The elderly couple still laughed with the easy manner of giddy young newlyweds, teasing each other most likely for our benefit, but also in what appeared to me to be a genuine and playful manner.
Old John, a tallish man of average build, always pretended to be deathly afraid when we appeared on their doorstop each year on Halloween night – shaking with fright at the specter of the six of us with our dime store plastic masks, Fred Flintstone or Barney Rubble or Casper the Ghost – odd choices for young girls now that I think of it – bound to our faces with a thin, flimsy cord that more times than not broke before our brief night of Trick or Treating too quickly came to an end.
We lived a few miles outside of our small northern Iowa community and my parents were never inclined (or willing – but that’s another story) to drive us into town to knock on doors in search of Halloween bootie. Instead, we girls had to content ourselves with a trip to Grandma’s house – actually a further drive than what venturing into town would have been! – and across the road to the old, run down house where John and Lorna Smith lived.
Like the exterior of this seemingly abandoned home that my husband and I drove past on a road trip earlier this summer, the Smith house exhibited peeling paint, lacy curtains in the windows, and a crumbling, dilapidated covered porch held up with wooden columns leaning askew and creaky floorboards under foot. Stacks of lumber and old newspapers lined the path on the way to the screen door that led into the kitchen.
But once you were inside! Well. The old Smith place was full of wonders for us young Clark girls. I can still picture the kewpie doll attached to a stick – a county fair prize, as I recall – propped up inside a window frame. The kitchen, with no modern amenities, employed a hand-pump driven well to supply them with water. Cooking was done on an old wood stove. I can’t be certain as to whether there was no indoor bathroom but I’m inclined to think so as it was here that I was shocked and astonished to learn, for the first time, just what a ‘thunder mug’ was used for. An old fashioned ‘weather forecaster’ sat on the counter: if the rock was wet, it’s raining, if hot, there’s a heat wave, if gone, a tornado. Something like that anyway. I remember thinking then how funny and clever that was.
An old stiff (leather?) sofa was propped up on the east side of the living room and doors led to other areas of the house, presumably bedrooms. It was a spare yet cluttered home and I don’t ever think of it without recalling John’s feigned terror at our Halloween approach or the way Lorna, a little bit of a thing, would tease him for being ‘afraid’. As for our treats, there were usually apples and popcorn balls, maybe a candy bar or two. Nothing fancy and it occurs to me now what an effort they had to have made in anticipation of our annual October arrival. And most certainly only for us girls as there were few houses with young children living nearby. This makes me smile.
When I was nearing my twenties, I heard one day that Lorna had died. Within days, John followed her in kind. It seemed fitting that this elderly couple, who to this young girl’s mind seemed still very much in love, would submit to death in such close alignment with one another. And that too, makes me smile.
Cee’s asked us this week to present our take on her Indoor Seating Fun Foto Challenge. This is from my Sawmill collection, photos taken after my dad died in 2007. He owned and operated Clark’s Sawmill for fifty years. It was his pride, his joy and largely defined who he was and how he felt about himself as a man, a father, a husband and a provider. He told me once that when he went to bed at night he could hardly wait to get up in the morning to go back to work.
This was his ‘throne’, the place where he sat to make it all happen – loading logs from the ramp to run through the big blade. It was my dad’s favorite seat in the house – or pretty much anywhere for that matter.
Today we’re asked to regroup and check out other’s post via our earlier Prompt assignment: read at least six posts that used the same prompt and leave comments on at least two of them.
The first one I pulled up was Evil Queens and Coffee Beans. I must say, I laughed aloud when I read it. It was ever so brief yet elegantly stated. It is, in it’s entirety, reprinted below:
growing up i worshipped at Madonna’s altar.
Love it! In tit-for-tat measure, I responded accordingly:
Short, sweet and to the point. Succinctly defined. I like it.
Another post, Musings & Rants, lists no less than six of her teen idols, two of which are no longer with us (I admit to having glanced too quickly at her list and looked again to see if another of mine, Davy Jones, was included. He was not and that alone made me sad to consider how these objects of teenage angst -ack! I’m getting older! – are no longer living). One who did make her list was David Cassidy. Ah yes. I remember crushing on him back in the day. And while not (yet) dead, life got a little ugly for our little Partridge Family lead singer. A quick Google search revealed an ugly mugshot for a fairly recent DWI arrest. Sigh. Still, he did make my pulse race when I was just fourteen.
Dark Shadows was must-see summer TV when I was in middle school. It was a daytime soap opera of gothic proportions and was groundbreaking in a way, set in the spooky Collinwood Mansion, home to any number of ghosts, vampires, witches and werewolves. Many a time, too scared to watch but spellbound nonetheless, we girls would position ourselves to the side of the television cabinetry and sneak a peak (but with our eyes covered).
Most girls (and, I suspect, many women) crushed on the star of the show, Jonathan Frid, who played sexy vampire Barnabas Collins. However, I was smitten by Quentin Collins, played by David Selby. I laugh now to recall the massive sideburns he wore but, still, he was undeniably attractive. I used to fantasize that perhaps the producers and actors might be driving past our house along Highway 69 (it was, after all, as my parents told us once, a major highway that cut across several states in the Midwest) and that their car would breakdown. After knocking on our door for some roadside assistance, the producer would steal a glance my way and proclaim ‘Hey, sweetheart. You’d be perfect for Dark Shadows. Whataya say?’ Yeah, silly. I know. But such was the stuff of my teenage hormone-driven imagination.
My dad surprised me once – funny how some things are just etched in your memory – as I sat on the kitchen counter drying dishes and putting them away in the cupboard. Dad wasn’t much for chit chat. I recall very few conversations with him growing up which is probably why I remember, so vividly, him asking me if I was in love. Was he able to read my mind? Did he know that I thought constantly about David Selby or that I scribbled his name on paper? Had my father seen the hearts I’d drawn with my initials intertwined with those of the one that I daydreamed about? I was embarrassed and somehow ashamed, guilty that I’d been found out. Of course, I denied the allegation but always wondered how he’d known.
It occurs to me, just now, that this would have been a delightful topic to have asked Dad about before we lost him to cancer a few years ago. How I wonder if he would have remembered the day he once asked me, his eldest daughter, if I was in love!
Right now – in the middle of November – thanks to the polar vortex or whatever the heck it is that’s wreaking havoc on not just our beloved Midwest but throughout all of the country, there is snow on the ground.
Granted, there isn’t as much here where I live in central Iowa as what they are experiencing elsewhere in the state or farther north but the white stuff is here and with frigid temps like this, it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon.
Snow is, however, a vital ingredient if one wishes to enjoy riding snowmobiles. That and warm attire, a full tank of gas, a smoothly operating machine and, ideally, sunny skies, no wind and winter temperatures in the 20s. At least, that’s the recollection of my teenage years when Dad, for a few years, became first a Sno Prince and then a Mercury snowmobile dealer.
On a trip to visit our cousins north of Minneapolis, most likely during the Christmas holidays, I saw the bright headlights, zipping through the roadside ditches, of several of these newfangled contraptions that I’d only just recently heard of – a moment that I can still vividly recall. I was intrigued so when Dad announced some time later that he was going to start selling snowmobiles, I was wild with anticipation.
The night Dad pulled into the driveway with the long trailer loaded with new sleds, we girls were already in our jammies. Snow was lightly falling and despite the hour, the air was still and relatively warm. Sensing our excitement, Dad unloaded one of the sleds and prepped it for take-off. Wearing only my PJs and slippers on my feet, I took it for a spin in the field north of our house. ‘Yee-HAW!’ I squealed with delight at the speed, the smooth ride and the exhilaration of motion in play. This was FUN and I wanted more!
Over the next couple of winters, I rode the school bus along country roads and pictured myself riding on imaginary snowmobile trails through the ditches and corn fields as we stopped to pick up and deliver students before and after the school day. I bought my first (red!) snowmobile suit, boots and gloves at the local Big Bear farm store and sewed on patches that I bought from a vendor catalog: Don’t Eat Yellow Snow and I [Heart] Sno Prince. We were always pestering Dad to take us snowmobiling at night and I remember one particular evening he said he would if the local weather forecast showed the temperature was above zero. It was and we went!
My sisters Kelly and Lorie were my primary partners in crime although all of us six girls enjoyed the sport. Kelly, especially, shared my enthusiasm – so much so that she gushed about it in a diary entry. Kelly has a fantastic sense of humor, is very creative and has always been quite good at tinkering with things and figuring out how they work. She is, however, a terrible speller. ‘We had so much fun today on the snomoblees!’ she wrote. Being the dutiful older sister, I teased her mercilessly about her error but today her choice of spelling still makes me smile.
I enjoyed pulling my sisters behind our trusty Sno Prince on those slick plastic, saucer sleds. As my sister Nanette righted herself after falling off (following a sharp turn on my part!), she pulled on her stocking cap and just as she attempted to rotate it so she could see out of the eye holes, I gunned it. She had no choice but to grab onto the sled with both hands, hanging on for dear life, and it still makes me laugh to recall looking back and watching her trying to stay on the sled but not able to see! As she would say, funneling her best SNL voiceover, ‘good times, good times’.
Our neighbors down the road, the Robbins, also had snowmobiles and we sometimes got together to ride. One particularly boring Saturday, I sat at the window yearning to see their sled coming up over the hill. The wind was blowing drifts across the road and suddenly – I couldn’t believe it! – there was Brad riding his sled. And he was headed for our place for an afternoon of snowmobile fun. Dad sometimes took us riding to their house as well and I remember one warm and pleasurable evening there when they served us toast and hot cocoa.
Today, if we owned an acreage I would not hesitate to reenter the world of snowmobiling. The sleds these days are pretty slick, streamlined, equipped with plenty of storage and heated seats, steering bars and runners for your feet. They come, I’m sure, with a pretty hefty price tag and some winters see little snow, making these expensive beasts unusable for much of the season. No matter. If we had the space and the time (always the time, isn’t it?), I’d have one again in a heartbeat. Because, for this gal, it’s hard to beat winter fun on a snomoblee!
My five sisters and I grew up on an acreage south of town. Our property was home to the sawmill my Dad owned and operated, the old schoolhouse he’d attended as a child, the house we lived in, a functional, compact, barn Dad built from scratch and a small, wooden, nondescript edifice we called the brooder house.
I didn’t even know that was how it was spelled until just now when a quick Google search provided me with the official definition: a device or structure for the rearing of young chickens or other birds. An alternate meaning of the word would be a person who broods but that is another matter entirely.
For us girls, however, there was another way to describe it and that was playhouse. Although designed for raising chicks, it was never really used by Dad for any other purpose than storage, most notably sacks of grain for the handful of farm animals we occasionally kept in the barn just a few feet away. When the barn was empty, so was the brooder house and written large upon our imaginations were ideas of how to transform it, if not into something of beauty, then into a private hideaway or retreat of sorts.
I recall fashioning a type of bed and a desk out of scraps of lumber – plentiful when your dad works with wood for a living – and I think I even laid out cups and saucers to serve tea to unexpected guests. However, no matter how much I swept and tried to clean or hung up pictures on the walls, it was still, after all, just a brooder house. Even at a young age, I was fond of decorating and designing and creating special places to suit my enthusiastic, yet grandly misguided, ideas. Sigh. How does that go – something about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?
Because the brooder house had rotting floors and unsecured doors and windows, it was pretty much open to the elements and therefore a handy refuge for both winged and four-legged creatures. Swallows built nests in its eaves, hornets constructed hives, and on occasion we heard and sometimes saw mice. Still we were undeterred.
Until Dad decided to move the brooder house to another location on the property and used the end-loader to lift it off its moorings. I think we were all stunned when we saw the large number of rats that scattered when the building was raised into the air and I was struck by how large – and fast! – these loathsome creatures appeared to us that day.
Even now, after all these years, I remember – with great clarity – that moment and the sick feeling in my stomach when I realized what it was that had caused those scratching, scuttling, scurrying sounds we heard below us whenever we spent time in that ‘special’ place of ours. It was, then, time to move on.
It would surprise me if my younger female readers have ever seen or – better yet – owned a pair of pettipants. Since I don’t wish to be accused of being partisan in any way, this sentiment might also apply to those of the male persuasion as well. But for the sake of simplicity I’m going to assume my target audience here is strictly of the so-called weaker sex (society’s purported dictate, not mine).
Quick show of hands – how many of you gals out there wore pettipants under your dresses when you were younger?
Do they even make this article of (under) clothing anymore? My dear, reliable friend Google tells me yes.
I recall owning at least two pair when I was a child, one black and one that was RED. Most likely I also had one that was white as well. When I was in second grade, I apparently wasn’t shy about telling my best friend Linda one day that I had on the pair of red ones as they were my favorite. Maybe I also told a few other friends or maybe someone else overheard our conversation. Perhaps Linda wasn’t as discrete as I would have hoped she’d be.
During recess some of the boys apparently were somehow made aware of what lay hidden beneath my skirt. Whether they asked to see my pettipants or not I don’t recall. What I do remember though is being chased around the playground, terrified. It’s entirely possible that I was secretly thrilled at the prospect of all these boys chasing me but most likely that’s just Hollywood’s way of muscling its way into my memory bank. In any case, what I certainly do recall is that I was FRIGHTENED.
The boys’ stronger and longer legs eventually caught up with me as I huddled against the brick wall of the school building. There was no other place for me to run! My friend Linda (bigger and stronger and always more self-assured) placed her body in front of mine in an effort to protect me from those nasty boys. Alas, they simply tossed her aside, lifted my skirt and gazed at the lacy reveal of those incredible red pettipants.
After a few ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ the show was pretty much over. Nothing to see here. My first introduction into the male fascination with the mystery of what it is that girls wear that is unseen, secret garments speculated about and always just (barely) out of sight. But this simple childhood episode offered another lesson as well and that is of girlfriends sticking up for each other despite the risks. It is both an unsettling memory and a reassuring one as well.
Gas? Or Water? Does anyone else remember playing that game as a kid? Walking down the street and spying one of those city utility caps in the sidewalk. Stomping your foot to cover the letters and asking your friends or siblings to guess which one — gas or water.
Strolling through our neighborhood tonight with my camera I smiled when I saw this. It reminded me of those silly sidewalk games we used to play so many years ago.
Another street game, of sorts, took place when we went to visit my grandmother who still had three daughters at home when I was very young. One of my aunts was just two years older than me and when you threw in a cousin the same age as me there was the inevitable two against one — and I was always the ‘one’. Mary and Denise would sometimes blindfold me and walk me to a remote area of the small town my grandma lived in, leave me there to count to one hundred before I could remove the scarf covering my eyes. I would then try to determine where I was and run back to grandma’s house. I thought I knew the town pretty well since we all played there together so much and because, well, it really was a very, very small town. There was that one time though — and to this day I can still picture looking around in astonishment and having absolutely no idea where I was — when they escorted me to a section of town I’d never been to before. I believe it was on the very outskirts of this tiny Minnesota community along the Iowa border. I recall being a little scared but ultimately (obviously!) I found my way home. To this day Mary and Denise love to tease me about it and at a recent family reunion they laughingly attempted to haul me off yet again to another hiding place.
Oh. And for the record — it was water.
When we were kids my dad planted sweet corn for us girls to sell. This was how we made money to purchase new clothes for school each fall. It was a relatively small plot of corn but enough to keep us busy from the end of July through most of August.
We lived along a fairly busy highway. Well, busy enough considering we were situated in north central Iowa where there isn’t a whole lot of traffic to begin with. Still we did alright.
The actual selling of the corn isn’t terribly difficult aside from the boredom of waiting for customers to pull off the road or into our driveway. I recall a few tense moments such as the time Mom made me run back out to the car because I hadn’t collected enough money from a customer or whenever folks would grumble about the high cost or what they perceived as ‘shoddy merchandise’.
Far and away the worst part was picking the stuff. I remember venturing into the cold, wet field first thing in the morning to fill the laundry baskets we used to harvest the corn. You had to peel back part of the husk to determine whether the corn was ripe enough to pick. You were looking for that creamy yellow color that folks seemed to like best. This might be a good time to mention that I never cared for sweet corn as a kid so this part of the process was something I based on others’ good judgment. (Later as an adult – thanks to some gentle prodding by my mother-in-law – I finally saw the light and now look forward to this ubiquitous Midwest summer fare!) Anyway, some of the ears had this black kind of mold or fungus growing on it. Yeah, pretty gross. There were also spiders to contend with and grasshoppers. I hated the grasshoppers. Going all spastic on you. Jumping who knows where. They kind of spooked me.
Once the baskets were filled we had to break off any extra length of the stalk or husks so that the ears were each of a manageable length so we could fill the brown paper bags for the customers to carry to their cars. Each bag held a dozen ears and we sold them for fifty cents a dozen.
We must have sold a lot of corn because there were six of us girls equally sharing the profits and I recall one summer where I had an entire twenty dollars (twenty dollars!) to myself to buy my clothes for the new school year. We went to Reuben’s Department store and one of my purchases was a brown ‘leather’ skirt and a frilly white blouse. I was not ever what you’d call one of the popular girls and I was absolutely clueless when it came to style or fashion or being trendy. Still I thought that skirt was pretty cool. Too bad I didn’t have the style or grace (or body) to pull it off. I cringe now to remember one of the older boys asking me for a date that Friday night. I couldn’t believe it! Bill Groh was asking me out! I rushed to the restroom afterward and noticed then that my slip was hanging down two or three inches below my skirt. Sigh. Junior high and high school: not the prime of my life.
In any case when I drive down a country road and come across a sweet corn stand or someone’s pickup with the tailgate loaded down with piles of corn and individually filled sacks holding a dozen ears I smile when I see ‘Sweet Corn $X.XX a dozen’. I don’t know what it’s selling for now – it hasn’t come into season just yet this year but it surely isn’t fifty cents a dozen anymore!