The term "muddin'" or "mudding" conjures up images of enormous tires on big, dirty trucks or Jeeps — off-road vehicles — with mud slung and dried even on the rooftops. Our family has a couple of memorable muddy incidents.

We lived in a very rural farm area of Michigan — our nearest neighbor in one direction was half a mile away, and in the other direction, several turns were needed to reach the nearest one.

There was no beautiful red dirt. Ours was black, not brown — fantastic for growing anything — but it held rainwater and was downright mucky in spring and fall.

Our children were allowed free range, because the land was flat and we could see all the way to the woods in one direction and all the way to the moon in the other. It saddens me that parenting without constant physical boundaries is now unsafe, even in their own backyards.

After a big rain, the ditch in front of our house collected lots of water. With the ingenuity country kids can muster, they decided to use the bank for a slide. They ran from the yard, hit the edge of the bank and slid in the muddy grass, ending with a splash into the water in the middle.

Busily preparing lunch, I called them to eat. They came running, as any obedient child would, right? Such activity whets appetites.

To my dismay, they appeared covered in mud, nearly from head to toe. I gasped. They headed for the kitchen door, but like a bullet just discharged, I stepped in front of them, created a barrier on their chests with each palm and said, “Stop! You are not coming in this house like that!”

They stayed put while I retrieved the wheelbarrow. Parking it near the back door, I got the water hose first to rinse them off, filled the wheelbarrow with cool water and used an old rag to scrub them as best I could before allowing them inside for a real bath. There was just one little problem — they no longer had butt cracks! I peeled their underwear off.

That black, mucky, sticky mud was so impacted to their bottoms that I literally had to find a flat piece of wood — think spatula — to painstakingly scrape it out of their little cracks. Once again, they were hosed off and instructed not to move until the bath water was ready. One at a time, I lifted them up, held them at arm’s length and carried them inside to the tub. Now, we laugh.

The second occasion also followed several days of heavy rain. My sister and her two little ones came to visit. We had a grand time yakking while the children played outdoors.

It dawned on me that they were too quiet. We went outside to check on them. They were nowhere to be found. We called to them — nothing. We circled the house and the bar — nothing.

Peering across the field, we spotted four miniature figures. It was them — about half a mile from the house.

They were instructed through my cupped hands to “Get yourselves back here, right now!”

They didn’t move. They didn’t even turn to face us.

The oldest, biggest and strongest headed our way, but the others never moved. As she came closer, we noticed she was barefoot.

“Where are your boots?” I demanded.

When close enough to hear, she breathlessly explained, “The mud took ‘em.”

Standing on the grass, waiting, she finally confessed, “They’re all stuck in the mud!”

Only she had been strong enough to pull herself out and slowly make her way back. Each step required great effort, since the suction formed by the wet mud didn’t release, keeping those bare little feet.

My sister cared for her while I headed out for the others. About 4 feet in, I tossed my shoes back onto the lawn. As the muck had fought to keep them, I was amazed these tiny humans had made it so far.

In mire nearly to my knees, each step was slow, painstaking, exhausting and not without a giant sucking sound. Reaching the closest one, I pulled her out of her boots and headed back to the grass, stopping to get the first one’s boots. Every iota of my strength was mustered to release them from the grasp of the murky ooze.

This was repeated until all of our little darlings were safely on solid ground. Once they were all scrubbed clean, it was my turn to shower. Hubby came in and asked, “How was your day?”

And that, folks, is what high adventure and old-style muddin’ is all about.

— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.

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