These stories and tales are based on real memories of a real little boy. They are as accurate, usually, as memories can be - especially those that are more than 75 years old. Also, the stories are, once in a while, changed a little bit to protect the guilty. I didn't bother taking any time to protect the innocent; they have to take care of themselves. And, some names are changed so as not to impinge on the privacy of real people, living or dead.
In general, these stories reflect my life at the time, as well as I can recall. It gives me pleasure to share them. I hope readers can have some bit of enjoyment from reading them.
Jack Voss, The twerp of Dobie Road
ABOUT THE TIME IT CAME TO BE
I was about 3 1/2 when we moved into an old farmhouse on the south end of Dobie Road. The locale is about 10-12 miles SE'ly of Lansing, Michigan. The house, I've been told, was built before the Civil War. We moved in during spring or summer of 1941.
My Aunt Mary, Dad's sister, and uncle Roy owned the farm, about 80-90 acres I think. They lived about 3 miles to the east of us on another farm, about 120 acres. They had dairy cattle on both farms, and part of our rent was to help make sure that no cattle got rustled. To my knowledge, none ever did - even during the meat rationing of WW-II.
The house was a two story frame house, 10 rooms and a path. At the end of the path was a two holer - the outhouse. One faucet, in the kitchen, ran cold water. A second faucet, a frost proof hydrant, was out by one of the garden plots - the "kitchen" garden. We had an agitator washing machine with an electric motor, and a power ringer. We also had an electric refrigerator and electric kitchen range.
Also in the kitchen was a laundry stove that burned wood. These laundry stoves are small, about three feet long, a foot wide, maybe 2 1/2' high, and flat on top. We had a laundry tub whose bottom was tailored to fit well when set upon the laundry stove. This kettle had straight sides and ovular shaped ends. It would hold 8-10 gallons of water to be heated over a wood fire in the laundry stove.
It was a big kitchen, and we ate meals at a full sized table there - breakfast, dinner, and supper. On a farm, you didn't eat "lunch": it was dinner. The evening meal was supper. Though, later, I did eat "lunch" at school. The difference, to me, was that lunch was just sandwiches, while dinner was a meal designed to be filling and lasting.
My baths were in a large, metal washtub, with water heated on that laundry stove. We had two of the large laundry tubs, both about 3' across. One was squarish, and the other was round. I liked the square tub better. It was shinier.
In what we used as the dining room, was a wood fired heating stove, a tall, pot bellied stove. I believe the brand was an "Iron Oak" stove. Another room, beyond the dining room, had an oil fired space heater. It was made at the Motor Wheel Company in Lansing, and was a Duo Therm brand. On cold mornings, it heated up faster than the Iron Oak stove did. That's where I'd get dressed on cold mornings.
Out in the front yard was an old, large elm tree. From an overhanging branch about 20' up, my Dad had hung a lonnnnng rope swing. He'd cut a seat from a 10" wide board, and notched the ends for the rope to fit into. I can tell you that there are five, important features to a good swing. The first four of them are: length of the rope, length of the rope, length of the rope, and length of the rope. Little short store-bought swings may be OK for city kids, but real kids know better. The lonnnnng, slow, full-sweeping arc of a tall swing is ever so much more fun and more satisfying. The fifth, nice feature is having somebody to push you in the swing. Now, THAT combination is a slice of heaven for a kid. It ranks right up there with Hershey bars.
I typically wore only my little, dark blue swimming suit all summer long, and ran barefoot. Thistles were the bane of my days, especially dead thistles. The sticker-needles would go into my foot, and then stay there! Green, live thistles would remain on the plant, and so pulled back out of me. But dead thistles were dry and brittle. Sticker-needles would break off and stay in me. I hated that! It not only hurt, bringing forth a cuss word or two, but I had to take time to stop, sit down, and pull them out.
By day two of running nearly naked in the sun, I had an established tan. It got deeper over the summer. Since I'm of 3/4 German stock, that tanning gene must have come from my Mom's side of the family. None of my cousins ever have browned up like I do. I still brown up well in the summer, but not as quickly as I used to. The tan still fades slowly over the winter though.
Jack, thanks for rekindling old memories. It's amazing how similar our past are. I recently read a book " Cajun Grace" about growing up in a Louisiana swamp. No that much different than Kansas if substitute prairie for swamp!
When we moved in, on Dobie Road, I was the only little kid for several miles around. So, I had to devise lots of ways to play all by myself. Fortunately, that's never been much of a problem for me, nor for most other kids. A stick of one shape became a six shooter. A longer stick, when some binder twine was tied on, became a bow. Other sticks became arrows. Shooting "bad guys" and harassing sparrows occupied me throughout several summers.
One day, as a sparrow was flying overhead, I drew back my bow (probably about 10-20 pound draw weight), and let fly at him. Instantly, my vision changed. I was no longer watching a blur of an arrow, nor the rapid flight of a bird. Instead, I was watching a series of still shots. In each one, the arrow was a bit higher, and the sparrow was approaching the flight path of that arrow a bit closer. They were converging on each other, step by step. Then - the bird diverted to its right, the arrow slid on by, arced, and fell back to earth. I don't know how the meeting of sparrow and arrow would have turned out, but I gained insight into the field of ballistics that day.
But, still, I wanted someone to play with. Turned out that the closest thing to another kid was Fred Eiffert who is about 9 years older than me, and lived almost a half a mile away. Well, once Fred and I met, we became good friends, and he was tolerant of a pesky kid tagging along behind him. We explored the woods, built a tree house, herded cows, cooled off in the stock tank on hot days, built forts with straw bales, and whiled away time doing boy-type things. We became kind of like a big brother-little brother team. To be honest about that cow herding thing, it was just one cow named Smokey who didn't need to be herded anyway, but we didn't let that stop us.
Fred's family consisted of his mom and dad Irene and Bill, his older sister Barbara, and his uncle Fred. They became a family of friends for me. But Fred's mom didn't always enjoy me. It seems that she thought I wasn't the best mannered little boy, and she didn't like some of my adventurous, spirited antics. She dubbed me as the "twerp of Dobie Road". We learned to get along together. To be honest, if Irene were to be asked, I'm pretty sure that she could tell a different story. sigh
Fred raised a few rabbits. Once in a while they harvested one for the dinner table. Fred taught me how to deliver an effective rabbit punch with the edge of my hand to the back of a rabbit's neck. It broke the neck, thus killing the rabbit.
My uncle had been in training at the Great Lakes Naval Station north of Chicago. He visited us while on leave, and gave me one of his white, sailor hats. I was really proud of that hat, and showed that pride when I wore it. But, when I wore it on the school bus, a high school boy named Casper Antcliff, would grab it away and toss it around the bus. That was frustrating, and made me mad. But I was way too little to take him on.
I lamented this to Fred one day. I complained about how mad Casper made me. Fred had seen these forays on the bus, but had held his counsel. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and just said, "Give him a rabbit punch." I thought about that for a minute, and liked it. I hadn't yet learned to think through downstream consequences tomorrow, of what we do today.
On Monday morning, I climbed up into the bus, said "Good morning" to our driver, Mr. Arnold Powell, and started back along the aisle to find a seat. Part way back, sat Casper, across the aisle from Fred. And, true to form, as I passed Casper, he grabbed my treasured sailor cap, and tossed it on to another protagonist.
I didn't say a thing, but walked an a few steps. But, instead of sitting down, I stopped and turned. Casper was facing back forward, triumphantly. I walked up behind him, positioned myself, and delivered one helluva rabbit punch. The reaction was immediate. For a second or two, Casper was shaken. Then he was enraged. Turning in his seat, he started to rise. His face clearly showed what he intended to do to me. But, his movement was quickly arrested. Fred, sitting just across the aisle, put a firm hand on Casper's thigh, and pushing him back down into his seat, calmly shook his head from side to side. The strong message was not lost on Casper. He sat back in his seat, and shut up.
It was then that a lot of things dawned into my realization. I haven't mentioned here yet just how strong Fred was. Nobody messed with him. He was big and muscular. I never, ever saw him in a fight; Fred didn't have to fight. And, neither did he want to. Also, his positioning near Casper wasn't by accident. And, others had been watching the harassment of me, and were tiring of it. And, for my part, if you strike a blow, you'd better be prepared to take quick action of some kind. It all came together in that instant. And, then I went and sat down. Mr. Powell put the bus into gear, and we proceeded on along the route.
Fred affected my life in other ways too. He let me try to milk Smokey the cow. That was a short lived career. I also rode my first horse there. Uncle Fred farmed a few acres with a team of work horses, two mares named Maude and Nell. Maude was a gentle horse, and blind. Nell was black and intolerant of whatever she considered to be bad behavior. She would kick and bite. I stayed away from her, and out of range.
A few times, we rode the horses out to the yonder end of a pasture to "round up" old Smokey. Every other day of the year, she would wander up to the barn to get fed some grain, and be milked. So, we weren't performing any useful chore. But, on the other hand, neither were we doing an damage.
And, for a while at least, neither were we under foot.
Andy, I've noticed similarities in us before too. Toss Joey Dupre into the sack along with us. It's probably lucky for our parents that we grew up far apart. I suspect that the three of us together might have been a handful? Not malicious boys, but full of mischief.
Fred's dog was a beagle bitch named Gyp. She would climb up a ladder, but couldn't get down for herself, and always had to be rescued. She had a litter of pups that summer, and my Dad wisely got one for me. Now, I finally had someone nearby to play with, a companion. WAHOO! A friend of my own, right here.
The average beagle has a couple of characteristics - they hunt rabbits instinctively, and they're dumber than a box of rocks. To be fair, they're also a cute, attractive dog. Beagle puppies are irresistible. I named my dog Tippy because the tip of her tail was white. Her and I bonded instantly, and for life. We were to be close friends for years, until she died in the summer of '54. I still have her picture, and still miss her. Tippy had some rat terrier blood in her, so she had some brains. Beagles that I had later in life were just disappointments - dumb.
Tippy chased after the school bus one day when she was less than a year old, and was hit. Fortunately, my Dad pulled her through. And, she never chased after a vehicle after that.
Tip and I roamed the fields, streams, and woods. In the spring, we brought back wild flowers to Mom. We brought in violets, trilliums (not legal to pick them now), little Dutch boys and girls, jacks-in-the-pulpit, bull thistle blossoms (VERY tricky to pick with only bare, little hands), lilacs, etc. In the summer, we chased birds. In the fall we watched ring necked pheasants run and fly around. She was always out ahead of me, out on the edge of vision in open or brushy terrain. She would be casting back and forth, constantly sniffing, searching, yipping at discoveries, and glancing over her shoulder at me.
As a 4 to 13 year old, I never worried about getting lost as long as I could see that white-tipped tail out in front. All I had to do to get home again, was follow that whirling white tip. Only later, as I was hunting pheasants and rabbits behind her while she was out in front - casting left then right - did I realize something. No matter which way I would turn, she would reappear right out in front. I wasn't following her - she was following ME!
As a little kid, often with no one to play with, Tip and I were constantly together. Mom and Dad would, of course, make demands on me. Bothersome demands like washing my hands, picking up my toys, clean up my plate, and all those irksome things with which parents interrupt boyhood. Tippy never made those silly, useless demands. Often she even fed herself. Mice and ground moles were regulars on her diet. That got rid of vermin, gave better nourishment than anything out of a can, and saved money to boot.
Because a dog is so giving and not demanding, I would often sit on the front porch step, with my arm around Tippy by my side, and tell her, "Tippy, you're the only one who understands me." Well, that was only partly true. Looking back through eyes that include not only my childhood, but some of those of my own kids and grandkids, I realize that new parents do struggle to understand kids. They do understand, because they were once kids too. But, I still believe that Tippy and I really did understand each other better than my folks and I did. After all, Tip was a kid too. And we shared everything we did. Anyway, that's my story, and ?i'm sticking to it.
One summer, probably when I was 5, I dug a foxhole. Tippy wasn't any help at all in this project. But at least, she did stay out if the way. After the foxhole was done, we shot all kinds of bad guys from it. I had that foxhole for a year. Then, Dad butchered a hog, needed a place to bury offal, and I lost my foxhole. I dug another one, but it just wasn't the same.
It was on a Sunday. I remember it. The radio was on. Then the program was interrupted and an old man started talking - in slow, emotional tones. He said something about a far away place, and something called infamy. When he was done, and the music started again, I asked Mom, "What's wrong?" I will never forget what she answered, "We're at war!" At 3, I didn't have any realization of what all that meant. But, Mom's face, stature, and tone of voice told me that it was going to be bad.
Some things remained the same, as far as I could tell; and some things changed. Dad worked in a factory, Motor Wheel Corporation. His job changed drastically. Soon, he was running machines that turned out large, brass casings for artillery shells, and brake drums for bombers. The factory would not let him go to war, but issued a thing called a deferment. I was glad; Dad had mixed feelings.
Pretty soon, things were being rationed - meat, tires, and gasoline. And we were started saving things "for the war effort". A tin can sat on a shelf above the kitchen stove. We saved bacon grease in that. I heard that they made gunpowder out of it. I have no idea what they really did, but I'm pretty sure it didn't end up as gunpowder. We also saved tin cans. Cut both ends out, put them into the cylindrical part, and jump on it. Stomp it down tight so those two ends are wedged in tightly. Then do the same to the next can, etc.
Cans from Pet Milk or Carnation Milk were prized. We didn't have to cut out the ends. They'ed been punctured with a "church key", and those ends remained. If you stomped on the side of one of these cans carefully - right in the center - it would collapse and fold up around the heel of your shoe, sticking tight. With one of those cans stuck on each foot, a kid could prance and gallop around, whinnying and snorting like a wild stallion. It was one heckuvva thing to be doing on a bright, sunny day.
To be truthful, when you live on a farm where game is plentiful, meat rationing doesn't have much of an effect. Dad and Uncle Stanley, Dad's older brother, butchered a cow or pig now and then. Mom canned beef. And, we cured and smoked our own ham and bacon. Rarely today, do I find either ham or bacon as smokey good.
And, Dad was a crack shot. He always had a .22 rifle that was a tack driver. Bag limit on fox squirrels was 3. On a sunny morning, if he wasn't working, he walked back to the woods. Sitting still, he wouldn't stand until he had bagged three. Mom made squirrel stew or squirrel pie. In pheasant season, he brought in lots of ring-necked roosters. Roasted or fried pheasant was standard fare. Rabbits were plentiful too. Dad could spot them still setting, hiding. As they ran, he could hit them in the head while they were on a dead run. .22 shells were much cheaper than shotgun shells. (But, when I got older and hunted, every rabbit that I ever shot was with a shot gun. sigh)
A few years later, one day we heard bells ringing, horns honking, and people yelling. "What the heck is going on?" we wanted to know?
"The war is over! We won! The war is OVER!"
V-E Day - victory in Europe had already been achieved. V-J Day, victory in Japan, was the final victory. The horror was coming to an end; and strong mixtures of sadness, joy, sorrow, and triumphant excitement swirled around us.
Fifteen years later, almost to the day, I started living in Japan. As a kid, during the war, we called them Japs. It had been meant to be an insulting term. Living among them, working with them, trusting our baby daughter to them - we easily learned to like them as trusted friends. Not all, of course. But, as young parents in a foreign land, you observe and learn about people. About the same percentage of people were, nice, grouchy, helpful, huffy, etc. in Japan as back home in the U.S. Since then, I have met quite a few native Germans. Darned if the same general rule doesn't apply there too!
In general, people are people. And we are, all at one time, capable of being the most generous, kindly, and helpful animal in the zoo - AND simultaneously, we're also capable of the most vicious, cruel, and deadly behaviors.
It finally came, that day that I had to start school. It was a whole new world for me. And - Mom probably enjoyed some quiet time.
The old school was built sometime in the 1800's. It was a giant building, a 2 story, wooden building. It was built in a time when there were separate cloakrooms for boys and girls. Actually, it was built in a time when people still wore cloaks! There were two stairways - each on opposite sides of the building - up to the second floor. One stairway was for boys and the other for girls. In those days there was a firm belief in two - and only two - genders. And, for many, that still holds.
The ceilings were very high in this old building. Guessing here, but I'd bet on 12' ceilings. The upper sash of the window could be opened only with a long, wooden pole that had a steel knob on the end. No kid was tall enough to reach the metal socket up on the window, only a teacher could reach up that high with that long pole.
Our kindergarten teacher was Mrs. McKinley. Her father was a doctor, our family doctor. My grandmother had been his nurse. Aren't small towns neat?
Here is where I was introduced to an indoors sandbox! The only ones that I'd ever seen were outdoors. The one that I played in at home was on top of an old, hand-dug well that had been filled in after a new well had been drilled. "Sandbox" was treated as an academic subject. What I think they were really trying to teach was socialization skills - "Plays well with others", etc.
That winter, out of a mixture of curiosity and naivety, I stuck my tongue onto the steel pipe flagpole. Of course, it froze on. The only way I could get loose was to leave a small patch of tongue back there on the pole. OUCH!!!
The war being on, there was military training going on. We boys were absolutely ecstatic when one day - Army jeeps and a halftrack were running up and down the little side street out in front of the school. "Maneuvers" were going on. I couldn't have been more excited if Hopalong Cassidy and Tom Mix had both shown up! All week long we played war instead of cowboys and Indians. The next week, they'd all disappeared. It was back to cowboys and Indians.
Another time the war touched the old school was when we were asked to gather kapok. The milkweed plant has a few weird characteristics. When the plant is young and green, if you break off a stem, a sticky, white sap oozes out. It looks much like milk, thus the name. As far as I know, only the larvae of the Monarch butterfly eats the milkweed. When the plant matures and ripens, big seed pods develop. They are 3"-4" long, and about 1" in diameter. As these pods mature, little silken fuzzy things pop out and float away on the breeze. That's kapok. It was used in life jackets for flotation at sea.
Well, the fields near my house had a lot of milkweed, particularly around the edges. And, back by the pond, it was thicker than fleas on a dog's back. In under my belt, I'd stick a couple of mesh bags, and head out when I got home from school. I'd take several bags of kapok a week to school, and hang them on the fence to be collected. Only a few of us boys were bringing it in. It felt very good to be contributing directly to saving lives in a war far away. We couldn't make silk parachutes, but we could contribute to kapok for making life savers.
In the SW'ly corner of the school grounds, was a large, maple tree. In fact, that tree still stands there today. In the shade of that maple, was a large, iron merry-go-round. It was at least 12'-14' in diameter. Though there were bench-type seats all the way around, there were only four stations where you could sit and pump the thing around and around. Each station was wide enough so that two kids could pump. Rods were connected from each pumping bar to a round bell-crank in the center. Today, that merry-go-round wouldn't be legal. It had too many exposed mechanical parts. But, I don't remember anyone ever getting hurt on it. We figured that anyone dumb enough to get a finger caught in the mechanism deserved to get hurt. Frankly, I still believe it. As the Duke said, " Life's tough. When you're stupid it's tougher."
There was a certain bluejay that lived near the school grounds. Somebody had named it "Ike". On warm, spring days, Mrs. McKinley would open up those tall windows and let in the breeze. We kids really appreciated that fresh air. One day Mrs. McKinley was at the blackboard, writing something about Dick, Jane, Baby, and their dog Spot. With her back to the class, she didn't see Ike fly in the open window, light on her desk, and pick up one of the brand new Ticonderoga wooden pencils there. During the war, new pencils were rare, and prized. Ike flew right back out with that pencil.
When she turned around to face the class, she immediately noticed that a pencil was missing. She asked, rather sharply for her, "Where is the pencil? WHO took it?" Silence, nobody spoke. Insistently, she repeated her question. No response. Again she asked, getting irritated by now. It took us kids a few minutes, and everybody saying the same thing, to convince her that no one had taken the pencil. That Ike was the culprit. Finally, she believed us. Finally.
The absolute best feature of that school building was the fire escape. It was, without question, the world's best fire escape. All other fire escapes that I've seen since are dangerous, or sinister, or difficult to use, or all three. This one was none of that - it was pure FUN. It was attached to the second floor, at the rear of the building. Ground level there was one floor lower than at the front of the school. Lower ground level plus those tall ceilings made it at 35-40 feet vertical height above ground.
The fire escape itself was a large tube. Little, short doors opened out of the second floor schoolroom, directly into that lonnnnnnng tube. Imagine a playground slide that - instead of being only 8' high - is 40 feet high!! As Crocodile Dundee would have said, "Now THAT'S a slide!!" And, if you saved a piece of waxed paper from your lunch box, and sat on that, you went down the tube even faster!
At the long, lunch hour recess, we'd try to quietly, sneakily climb up the inside of that long, sloping tube. You had to do it when the playground monitor wasn't looking, and quietly so the teacher who was posted by those short doors didn't hear you. Wearing tennis shoes was a necessity both for silence and traction. Then, carefully turning around, holding on to your position, carefully positioning that waxed paper so the mustard or mayonnaise side didn't get onto your pants, sitting down onto it before it got away and fluttered uselessly down ahead of you, then let go and gain speed!
Nobody ever walked across past the opening down there. When you shot out of the tube at the bottom, you were doing more than 15-20 miles per hour. And landed on your butt wayyyy out there. WHOOOOOOHEEEE!!!!
It was nearly 20 years later, on my honeymoon, before I found something more fun than that magnificent fire escape.
One spring afternoon, Mom, her brother Glen, and I were returning home. Uncle Glen was driving; we were in his car. The sky ahead was all roily, tossing, and yellow. Clouds were spinning. Our southerly route stopped as we approached the corners of Dobie and Cavanaugh Roads. Very strong winds blew thick rain all over the place. In front of Herm Grettenberger's old farmhouse, Uncle Glen's car halted.
Rain had been blown up under the hood, all over the engine. Cars in those days did not commonly have the little rubber boots over spark plugs. Without those protective insulators, the rainwater had easily shorted out the high voltage electricity going to the spark plugs. No spark - no power. We had been stalled by a cyclone. In what I remember as about 15-20 minutes, the cyclone moved on ahead of us. Uncle Glen wiped the water off of the spark plugs and wires., restarted the engine, and we drove on.
We were pretty much following the cyclone. As we reached home, we could see damage. In retrospect, I know now that it was a tornado. Trees were uprooted and tipped over. The old garage that had been there when we left, wasn't there now. Tornadoes are fickle, dipping down here and there in serendipitous vandalism. It went in between the house and granary, neatly picking off that garage. Traveling further east, it dropped 30-50 trees in the woods for a mile or more. A year later, Dad harvested some of those fallen giants, had them sawn into boards, and they remain today as a house that we built on Hamilton Road, in Okemos, Michigan.
Now, when the tornado had traveled easterly from our house, taking the garage with it, several things were happening. Pieces of that ill-fated garage were sprinkled and strewn across a forty acre field, and one of the triangular gables reached a pond. The wind continued on another couple of miles, uprooting more trees.
Fred and I made good use of that gable end. We dragged it into the pond, where it was magically transformed into our ship. Breaking off some brush to use as poles, we stood on the floating gable, and poled it around the pond. In just one afternoon, we slew several hundred vicious pirates. And, maybe a bear or two. Or, maybe they were tigers? Through that summer, we'd launch it, and harass the resident red winged blackbirds, frogs, and a few remaining pirates. By the end of summer it had grown waterlogged and heavy. We could no longer remain on top easily, and so abandoned it to go pick on other innocent things. But, the 40 acre field continued to occupy me that summer.
One day, I heard airplane engines overhead. But they weren't up high - they were coming in just over tree top level! Flying on past the house, going easterly across the field, they dipped low and skimmed along. Nearing the woods, they added power and pulled up to clear the trees, and disappeared off out of sight! Wow! Airplanes! Right here in my back yard! A few days later, they came again, hedge hopping their way across fields as they approached, passed, and departed. My little 4 year old heart was pitter pattering at one helluva high rate of speed! That was exciting! Aviators were training to go to war. Today, I know that the planes were Boeing-made Stearman trainers.
The summer moved along. One evening, as I played outside, doing all that I could to delay bedtime, the whole sky lit up. I ran inside shouting, "Mom! MOM! Come outside quick, and LOOK! What IS that?" Mom rushed outside with me, looked up, and proclaimed, "Aurora Borealis!" Well, that wasn't much help. "But, Mom! What IS an Orra Boraliss?" (Mothers can be really exasperating sometimes.) "They are the Northern Lights" she explained. "Magnetism somehow makes them work."
Well, I knew a bit more now. I did have a pair of magnets. Those with the little Scotty dogs on top - one white and one black. I played with them, but never saw any light coming out of them. "The earth", Mom explained, "has a LOT more magnetism than those little toys do. Maybe that's why the Northern Lights work? I don't know." And then - those dreaded words. "It's bedtime now. Wash up and get ready for bed."
On a cold and crisp winter's day, on a morning after a fresh snowfall, when the bright sunlight made that new snow look like the world was covered in glistening diamonds, I started ice skating. I was about 5 years old; the borrowed skates didn't fit well at all; and my ankles hadn't gotten any strength yet because of no previous practice at skating - so my feet were all angledy out sideways. Schlupping around the frozen pond on my ankles didn't really qualify as skating, but it was a start.
My buddy Fred, and his older sister Barb, and I were on a small pond back in their cow pasture. After 20-30 minutes of it, my ankles were hurting, so I changed back into shoes. We had sat down in the snow, and were talking. The next thing that happened shaped my thinking for the rest of my life.
I commented on how pretty it was out there that sunny morning. The light reflected off of everything with white, sparkly haloes. "The world is so pretty!" Barb's response stunned me. She said, "Isn't Mother Nature wonderful."
After a few seconds, I asked, "Who's Mother Nature?"
"She's who created all of this, the world and all around us."
That was a whole, new concept for me. I'd never thought about asking where the world had come from, or how it had gotten here. I had to chew on that a while. Like a little bear cub, I was happy just to be exploring my little part of the world, and had no notion of what may lie beyond my borders. I must have asked Mom and Dad about it, because within a week or two I had become comfortable with the idea. Ever since, I've seen God and creation through the eyes of Nature. I've never doubted that there was - somewhere out there - a Master Creator. And, as my education and experience progressed, I began to see all kinds of patterns throughout the world and universe. To me, atoms and molecules resemble solar systems and galaxies. And gravity resembles valence. There must be, it seems to me, a master plan out there too. The concept of a Master Creator, using a master plan, connotes, somehow,, helpful creators have been working under and for that Master, and using subsections of the overall master plan?
Anyway, to me it does. I'm not trying to invent or explain anything religious here, just sharing how Barb's remark affected my thinking. In my mind, Mother Nature is an integral part of our Master Creator.
Nature is great medicine , it's a moral builder , lets you escape from aggravations , creates some peace of mind and is just plain old fashion relaxing.
In today's mad house called life it's nice when you can get away from the rat race of every day living and revert back to a simpler , easier , way of doing things.
The 1st of this week three of us went for a three day camping trip just to sit back and smell the roses. I guess I should really say , sit around a campfire in the evening and stare into the campfire while sharing stories about past activities , trips , and life in general. Still not sure about smelling the roses since none of us smelled like roses ( more like wood smoke , bug dope and persperation ) when we were packing up and getting ready for home.
Yes it was hot , sunny , muggy and with bazillions of sand gnats ( with some mosquitoes tossed in ) in the early morning and late evening hours. Even with those uninvited camping guests it was really relaxing and enjoyable. The days were quite warm to down right hot but the nights cooled down and in the early morning were cool to cold for this time of the year for Florida.
As the sun would be sitting the Owls started talking to each other and for the most part keep it up all night long. The loudest conversations between the Owls was early i the evening and the early morning hours. Just about an hour before day light and up to daylight they must of been planning the next nights activities before calling it a night and roosting. .
When the Owls quieted down the Chuck's Wills Widows ( Some folks call them Night Hawks ) would take up the slack with local conversations and even a few long distant ones. One night one of them ( not to far from my hammock ) got stuck and just keep repeating over and over , Chuck's Wills Widow , Chuck's Wills Widow , Chuck's Wills Widow , Chuck's Wills Widow , Chuck's Wills Widow.
I consider a trip a 5 star winner if I hear some Owls while on it and this one was a 10 star trip with all those Owls holing their town hall meetings both nights. Then to have the Chuck's Wills Widows calling both nights that was icing on the cake. I have not heard them for to many years ( it's been a very long time ) so they were a real treat for me.
WINDFALL: LOGS FROM A CYCLONE
I'd described the cyclone that struck us. In retrospect, I realized that the cyclonic storm that went through was most probably a tornado. It had not only "redistributed" the old garage, it tipped over and uprooted many trees. About a mile east of us, Dad's cousin had a farm. His woods, like most other farm woodlots, was almost all hardwood trees.
Red oak, white oak, swamp oak, ironwood, shagbark hickory, hard maple, soft maple, and white ash were prevalent. It was sad to see these forest giants lying ignominiously in the mud, their roots presenting a stark, black wall to our eyes. Wesley didn't like the sight either. He told Dad that, if he cleaned those downed trees out of his woods, we could have those logs. Dad surveyed the downed trees and saw a potential home. "Yes, I'll clean them out", he replied.
Dad borrowed his Dad's John Deere D tractor, some log chains, and a cant hook. Got an old 2 man cross cut saw (sometimes known as a misery whip), sharpened his axe, and we went to work. His old friend, Chet, helped a lot. Those guys got to chop and saw. As a spindly kid in the first grade, I only got to clean up brush and stack it to be burned. My entertainment was to stomp down the brush pile to make room for yet more brush. But, it could've been worse. I could have been left at home. I wasn't about to let anything like that happen.
When Dad's brother, my uncle Stanley, wasn't using his farm wagons that summer, we were rolling logs up onto them, and slowly driving to the sawmill in nearby Dansville. Rolling logs onto wagons can be done with huge, steam powered cranes and such. Not having anything like that, Dad used two, long hay ropes that were also used to lift hay up into the mow of the barn.
Two ropes would be laid out, extending straight out from one side of a wagon. The rope end was tied to the side of the wagon. Several large, long planks were leaned against the edge of the wagon as a ramp to roll up the logs. A log would be manhandled into position at the bottom end of the ramp. The ropes were stretched out underneath the log, and running out another 50 feet or so. Then, the rope ends would be pulled back and up over the log - wrapped partly around the log - across the wagon bed, and laid out straight out from the opposite side of the wagon. There, the rope ends were tied to a clevis that was pinned into the drawbar of the John Deere D tractor. The tractor pulled the ropes that were wrapped over the log, and the log rolled up the ramp and onto the wagon bed. Several logs could be loaded that way, until the bed was full across. Then, log chains were secured onto the wagon, laid over the logs, and fastened onto the other side. Chain tighteners (probably the same "come along" levers used as fence stretchers to tighten fences) would take out the slack, and tighten the load.
After we got our boards and planks back from the sawmill, we slowly drove the wagon loads to an acre lot on Hamilton Road in Okemos. There, with slats in between each layer, the stacks of boards and planks air dried for the next year.
Then, Dad built the larger than 2 car garage. We lived in the garage for 2-3 years while building the house. After moving into our new home, when I was in the 5th grade, I finally had a bathtub and shower and a furnace instead of a wood stove and a flush toilet. Thank you, Dad. We're now in the 20th century. Thank you.
Dad showed me something historically special one day. Though I've since seen a few articles about the technological part of designing and manufacturing barbed wire fence, I don't recall ever seeing anything about the steps of design and development in common, old, everyday, woven-wire fencing. It didn't start out being constructed by weaving, as it is today.
A quarter mile north of our house, running along the edge of Dobie Road, was an old, rusty fence. At first glance, it looked like any old, woven-wire fence. On looking closer you'd notice that the joints, where horizontal wires cross with vertical wires, were different. Today, those joints are spot welded, and small. Not so, when this fencing was built.
Here, there were about 8 horizontal wires, each one having a sharp kink in them every few inches, where each joint is located. These kinks all lined up directly above and below each other, every few inches. A large, flat washer was set over each of these kinks, so that the kinks protruded out clear through the hole in the washer. Then the vertical wire was run down through those protruding kinks along in front of the washer. That secured the joints. Then the vertical wire was twisted around the top and bottom horizontal wires to keep the vertical wires in place
This was the first fencing of its kind - a forerunner of today's woven wire fence - in thar part of the country. Farmers had come from miles around to see it. Not as exciting as some other happenings, but interesting to farmers who were trying to keep livestock inside one field, and out of another.
That was a quarter of a mile north. A quarter of a mile south of us, lived Bill and Mettie O'Carroll. This dear neighbor lady became my "Auntie Met". Why she would take in an already recalcitrant little squirt like me is beyond my understanding. But she did. Auntie Met and I would sip tea, munch cookies, and talk about. . . . I don't remember what we talked about. But, I do remember that she provided a gentle guidance that reinforced the same lessons that my Mom and Dad were trying to teach me. About 70 years later, I found out that she was a Past Worthy Matron of the same Eastern Stars Chapter that I belong to today. She served in that office 13 years before I was born. My late wife and I were Worthy Matron and Worthy Patron in our chapter. I'd like to think that Auntie Met would smile approvingly of how we did.
About a mile, NNE'ly of our house, lies Dobie Lake. It's only a few acres, say 6-8. It's a large hole in the muck. The bank along the westerly side is not solid. A 2-track, dirt lane runs easterly off of Dobie Road, back through woods to the SW'ly corner of the lake. If you're wise, you park your car back 75-100 yards away from the water's edge. The bank here is a only layer of sod, floating on a thin mix of muck and water. Jumping up and down here sends waves out into the lake. Holding a bamboo fishing pole, and jamming it through that floating sod, you can poke it way down in. Let go of it, and the pole rises right back up out of the hole, floating up and out of the water.
There are lots of dangerous sink holes along that western bank. You'd better walk carefully, and some folks carried a long stick to catch across the hole if you suddenly drop. Or, alternatively, you could wear a brightly colored hat so others can easily find where you dropped in. ;-)
During the war, Dad ran a trapline around the lake. Muskrats, raccoon, mink, weasel, and an occasional skunk were harvested. Muskrats brought in about $3, raccoons about $5, mink $30-$35, weasels about $3-4, and skunks maybe $1-$2. Two sand hills (eskers dropped by glaciers that came through Michigan 10,000-20,000 years ago) are on the NE corner of the lake. Dad trapped foxes here.
Wandering E'ly off of Dobie Road, is Stillman Road, named after Ralph Stillman's family. (Many roads here were named after early families). Around that tee intersection of Dobie and Stillman Roads, was a small cluster of houses. My great grandparents lived there in what that gathering of German farmers had dubbed as Snickerville. They had come over from the old country in the 1880s, as best as I could tell.
When I was a kid, the house where my Granddad, George Voss, was born still stood there. Not now. He was born in the age of horse & buggies and steam, and lived until the space age. There was more technological development during his lifetime, than in all of human history before him! Grandpa died in his farmhouse about a mile east of his birthplace, and lies buried in Leek Cemetery a quarter mile south of his birthplace. Somewhere in there, he travelled to Iowa. Grandpa was rawhide tough.
This pretty much wraps up the memories of the Twerp of Dobie Road. He was a rapscallion who enjoyed Life. He still does. I hope the story of this trip was interesting, or at least entertaining, to readers.
I've written before about the Bikes For Books program that our Masonic Lodge does for local grade schools. Today, we got 31 bikes and helmets for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.
Four years ago, I asked Mike to take the program. He jumped in with both feet. I "volunteered" three new guys to work with him. Two of those guys are still in there pitching. Our two, local libraries like the program. Librarians in all of the schools are glad for the program to be in their schools. So are the students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Businesses like it too; they help sponsor us.
Now, all of the bikes are sorted into groups by school, labeled by gender, size, and name. Monday morning, at 07:30, more of us gather, load up bikes, and head for schools. Some schools have a mass assembly for all students, and we go there. In other schools, we wheel bikes right into classrooms. When names are called - those kids holler, jump up and down, and behave like idiotic adults. Kinda makes us believe in Santa Clause again.
This program encourages kids to read more. While reading, they're not playing electronic games. Bikes encourage physical activity with other kids. Again - not playing electronic games. Things that we geezers understand and applaud.
Another benefit of your Bike for Books program is the life lesson, "The harder you work (read more books) the better your chances of succeeding are."
Your logging and sawmill experiences mirror those used here in south Louisiana. My grandfathers house was built from logs cut, loaded and milled using cross cut saws and a horse to load and pull the logs to the mill. When I remodeled the house for my wife and I, Dad and I used a power saw, an old Ford 8n tractor, and homemade log wagon. A few years latter we did it again to build my Dad and Mom a new house and barn.
Playing electronic games may not be as detrimental as we geezer perceive. The next generation has little need for old timey logging skills. The electronic games may be their "stomping down brush piles". Exposure to, and learning skills needed in their future world.