my Las Vegas friend calling for a good chat. “I’ll have to call you back,” I said as I breathlessly answered. “I’m dealing with a runaway goat.” Her high-pitched laugh didn’t add to my confidence level.
“Here, goat,” I said, offering the apple. She looked up from the grass and eyed it, then began walking slowly to me. “Block the gap!” I instructed my capable two-year-olds. Neither one was as tall as Vicki, but they obediently stood between the goat and the open road while my preschooler held the gate open. My apron blew in the wind and I tried to look as non-threatening as possible. Farm Mama vs. Mama Goat. Vicki slowly sauntered to me, licked the apple, and then turned and walked in the opposite direction. I tried several more times, but she always changed her mind at the pasture gate. Finally, I had had enough. I picked up my phone and called for help. I wasn’t smarter than a goat.
That evening all escape routes from the pasture were sealed off, and the following days ensued with no noteworthy incidents. However, a few weeks later, tragedy struck. One day, goat twin AJ jumped from his favorite perch and broke his leg. We were heartbroken. My teenage son, AJ’s owner, was in tears. A trip to the vet spelled out our options: amputation, operation or death. Even goat medical care requires cash, and I suddenly wished for an animal healthcare plan. We spent the weekend debating: How valuable is a goat? Can a three-legged goat live a fulfilling life? “If I broke my leg would you put me down?” was the hard question asked us as parents.
Finally, with the help of generous grandparents and my son’s own hard-earned money, we decided on an operation. Monday morning I called the school secretary to inform her of my son’s delay. “He’s taking his goat to the vet,” I told her. The other end was silent. “Well,” the stunned secretary finally admitted, “I’ve never heard that tardy excuse before.”
AJ was left in the vet’s capable care and my son went to school with a promise that I would call once the operation had started. This time, a different secretary answered the phone. “Please let him know that AJ is in the operating room,” I said. The secretary’s voice immediately oozed with sympathy. “I’m so sorry,” she offered. “Would you like to give the news to your son yourself?” “That’s OK,” I responded, not wanting to admit that the operee was a goat.
In the end, infection forced the operation into an amputation, and AJ returned to our pasture as a tripod. After a week he was bounding happily with his sister again, and my son thankfully accepted the outcome. Watching him suffer emotionally had been difficult enough, and knowing that our pet goat was in pain hurt terribly. But I survived, and this mother is wiser for it. There are no longer just children in our family; we now have nine children and a few “kids.” Goat grief? Perhaps it’s the real “farm mama” test.

Presidential Politics

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal January 18, 2012

Why anybody would want to run for president is beyond me. To suddenly have your entire life put on display, like a slow movie, one millisecond at a time, for passersby to scrutinize and scowl at; to have every action, every glance, every word dissected; to have personal relationships torn to the ground - it's an exercise that only the very toughest could hope to endure. The process our nation puts politician-wannabes through is nearly dehumanizing. Their words are "twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools." The cruelty reminds me of "Lord of the Flies," a group of young boys, playing with sticks at being men, who mistakenly kill one of their own.
Our political atmosphere sometimes mirrors the mood in my home. "He said ... She said ..." How do I know who's telling the truth? Mothers not only need to be good cooks, maids, chauffeurs and teachers, they also need to be good attorneys. My college degree has been helpful, but I'll admit, sometimes I wish for a few litigation skills. A law degree would come in handy as a mother, especially when I'm called upon to serve justice. Perhaps a Pinocchio's nose isn't such a bad idea for children ... or politicians.
Mudslinging isn't new, in the White House or in our home. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two great founding fathers, even stooped to outrageous accusations during a presidential campaign. The people were left to discern who was right and who was wrong. And they chose Jefferson. Smeared by false scandal, John Adams left town in anger the day of Jefferson's inauguration. Although they had once worked for a common cause, the two became fierce enemies. Later, they made up their broken relationship, and miraculously died on the same day, July 4, 1826, just a few hours apart.
In a country where there's no royalty, we the people must choose our loyalties. Thankfully, as a credit to democracy, there are generally honest citizens who're willing to put personal interests aside for our country. George Washington, our first president, had to be coerced into accepting the position. He preferred the country life, at home on his plantation, to that of politics. In a true show of citizenship, he gave up his comfortable lifestyle to lead our country through the first eight years, until he warded off all pleas to continue and returned to Mount Vernon. Thank goodness for men like him.
If we must go through another political season, would there be any way candidates could simply share their ideas, their policies, their plans for leading our country? Instead of the bashing, the mudslinging, the challenging, the picking, couldn't we just hear the truth? Perhaps it's too much to ask of a democracy. Until there's an outraged mother to hand around a few good spankings, there will be meanness. However, despite the criticizing, I'm still grateful for men and women who're willing to put their lives, their family's lives, and their personal reputations on the line for America. It's up to me (law degree or not) to discern between truth and mud.

What is Real?

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal January 3, 2012

We’re not a television family. We don’t have cable, and rarely take the time to watch a movie. However, during September, October and November, we spent several Monday nights watching my brother, Jake Hunsaker, perform on The Sing-Off, an NBC reality show featuring a cappella groups from around the country. His group, Vocal Point, a nine-man chorus from Brigham Young University, did quite well, surviving to the top five finalists and making a name for themselves with their catchy, upbeat tunes.
It was a little strange to see someone I grew up with perform on television. I remember the day Jake was born. (He is the second youngest, and I am the second oldest.) I remember feeding him his bottle and changing his diaper. I recall many of his milestones through the years ... graduating from high school, buying his first car, going on to college. And I remember singing with him around the house and on family trips. The difference is, now he’s singing on national television.
It was fun to get the inside scoop from Jake after each episode of The Sing-Off. “The judges took nearly two hours [not two minutes] to make their elimination decision,” he told us one week. “We became good friends with that other group,” he offered another week. “Filming an episode actually takes several hours,” he explained once. In other words, reality television is only partly real. Despite what we’re told, much of what we see is carefully orchestrated.
It’s not just reality TV that’s not entirely real, however. I walked into a store the other day and was greeted by a wall of television screens. Each one played a different movie, and not one showed a real person. Blue people, animated people, creatures mixed with human likenesses, twiggy ladies with overgrown hair ... not a single being was an actual human. The blatant farce made me wonder how much time today is spent watching things that are real. A real tree, a real river, a real cloud in the sky, a real person, a real conversation ... the reality of life is slowly slipping away.
Statistics compiled by TV-Free America state that parents usually spend 38.5 minutes in meaningful conversation with their child each week, yet an average child watches 1,680 minutes of weekly television. The average youth spends nearly 1,500 hours watching television each year, and only 900 hours attending school. At age 65, most Americans will have spent nine years watching the tube, not counting internet, iPad, iPod and other “screen” viewing.
I remember taking our children to a winter park when we lived in Las Vegas. On the hour, electric blowers, hidden in the tree tops, began shooting beautiful, white snow out onto the park green. My children were thrilled. As Las Vegans, they had never actually seen more than one or two “real” snowstorms, and they were enamored with the wet fluff on their heads and jackets. After 10 minutes, the snowfall abruptly stopped, and we were left in the warm, Nevada night air, the fake snow soon melting around us. The rapt attention of those watching was incredible, and a little scary. I wondered if our world has become so computerized, so simulated, that we’ve forgotten simple beauty. Are we so starved for reality that we’re amazed at manmade counterfeits?
We enjoyed watching The Sing Off. Even after my brother’s group was voted off of the show, we continued to sing the songs around the house. Santa brought us the Christmas CD, and we’ve even downloaded some of the music from iTunes. The real music simulated by real voices will continue to make its mark on America.
Our television watching stint is over for now, at least until another friend or sibling makes it onto national programming. Watching television isn’t all bad; I just hope we’re filling the rest of every real day with real people, real images and real conversations. Because, like every group on The Sing-Off, you never know when life could suddenly change and you will be singing your “Swan” song.