Strange as it might sound, one of my mother’s favorite things to do in the short summer of Gunnison, Colorado was to dig for worms. Not just any worms, but nice native worms that would be sold to the local bait shops for a penny a piece (which I’m sure were sold to the crazy out-of-state fishermen for a lot more!). I have very fond memories of her standing in her muddy boots in the hay shed on the Wilson ranch, cigarette hanging out of her mouth, digging up a spade of wet, black dirt and picking the worms very gingerly out of the clod.
She loved going out to that shed right after the field had been irrigated and dragging as many of her daughters along as she could. Sometimes, we would take our miniature Pomeranian, Sammy – but apparently he was allergic to hay – so he spent most of the time sneezing so hard it pushed his little body about ten feet back with each sneeze! And, he really didn’t like worms – he would bark until he was hoarse every time we turned over some earth.
On a good night we could each dig up about 1000 worms – which I know is only $10 – but I don’t think it was about the money for Mom. I think she just had other motives:
1 No phones ringing. I know it is hard to believe – but there was a time when there were no cell phones! Mom was on the phone all day and didn’t want to have to talk to anyone. With five girls in the house, this was not going to happen – so the only other alternative was to get out of the house.
2. Find a way to earn a few extra bucks. Actually, if we helped dig the worms, counted them and took them to the bait shop, we were allowed to keep the money. This let Mom keep extra money in her pocket instead of giving it to us. There were a couple of years where my ‘worm money’ allowed me to buy some extra new clothes for school or spend some extra money at Cattlemen’s Days (our annual rodeo and carnival).
3. She had her daughters all to herself without any competition – and she had the added benefit of making them work!
4. It kept us busy and outside – instead of inside the house, sitting and talking about how bored we were!
One down-side of digging worms was that for the first few weeks, every time you closed your eyes – all you saw was squiggly, squirmy worms! Plus – I really didn’t want any spaghetti during those months.
One year, Mom thought she could make some extra money from the ice fishermen by having worms available in the winter. She bought an old deep, claw-foot bathtub, put it in the extra shed out back, put in lots of black dirt, potato peelings and other yummies for the works, watered it a lot – and then ‘seeded’ it with some of the last worms we dug up for the season. She was all excited and would go out and check on them nightly. However, one night – a mystery occurred – there were no worms! Maybe they tied themselves together and escaped via a worm rope over the side. Or maybe, aliens from outer space abducted them for experiments. Or maybe the Worm Angel came and rescued them. No one will ever know. We just know there were no more worms.
My summers digging worms with my mother taught me that there can be true joy in the simple things – being outdoors on a cool summer evening, digging in the dirt (even when you are 17 years old), watching a silly dog sneeze himself into the next county, throwing worms at your sisters – and most importantly – spending time with the people you love without any interruptions from the outside world (worm snatching aliens don’t count!).