Brian’s Column: Boyhood Visits to the Farm in Iowa

Reminiscences in response to Cousin Jim for his journey thru Kansas

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Bro Forrest (R) and Me (L) with Tuton (Twoton)

[In the 1950s and 1960s my brother Forrest and I would go with Mom and Dad to my grandmother’s farm in Iowa. Cousin Jim and his wife are on a cross-country roadtrip heading ultimately down to New Orleans to visit his daughter. He has been trying to locate Gram’s step children, and now seems to have located them in Western Kansas. So he asks for memories and photos of the time, which I feel sans any real identifications, are appropriate for me to share out as a broader good will gesture to the rest of the human family.]

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Those were golden years in my childhood… except for the time that you and Forrest ganged up on me, when Aunt Donna slapped me for being sassy, and feeling totally out of it when the men would retire to the parlor after the big meal and talk in ‘man code.’ [It sounded like they were discussing very important matters, especially Grandpa Al. He seemed to lead the discussion, and had a way of sounding authoritative, though I’d have no idea what he was talking about. I expect my dad and Uncle Ted and the other younger men didn’t know what he was talking about either, but respectfully kept their end of it up.]

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Grandpa Al with Forrest (L) and Me (R)

Regarding Kenny and Lee and Darrell (sp?), didn’t see much of them as it was a working farm and they were workers. But I do remember, with Ronnie and Forrest, FLYING down those dirt roads in (Al’s son) Lee’s light blue Oldsmobile 88. I was maybe 13 and Ronnie was a couple of years older. Once we had just gone airborne cresting a hill, Lee turned to Ronnie riding shotgun and said, “You do that in a Ford and you’ll be picking your head out of the roof!”

So in a way Lee was a bit of a role model for me, like out of the Robert Mitchum Thunder Road mold. I said to myself, “Aha!, this is what you have to be like to be cool and be popular with girls.” At the same time, I realized there had to be more to life than driving fast down dirt roads in the country and partying on Saturday night in Centerville… or wherever they drove off to… like becoming a professional baseball player.

Lee was the more alpha, fun loving one, while Kenny was quiet and steady. They were definitely in their sowing wild oats years so didn’t exactly look at sharing their life impressions with youngsters like us as a high priority. So don’t have too much to report on what else they were up to. Darrell as the youngest tried to hang out with the two older ones, didn’t say much either, but I do remember him being conversational with Forrest and me. He had an exceptional naturally kind manner about him for someone in that elemental an environment.

It was really a blast for us, especially the first few times we went up–let’s see Mapquest says Centerville, IA is ~190 miles from Overland Park, KS, and today it takes about three hours (along I-35), but back then it was like five or six if nothing broke down. I couldn’t have been much more than five or six years old the first time. When you’re that young a boy, the grownups on the farm treat you with kid gloves, make sure you don’t get run over by a tractor or eaten by the pigs. [The farm did have a big (800#?) ol’ boar hog that looked mean enough to have children for breakfast.] At the same time, in those days, we were free to wander around at will, especially close to the house and down toward the pond.

A lesson in real freedom.

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I do recall the pond and pulling some very small fish from there. Also being taken for rides on the tractor, being allowed to drive the tractor–with close supervision–, being taken out to the fields where there were these things called crops, that had to be tended, and then harvested, which we were told became an essential part of what we know as food. I did try to pay attention to these practical matters, Lee and Kenny would not talk much about what they were doing, but if Al was along he would embark on rather elaborate conversation explaining the underlying agricultural practices and business–of course we didn’t understand a word, but were grateful for him talking to us.

Gram ruled the roost, cleaned the fish, handled the books most likely, and I suspect she snuck out to the barn every other night to perform oil changes and all the routine maintenance of the farm equipment. Gram was a force of nature, not too communicative–children, especially coddled city-slicker children, needed to show some promise of usefulness before wasting any idle banter on them–though kind and patient she was. I don’t know whose decision it was, one early time the cousins joined us, to have Forrest and me bunk down in the attic with the girl cousins. That was memorable.

Then a later time, after the noon meal… [That’s another thing I learned: men on a farm eat roughly their body weight every meal. No secret to losing weight, just burn 10,000 calories a day working a farm. Or if you’re the woman of the house, burn 5,000 calories a day preparing meals… and canning, and shopping, and sewing, and washing, and cleaning, etc. etc.]

But after one of these megameals, I was allowed to have my first adult beverage, a Schlitz beer, actually not a full beverage, just a couple of sips. I remember EXACTLY how it tasted to this day… and for a while later in my life I went on a mission to drink as many beers as I could to recapture that same exact taste… without success. I’m pretty sure beer is the first thing Big Farma and Biotech decided to ruin for subsequent generations.

If not Heaven, certainly a simpler joyful time for me, my best to Lee and Kenny.

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1 thought on “Brian’s Column: Boyhood Visits to the Farm in Iowa

  1. Great recollections, cousin Brian. But who put the BB’s in the apple pies? And who spilled the beans that our winter bacon was Tommy, the huge boar we used to ride?

    I read this to uncles Kenny and Lee and despite the 60-year time warp they remembered everything and more. Was good to reconnect. And with Darryl in spirit.

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