I was incredibly fortunate, more than I ever realized at the time, in my childhood days to be able to be a part time farmboy. My aunt and uncle’s place in Assumption was another world of sights, sounds, smells and tastes from the world I lived in for my full-time gig. Holidays like Christmas were the perfect excuse for visiting the farm. I won’t lie, I complained a lot about making the drive to their farm from where we lived but when you’ve lived less than 13 years, 45 minutes is a long time, a siginifcant percentage of life lived compared to, say, my 44 year old self who can easily lose track of 45 minutes just brushing my teeth.
Holidays at my Aunt Norma’s always meant the best food I’ve ever had. Not fancy food, but substantial food, savory food, comfort food. She always seemed to have her famous rice krispie squares on hand whenever we visited. She made her’s with peanute butter and finished them with a thin, but not too thin, layer of chocolate on top. Uncle Keith made burgers on the BBQ on hot summer vacation days that were fatter than flatter, charcoaled on the outside and juicy in the middle. One of my favourite things that my Aunt made was hamloaf. It was this fusion of meat and sweet that I would eat until I was sick if someoen let me. My aunt also made Red Velvet cake that melted in your mouth and made you think sinful thoughts. A fact that would mortify her to hear me say but I say it as confession. I considered more than once taking the whole cake off to the attic to be eaten alone, I was loathe to share a single piece with the house full of family that gathered to mark the special occasion of the day.
On holidays I sat at the kids table until I finally graduated up to the big table. Turns out that once the adult table lost its mystery by including me I wished I was back at the kids table. At the little card table no one looked at you funny if you skipped the green beans in mushroom soup casserole with the cruncky onions on top and went straight for the chocolate chip cookies. After the meal the moms and wives would retreat to the kitchen to clean up the dishes and put things away, he kids would play and the men would gather around the TV to pretend to watch a football game while they took a quick turkey induced nap. A few hours later everything came back out and we started it all again.
Not every quick visit to the farm was about food though. One year my little brother and I got kites in the spring and the power lines around our neighbourhood made my mom nervous. We packed up the kites and headed to the farm. Our kites were huge that year. Mine had Evel Knievel popping a wheeling on the front and in my memory it was almost a life sized picture. We went over the white fence just past where the peonies grew and stepped into the field. The spring wind was roaring and Evel flew high enough to easily cross the Snake River Canyon. He was a barely distinguishable dot when I started worrying about getting in trouble with low flying aircraft. These were the kinds of things I obsessed over as I flew kites. I couldn’t even see my kite but the string that stretched up into the blue, made of one roll of string tied to another, was my evidence that I had a kite up there and I could be responsible for crashing large, passenger planes flying over central Illinois.
A strong gust came up and the unimaginable happened. The end I held was yanked from my hand! I ran after it through the corn stubble, tripping, falling getting up, falling again with my hand a mere 6 inches from the roll where it had gotten caught on corn stalk stubble. Then another gust and it was sailing fast just over the top of all the stubble. Too fast for me to catch. Just then my cousin, Phil, comes roaring by on his Kawasaki motor cycle in hot pursuit. Acres away and just before he hit a creek he caught up to the string roll end of my kite that still had an airborn but quickly desencding kite at the end of it. He brought Knievel back to me but unortunately the slack on the string brought the daredevil back to earth and he once again crashed in spectacular fashion. One of the cross suppost pieces in the kite snapped. Evel wouldn’t be riding again.
On another quick visit to the farm my cousin let me ride his old Honda with him while he rode his Kawasaki. This is something my mother was not consulted about. Mom’s feelings about motorcycles was well known. The way other mothers would warn their kids off BB guns with, “you’ll shoot your eye out!” my Mom told us we’d kill ourselves on a motorcycle. So we started our little ride out behind the old barn so we could ride away from the house, and away from my mom, down the grass road that was used to access the field. A few quick tips and explanations from Phil on how things worked and I was ready to go.
Phil had also been responsible for my first experience behind the wheel of a truck. It had been one of my week long stays at their place and we were over at the fields my grandpa used to farm by Dollville. My uncle was driving a tractor, Phil was needed to drive another vehicle and my 13 year old self was called on to get behind the wheel of the truck to take up it to the old home place to meet up there. I had all the confidence in the world that I could drive. I seen my dad do it a thousand times, how hard could it be. I sat down behind the wheel and my confidence was gone as I tried to figure out how I would be able to keep track of all the things my cousin was telling me I needed to pay attention to. The truck was started and he’d be following me. My uncle would be meeting us up the road. As we pulled out of the field I had one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake and kept them both on their long enough for smoke to be billowing out of the truck’s wheels before they finally got me to stop by talking me down over the CB from my adrenaline induced, white knuckled haze.
That day on the bike we took off from behind the barn and I was thrilled to be on a motorcycle, thrilled to be going fast and thrilled to be such a rebel on my wee Honda. About 50 feet from our starting point I tried to change gears and something went wrong. I can’t explain what happened, I can only describe how it felt. There was a surge of power from the engine and somehow the back of the bike came up and threw me like a bucking bronco as the bike itself seemed to flip ass over handlebars. I skidded for 10 feet across the green grass road. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to be scared. But when I got up and my cousin picked up the downed Honda and I felt the ache in my arm and the grass stains on my clothes and my skin I decided I’d had quite enough. Maybe, just maybe my Mom actually knew something.
Temping on the farm also got me into the CB craze that was the IM of it’s day. You had “handles” instead of screen names and you actually spoke instead of typing but it was a way to connect and I thought it was pretty cool. Everybody talked to everybody when they were away from the house via the CB and we could talk with my Aunt and Uncle for a few miles after we left their place and headed for home. We didn’t need to. There wasn’t anything we needed to discuss, it’s just that we could, and we used our cool “handles” to do it. I was the “Tootsie Roll Kid” which had something to do with an addiction I had and I was such a nerd I thought it was the coolest name in the world. The best part of the CB though, when I was at my Aunt and Uncles, was listening in on other people’s conversations over the radio. My Aunt could recognize people’s voices and would be able to give you some interesting back story on whoever was talking and to whomever they were talking to at the moment. There was no cable, no satellite and no internet on the farm in those days and this kind of big world becoming smaller kind of thing, the successor to the party line, is a big part of my memory of those days.