In the summers of my childhood I would briefly move into my Aunt and Uncle’s house and become, Farm Boy. Hard work, great adventure: Captains Courageous on the flatland of central Illinois. Those were the days when summer would drag on forever until the week before school started then it was over in a flash.
In the days that still crawled by we would get to my Aunt Norma and Uncle Keith’s and I would move in to their farmhouse. We always entered through the carport, rarely was the front door used but occasionally we would come in a side door, that also led to the basement, if we were especially dirty. Coming in through the carport brought you into the heart of their home: the kitchen. Tractor’s may run on gasoline but the farmer’s ran on the food that came from my Aunt’s kitchen. And the Lord saw all that she had made and said, “It is very good.”
To the right was the dining room and living room that ran along the west side of the house. Straight ahead was a hall that would take you to a family room at the end with three doors along the left: one for downstairs, one for upstairs and one for the powder room. I don’t know if it’s because it was a farm or because it was my Aunt’s but it wasn’t a washroom or bathroom, it was a powder room and smelled it. I almost hated to pee in that room, it reeked lady and at the very least I thought I should be sitting down out of respect.
When we came in Aunt Norma would tell me to take my stuff on up and I knew just which room to go to. Up the steps, then a landing with a window that faced east and the morning sun with an old rotary phone on the wall. This phone was especially good for espionage if my cousin Phil happened to be on the downstairs phone with his girlfriend. We’d get scolded by my Aunt for listening in and then she’d ask if we’d heard anything. Then up the steps again and the second floor. If you stopped there you would be staring straight ahead into the washroom. Shower. Toilet. Sink. All a man my age needed. Definitely NOT a ladies room.
To the right was my cousin Susan’s old room. She had moved away and gotten married and left behind this shrine to femininity. It was painted girly, smelled girly and it was full of girly stuff. Occasionally we would venture into Susan’s room on recon missions, anthropological studies, and for games of hide and seek. One window in Susan’s room faced east and another north. The north window looked back at the tractor shed but just outside of it was a big, old tree and I was pretty sure you could go out her window, onto the roof and jump right off into the branches of that old tree and climb down a daring man. But I never did.
To the left was my Aunt and Uncle’s room. Do not enter.
At the end of the hall on the left was my cousin Phil’s room. He had cool band poster’s up on his wall. And a John Denver poster. Not so cool and I’d like to make fun of him for that but I can’t, I always wanted John Denver’s glasses. Phil also introduced me to Elton John, BTO, Nazareth and the first incarnation of Aerosmith (who are now rockin’ it and drawing old age pension – incredible!) Phil was my hero and the mastermind behind many of my Farm Boy exploits and adventures.
On the right side at the end of the hall was my cousin Stephen’s old room. Again, he was long moved out and married but much remained untouched in his room. It was a boys room and I loved it. I loved the way it smelled, the way it felt under the covers of the bed on cool nights. I loved the cowboy wagon lamp beside the bed and I imagined that when I turned the switch to turn it off or on it made the sound of a whip crack. In the corner was something way better than a TV with digital satellite. It was a giant bookcase with glass fronts on each shelf that came down from over the books that made the books feel holy and mysterious and valuable. It was on those shelves I met the Hardys and Tom Swift and others who kept me up way too late.
Beside the bed, below the cowboy wagon lamp, were some other heroes and one of my greatest addictions. Comic books. Batman, Superman, Adam Strange. I remember “Jeb Stuart and his Haunted Tank” and “Sgt. Rock of Easy Company”. We were DC people from a long line of DC people the way some folks are Democrats or Republicans.
‘Lights out’ would come and go and I would read, re-read and re-re-read those illustrated stories by the light of my trusty flashlight. Some nights though I would get too caught up in the stories and fail to fall asleep before the house became quiet. Very late at night, in an upstairs bedroom of a very old farmhouse, with a breeze blowing tree branches against the siding and the house making what my Dad called, “settling noises”, a very brave and adventurous boy can become very religious and full of prayer because he’s absolutely sure that someone, or some thing, is just on the other side of his door. Waiting.
Though I’ve never really thought about it before, this very practical need may be what sparked my interest in God. I heard someone said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Never been in one, don’t know. But I’m quite sure of this: no one can read about “Jeb Stuart and his Haunted Tank” by flashlight on a prairie summer night with the breeze moving through the cornfields outside making shooshing sounds like waves on a seashore and not get convinced that there’s something greater out there.