Wednesday, August 24, 2011
DOWN ON THE FARM Part 3
It was a great time and place to be a kid. I never felt at risk in any situation I was in. There was a big world out there and I wanted to discover all I could about it. Aunt Emma really encouraged me in this pursuit. Even today, at my age, I still am always looking for new and exciting places and experiences. Aunt Emma believed in encouraging kids to be what they wanted to be and to be comfortable in their own skin. If I wanted to catch a snapping turtle and kill it, clean it and cook it, she was right by my side helping me to do it. If I wanted to learn to sew, she would simply say, “What do you want to make?” When I wanted to have a party and invite my friends for a cook out, she was right there helping me make decorations and favors and planning the menu. One time I wanted to have a Luau and she came up with a way to take colored paper napkins, fold them, cut them and string them on thread to make leis.
There were two large porches on Aunt Emma’s house, one on the front and one on the back. She had a chaise lounge that was on wheels and sometimes it would be on the front porch and sometimes on the back. She always had two or three cats and/or kittens around. On hot nights I would sleep out on the chaise lounge with a cat or two curled up with me. I would usually have a sheet or light blanket to pull over me as it often got cool by morning even on the hottest August nights. The sheet also served another purpose. It was a barrier against attacks of the killer mosquitoes. Boy, could those things bite and did they ever itch. One year Larry had a pup tent and we set it up in the side yard and we planned to sleep out in it. At some point during the night, Larry poked me and said he heard something outside the tent. I listened and soon I heard something give a loud growl. Man, we were both out of that tent like a shot! It’s a wonder we took time to unzip the door. Then next day we tried to figure out what it was and decided it was probably an opossum or raccoon having an argument with a cat about some food or something we had left outside the tent. I don’t ever remember attempting to sleep out in the tent again but it sure didn’t stop me from sleeping on the porch.
I also remember on warm summer nights sitting out in the yard looking up at the dark star studded sky and watching for the Russian satellite, Sputnik. The Sputnik program was a series of robotic spacecraft missions launched by the Soviet Union. The first of these, Sputnik 1, launched the first human-made object to orbit the Earth. That launch took place on October 4, 1957 as part of the International Geophysical Year and demonstrated the viability of using artificial satellites to explore the upper atmosphere. It was amazing to us that we could look up and see it with the naked eye as it orbited far above us in the night sky. This was the stuff of Buck Rogers, and those of us who grew up on his exploits in outer space, were fascinated that space exploration was really possible. The satellite showed up as a moving light crossing the sky far above us. At this time, well before all the sightings of commercial air planes crisscrossing the sky that we see today, seeing a moving light in the sky was a big event.
Frank and Eva’s nieces, Lynn and Rosie, used to come over and visit them and we all became friends. It was a much simpler life in those days. Boys and girls could be friends with out everyone assuming they were more than friends. As I look back now, I feel sorry for kids who don’t have the kind of youth we had. But for several summers, Lynn, Rosie, a neighbor boy, Corky and I ran around together. We would go to movies in Athens, go to the fair, have cookouts and have great summer parties. Lynn and Corky were both in 4-H and so we went to the fair to show off their projects. She liked to sew her own clothes and I remember going to a fashion show at the fair where she modeled a dress she had made. I think I may even have a photo of her wearing that dress at the fair. Corky usually had a calf or lamb at the fair and I would spend the nights in the barns with him. The four of us would also mess around in the barns doing kid type stuff. I think I have a photo of Rosie on her hands and knees up on a sheep grooming bench. And then there were the rides and sideshows. I remember once Corky and I were riding the giant swings. As we went around one of his cowboy boots flew off his foot and sailed over on top of a nearby vendor tent. We had to go looking for it after we got off the ride.
I always had a lot more free time to roam the hills than Lynn, Rosie or Corky. They were farm kids and usually had to do chores to help out on their family farms. But we still found time to explore and discover the wonders of nature. I recall a huge woods back behind Frank’s farm where there were huge beech trees. They were gigantic and walking under them was a little creepy. There was very little noise, no sunlight, and not much undergrowth.
We also went to Bible School at the Presbyterian Church in Amesville for part of the summer. I remember at the end of one summer we were doing a play or some sort of end of Bible School Activity and my Mom arranged to come and get me to take me home on the same day so she could attend this activity. At one point in the program, it was time to pass the collection plate, and I was one of the people chosen to do this. Mom was appalled that I would do such a thing. We did not go in for this sort of thing at our church.
Aunt Emma was very involved in a couple of community activities held every summer. One was the Fireman’s Festival, a street fair held in Amesville and the other was the Grange Booth at the Athens County Fair. She would always enlist me in helping with these activities. The first one, The Fireman’s Festival was held to raise money to help support the local Volunteer Fire Department. A side street in Amesville was closed off and there would be games and activities to participate in. Games like ring toss, pitching pennies and bingo were held in booths on the street. In the firehouse the trucks would be parked outside and long tables were set up and a ham and egg supper was served for a price. Everyone in the community supported this activity. For a couple of weeks before the event, Aunt Emma and I would drive the country roads all around Amesville, soliciting donations for the dinner and prizes for the booths. I loved riding these roads with Aunt Emma as she was always willing to stop if we saw something we thought we might use in a craft project. I remember one time we were going by someone’s garden and she saw some seed pods that interested her. We stopped and picked a few (they were radish plants that had gone to seed) and took them home to dry to use in dried flower arrangements. Another time we stopped to look at a tree that was full of some type of fruit I had never seen before. It turned out to be a persimmon tree and I can still feel the pucker of my mouth when I tasted one of them. Aunt Emma said they became very palatable after a frost had hit them. And we were always scouting for hickory and walnut nut trees, which she and Larry would come back to in the fall to pick up nuts.
The Grange Booth at the County Fair was another big event in our summer lives. Once again we would get the car and visit grange members around Amesville. Aunt Emma would get promises from people to bring examples of their farms’ produce and flowers to use in the exhibit. I remember there were very specific requirements for the booth. There had to be a flag, a bible, and various other items displayed in the booth. Each year there would be a different theme to follow but it all built around canned and fresh fruits and vegetables, and other things produced by the farms of the area. We would also use corn and wheat stalks, dried weeds and seeds we would gather along the roads and anything else we could gather up as we drove about. It was a fun time when everyone got together to put the exhibit together. As I got older and became involved in 4-H and other activities, I didn’t have time to help as much as I had but I still always rode around with her looking for stuff along the roads and lanes of Ames Township.
It seemed like everyone in the county went to the fair. Even Eva got dressed up in her hat and good dress to go to the fair. I have a picture of her by the seating on the hillside where we would sit to watch the horse races. It was the only times I ever saw her dressed up. She usually had on an old dress with a heavy duty apron on over it. This was what she wore in the barn and she had a similar outfit she wore around the house. I don’t think I ever saw her without an apron on except at the fair. Frank always wore the same type of clothes no matter where he was or what he was doing. He wore a work shirt and work pants, as I remember they were tan in color.