Saturday, October 14, 2006
The Farm (The Experience)
It’s hard to believe that there was more to the experience of the farm than just the place itself, but there was more, much more. Although in truth, I could’ve never left it and not missed what else was out there.
Before we ever pulled up the long gravel drive way, there was the one hour ride. I never tired of it whether I was in the back seat of our burgundy Chevelle or between my gramma and grampa in his El Camino. One day we were leaving for the farm from my grandparent’s house and I found that I could hunker down behind the seat of his red El Camino and just ride there My gramma did not find this to be a good idea. So I rode between them on the seat as usual. If I had to go to the bathroom along the way my grampa would pull over and my gramma would walk me down into the roadside ditch and there I’d squat and relieve myself. I don’t think my mother encouraged this roadside convenience as she generally encouraged use of the McDonald’s bathroom.
After so many trips on the free way west toward the farm, the route became as familiar as the place itself. I knew we were on our way when we passed the brick Ford factory on the right with the lake across the street. For some reason I can’t explain, the blue and white oval of the Ford logo reminded me of Glen Campbell. Why would that be? Perhaps it’s fitting as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” was my favorite song often sung to my gramma on the ride, maybe that’s why I associated the factory with Mr. Campbell.
As the road stretched out and the city faded behind us the scenery was country pastures and beautiful to my eyes. Soon the tourist traps would roll by and I would hope that we might make a stop at one, although this was a rare event. There was the fairy tale kingdom amusement park on the right. We did stop there once and it turned out to be more fun from the road view than up close. Not far beyond was the dam, also on the right but it was a waterfall as far as I was concerned. Not far beyond the dam was Magic Mountain where the forces of gravity were suspended. We never did stop there. I was always certain it was something special. There was the Stage Coach Stop which was my favorite on the left headed toward the farm. It was still there when my kids were small and we took them there once, it was just as much fun as I remembered; which is saying a lot as most places from childhood lose their fascination with time. There you could walk around a pretend western town with horses and cowboys. Inside the saloon it was cool and dark and you could get lunch. Or you could walk the wooden walkways and cowboys in clunky boots would walk by the tip their hats at you. And every so often you could grab a bleacher seat for the shootout. Then you’d ride the “stage coach” train around back and get up close to a train robbery.
Also on the left, and you had to know where to start looking just around the bend, was the Prehistoric Forest. Set into the hill with life-sized crayola colored dinosaurs. It seemed magical all those years ago. I took my boys there too and unfortunately, this was a place reserved for childhood. It, or I, had not aged gracefully.
As we got closer to our destination we would see the Irish Hills Twin Towers on the left. They were white with green trim. What in the world could they have been built for? I have only one memory of ever being there and it seems that they were nothing more than two sets of stairs up the towers with a scenic view. Who needs that when you have a farm waiting? Oh, but there was one thing about one of those towers to send a chill up a little girl’s spine. Hanging on the wall as you passed under an archway was ........the jawbone of an alligator An actual real and true alligator found right there in the Irish Hills many years ago. I didn’t like those alligator teeth and I didn’t like those towers from the inside, although from the outside driving by they were pretty enough. When one was on the way to one’s farm, one needn’t be concerned with alligators waiting in the pastures to eat little girls.
But that was just a stretch in the road and what I really looked for was the farm on the corner that signaled our left turn toward our farm. The road was dirt and dust kicked up in the summer with our windows rolled down. We didn’t have air conditioned cars then. A few miles and right, a few miles and left again and the farm on the left. I always knew it would be waiting but it always took my breath away that it was so good it really had waited for me to come back.
After arriving at the farm there were occasional day trips to the local amusements. Up the road on the right corner was a school house, I think it was called “Devil’s Lake School”. It was red cinder block and I longed to be a student there. I never saw children there because most of our trips were during summer vacation but that school had a lovely tree-shaded playground we would visit. It had the best bouncy animals on thick springs that you could rock very hard back and forth and you’d almost pitch over the front before being thrown back again. And a merry-go-round. I loved it because there the merry-go-round was mine alone and I controlled the speed. Not being very daring it was just enough for my dad to spin me around until I said “enough ” He never pushed it faster than I wanted so he never stole the joy of it by making it scary. He knew I didn’t like to be scared.
Some days we’d ride into “town” to the grocery store. Here memory gets unreliable because I think the grocery store was called “Coopers” or “Hoopers” but then I think that was the name of the Sesame Street grocer as well. Funny how childhood dances and rewrites itself in the mind until it becomes all of a piece, truth and fairy tale playing together. Anyway, to get to the grocery store and lake you drove down our dirt road until you reached the school and then you’d turn right and the road would become smooth asphalt. After all that bumpy dirt road driving it felt like flying with the windows rolled all the way down and my stringy long hair continually whipping into my mouth and feet sticking straight out, legs not long enough to reach in the floorboards. In the early days the grocery store was smaller and you had to walk up a few steps to get inside and the buggies were somehow tall-seeming. It was cool in there with a carpeted floor and we’d buy our few staples for our stay at the farm. Later it was a disappointment for me when the store expanded and became modernized. I have only one good thing to say about that new and modern location, my grandma let me stand on the end of the shopping cart as she pushed it around and one day she decided to run around a corner tipping the cart and groceries and me onto the floor. My mom was there and boy was she mad. That was a good day. That store was too bright and fancy for its own good. It needed a little silliness.
And then there was Devil’s Lake. Do you know why it was called Devil’s Lake? My grampa explained it to me as we drove by one day in his red El Camino. You see, there is a hole in the middle of that lake so deep it goes all the way to hell. Let me tell you, that put a quick end to any desire I had to swim, boat or do anything in or near Devil’s Lake for quite some time. I did wonder how the lake didn’t put out the hell fires.
Happily having reasoned that the Devil hole was in the middle of the lake and beyond my reach, I was able to enjoy the beach at Devil’s Lake. It was sandy and warm and the sand at the water’s edge squished between your toes. Usually these were trips with just my parents for swimming. One time the blacktop parking lot was so hot that it stuck to the bottom of my dad’s rubber flip flops and pulled them apart. He had to throw them right in the trash barrel at the beach. I felt bad for my dad on that day. On another day my gramma came to the lake with us, the only time I recall her there at the beach. She had to find a bathing suit and the one she had looked old fashioned and fancy. It was purple and ruffly. She wore it to the beach that day and splashed in the shallow water with me, staying far away from the hole down to hell. The Devil’s Lake Beach also had playground equipment with more of those bouncy animals and a jungle gym you could climb on built like a stretched out U. So if you tired of swimming or you were worried about the devil reaching up that hole and grabbing your ankles, you could play on the jungle gym and swings and bouncers until you were worn out, then flop down on the sun-warmed blankets next to your mom and dad for a catnap.
At the end of the afternoon, we’d head back to the farm and my dad always drove bare-footed (even if the black top hadn’t eaten his flip flops) and without a shirt. In summertime the rules are different and even driving is extra special. On the best drives home I’d ride in the open back of the pick up truck. Don’t be alarmed, when I was a little girl no one wore seat belts and it was safe to ride in the bed of an open pick up truck. In fact, sometimes very little children stood on the seat between their parents or grandparents so they could see out the windshield. If that was boring they’d stand in the back seat, lean on the rear window well and look out the back window. When I was a little girl children never thought about car crashes or strangers or roll-overs. Back then all little children worried about was playing because the moms and the dads and the grammas and the grampas were in charge and the children only had to grow up slowly and be loved daily. Don’t think that we were foolhardy. Should any little girl be so mad as to dangle an arm or, heaven help us, her head out of the car window some grown up (and often all the grown ups) would holler, “get that hand/arm/head back in here, that’s a good way to lose your hand/arm/leg/head if another car comes by ”. It was a scary thought to have ones limbs or head wacked off by a passing car and so that lesson was learned quickly. Today I won’t reach my hand out of my car to move my side mirrors. I’ve come this far with limbs intact.
At home we’d eat barbecued hot dogs and potato chips from the bag and by the time the sun was falling down behind the pastures my eyes would be heavy and my sun-soaked skin would feel massaged by the soft worn furniture and blankets. I never took my bathing suit off after a day at the Devil’s Lake beach and as it dried stiff I’d get sleepier and sleepier. With damp lake-smelling hair and body washed in cold lake waters I’d be carried to my rose wall papered room and settled on sweet smelling sheets. My night gown pulled over my head even as I drifted away to cricket songs. Sleep came easy and gentle on the farm. My mind rocked on gentle farm breezes knowing that the morning would bring coffee scents and grown-ups voices and another day to start the wonderfulness all over again. Mornings and evenings were like that, book ends of grown-ups murmuring down stairs and breezes tickling your eyelashes and soft sweet bed linens holding you until you were ready for more. I am still ready for more of those days on the farm.