Despite all of Annie’s protests, Annie Jr. adored ‘fool books’. He loved having me and, occasionally Janey, reading to him. In fact he loved stories so much, he began reading on his own even though his attendance at school was spotty at best.
He always was ‘ready’ to go to school on a snow day, then stamping his feet and storming off to his room in a huff when he ‘heard’ that school was closed, putting on a big show. If there was so party going on he would be occupying his seat next to Phil, making sure he got his fill of treats and prizes, then going home with Phil and driving Slamma Jr crazy until Annie decided to pick him up. Annie Jr. has been driving trucks, back hoes, motorcycles, scooters, helicopters, golf carts, before we even knew he wasn’t a she, and he needs to wait for Annie to come get him; which could be a few hours to a few days late.
Most day’s Annie Jr was at home and if he wasn’t doing some sort of crazy adventure with Annie and Duh-Wayne which was most of the time, he was either being read to or reading himself. Annie Jr. was very particular about his taste in books. His favorite, a prized collection of the Prairie girl series , he had gotten for Christmas. Annie claimed it was one grinched from me in her time machine.
It was one of the few things Annie kept from her grinching escapes to my ‘past’. That and the easy bake oven that literally burned everything you attempted to bake.
Annie wanted Annie Jr. to share her love of the Little House show. Annie Jr. hated the show, although he loved the books. He was somehow convinced, the girl in the book was not even the same girl on the tv. The mother and son bonding moment over the show was a goose egg, but the mother and son bonding over the book wasn’t.
The pair of them along with Duh-Wayne (because someone had to feed the live-stock and hack a chunk of frozen bear off with an axe for dinner) spent much of the winter in Waleed’s house on the Prairie. Waleed had decided to spend the next six weeks in his warm little hole on the golf course, contentedly dreaming of grinding ground.
One of Annie’s favorite parts of the series was the part about making maple syrup. For Annie, there was just something alluring about tramping through waist high snow around a sugar bush to tap some maple trees. The book only gave a limited description of how to make maple syrup.
Annie had employed a flock of wood peckers to drill her trees with holes, since her electric drill would not work on the prairie. She had a couple reindeer she traded Santa, one of her left over dump trucks for, hooked to a sleigh. (I wondered why I got a box of empty jiffy pop pans and a bag of mismatched socks.)
The yoke fit Duh-Wayne perfectly, while Annie Jr. practiced almost a non stop jig getting ready for the dance. Last but not least, they had built a crazy little shack beyond a track, that they had to add to the back yard. An entire railroad town in our back yard they called Mankato, just for a crazy shack they needed and called yes, the Sugar Shack.
Beyond that her fully grown sugar bush, right in the ever expanding back yard. One day it was just there. Now that Annie had most of her gear she needed some lessons. So she reached out to Blonda.
Blonda was one of the Grosbeak Clan from up North. The last name had absolutely nothing to do with their noses, because they all had perfectly normal noses. Perhaps it had to do with the array of colors, that grosbeaks come in. The clan seemed to make the world colorful, with their love of nature. Blonda would make you see the white and blues and grays on a cold winter morning, just with her words.
If anyone knew all about the makings of maple syrup it was Blonda, so it was she, Annie connected with to get some lessons. Actually things were quiet while Annie was off learning the art of syrup making, it was when she got back that things got a little crazy.
Annie Jr. had went along and had made a sled while he was gone and he was anxious to try it out. Annie had been begging me to come along and help her with her syrup business. I was having no part of it, it seemed difficult and any plan involving Annie was more difficult than I wanted to handle, however, I did give into Annie Jr.’s nagging for one ride on his sled.
I pulled Annie Jr. and his sled, way out to the sugar bush. I figured it couldn’t be all that big, but after three miles of trudging through deep snow to reach the hill that was just around the corner, I was wishing I had not agreed to this one ride. We finally made it and I see Duh-Wayne and Annie standing at the top of this huge hill. They are grinning. I knew then I had probably made a mistake.
Annie and Duh-Wayne piled on the sled with Annie Jr. getting ready to fly down the hill. Since there was no room for me, I decided to go back home. Annie Jr. started crying because he really wanted me to ride down the hill. I didn’t want to because the hill was huge almost a mile long.
Annie said she had her truck and would give me a ride home and that she had something I could ride on down the hill. She produced a skip jack for me to ride. A skip jack is a ski with a seat attached to it, and you have to balance it as you ride, sort of a like a unicycle but with a ski instead of a wheel and you don’t have to pedal it. On the negative side you don’t have much control over speed and there aren’t any brakes, except your feet. I’d never master the skip jack so I figured, I would at least fall off so much I would wind up walking down most of the hill anyway. I agreed because Annie had the truck and she offered to get a pizza. Pizza actually sounded good, as long as she ordered something I liked.
I lowered myself onto the skip jack and before I could even get my balance, Annie gave me a shove and down the hill I was flying, down this steep mile long hill and Annie’s crazy laugh ringing in my ears. I looked down the hill, rounded the bend and at the very bottom I see a huge snowman and I am head straight for it. I tried to turn but hit it head on. Covered in snow with a carrot sticking out of my ear, I see Duh-Wayne and the Annie’s coming to a stop beside me.
I took my ride, I am ready to go home. I look around for Annie’s truck.
“Annie where is your truck,” I asked.
“Over yonder a ways,” Annie said. “We have to get our sap first.”
I knew it, I knew it! I was going to wind up tramping around Annie’s sugar bush to collect sap. I always somehow got trapped in Annie’s escapades. After almost 15 years, I should have known better, but it was Annie Jr. who played me like a fiddle. He had not quite gotten equal to Annie’s devilment but this put him over the top.
Just a couple of containers, Annie, said. The containers were troughs, and there were five of them. It took us several hours to collect them put them onto the sleigh, Annie had dragged out there. The reindeer she had specifically traded Santa for, were back in Annie’s barn on the prairie. They’d done their job flying the sleigh out there in the first place they could not be expected to fly a full sleigh through the sky.
Duh-Wayne’s ‘die-a-beat-us’ was acting up he complained as he drank glass after glass of sap slushies he made out of snow and sap, so he was unable to help. Annie Jr. couldn’t help because his ‘feets’ were cold. He had lost his boots in some deep snow I had forbid him to enter. Annie said she was the only one insured to drive the sleigh, although Duh-Wayne flew it to the corner store, several times a day. So it was me pulling it back, while Annie sat in the seat wielding a whip screaming, “Giddy up Slam.”
It was almost dark when we got back to the bottom of the mile long steep hill. “How far to the truck, Annie?” I asked. Figuring there must be some other way out from the bottom of the hill and the truck was parked close by.
“Just around the corner,” Annie said.
“What corner?” I asked.
Annie pointed to the big bend in the mile long hill. “That one. The truck is at the top.”
“Annie I refuse to pull all of you up that hill. You run up and drive the truck down and get us.”
“Slam I can not drive my truck through all of that snow!” Annie screamed.
“Where is your teleporter then?” I yelled.
“Home. There were no teleporters on the prairie.”
“There weren’t trucks either!” I shouted.
“There weren’t?” Annie asked seriously; doing her blank stare and crazy thing with her eyes.
Of course, I wound up dragging all of them and the sap and the sled up the hill along with Annie and Annie Jr.’s snow collection which for some odd reason they needed to take home. The only thing I held out for was a warm truck and a huge piping hot pizza.
We get to the top of the hill, no truck in sight. We still have three miles to go. We get thirty feet and Duh-Wayne has to go to the bathroom, a number two and the toilet paper is in the truck and guess who is forced to make the trek to the truck for the toilet paper. I suggest Annie going along and driving the truck back or letting me drive it back, but of course that would be way too easy.
The truck is a standard which I can’t drive, but my cat can. Duh-Wayne certainly could not be left alone out in the woods a wolf might get him, Annie claimed and Annie Jr. could not protect him. It didn’t matter that a wolf might get me.
So I make the trek to the truck bring back toilet paper; only to find all three of them sitting around a campfire waiting for me. Duh-Wayne only had gas. I retrace my steps this time pulling the sled, the heat of my anger keeping me warm and going.
Once we got to the truck it was me who was tasked with loading it, while Annie warmed up the truck. It was an old model A. She is in the truck, trying to get it started and I am behind it, loading up the vats of sap. I hear the truck chug to life, it sounds like a tractor and the next thing I know Annie has backed over me.
“Watch it, Slam!” Annie screams as she pulls forward thus running over me again. Thankfully the snow was so deep I wasn’t hurt. The truck is finally loaded but of course there is no room for me inside the truck because no it was would be dangerous for Annie Jr. to sit on my lap and someone had to bring the sled back.
“Annie,” I screamed, “You promised me a ride.”
“I’ll give you a ride later.” she yelled over the chugging truck.
I really felt like just going home and leaving the sled. I shouldn’t have to put up with this but Annie had the SPCA on speed dial. Pulling the sled somehow was the lesser of two evils.
The truck got stuck every 200 feet. “Thank god I remembered a shovel right Slam?” Annie yelled as she and her comrades sat in the truck watching me eating pop corn and drinking hot chocolate.
Half way home the truck was out of gas. Annie said not to worry about it. She would teleport it home the next day, I could just pull the sled home they had sufficiently warmed up anyways. They were all wearing the Olympic heated parka’s; but of course they only had three.
Pizza dinner kept me going until we arrived back at Waleed’s Little House and I am expecting Annie to dial her cell phone and order something good and she takes a dried up crust out of her root cellar. She rummages around and says, ‘Ahh some old tomato peels, and some slimy mushrooms, some cheese and how about tuna? Any one have a problem with tuna?”
“Annie really? All that work and a pizza made out of old tomato peels and tuna?” I watch Annie set the cheese on the table. “Annie is that mold on the cheese?”
“Just a little, we can cut it off,” she replied.
“Why don’t you just throw it into the sky and call it a moon? C’mon Annie, order a pizza. A good one with stuff I like!”
“You like all of this stuff,” Annie screamed. “Besides there were no phones on the prairie.”
“There wasn’t pizza either or that tv you have in the corner.”
Annie, shrugged. “I guess we can make the syrup now, since Slam doesn’t want pizza.”
“No Annie, I am going home.” I said.
“SPCA lets go to the SPCA they will lock up our Slam for neglecting her cats,” Annie and Annie Jr. sang. For some reason Duh-Wayne was suddenly wearing a leather coat and caps.
“Alright!” I screamed. “At least I will be warm.”
Warm I was and best there was nothing for me to do. Duh-Wayne was fire man and Annie was skimming and cooling it. Annie Jr was running around making sure everything was flowing.
I tried to help but I was forced to wear a sterile gown, a hair net and a mask to keep any contaminates out of the syrup. Annie kept screaming about my dust and germs, while eating handful after handful of something crunchy spaying crumbs all over the sap as she spoke with her mouthful.
I finally curled up in a corner and fell asleep. I woke up after a while only to see Annie, Annie Jr and Duh-Wayne finishing a large meal of subs, soda and chips. “Where’s mine?” I asked.
“Did you help, Slam?” Annie asked. “No you slept in a corner.”
I walked home. I’d take my chances with the SPCA.