Today is my Dad's 79th birthday. Happy Birthday, Daddy!!! 79. Crazy, ain't it? Where does the time go?....
Since my Dad was 30 years old when I was born, this means I am soon to be 49. Which is really just 50, as I think I've mentioned already... 49 is really 50. And I'm the "baby" of the family. Youngest of 5 kids.
Hey, Dad, 79 is really 80!
In spite of all the frustration and worry us 5 kids managed to put our parents through during the years, Dad and Mom are both pretty young-acting for their respective ages, and they're strong. You would've think some of our stunts would've aged them more considerably. Guess that's why we're all made pretty tough, coz our folks are tough. We were kids raised in the country with parents who expected us to work hard, do our share of the chores, think for ourselves, do the right thing and speak with good grammar.
We had all kinds of fun growing up. Summers were, of course, the best. When I was real young, we had horses and some ponies, too. I remember one pony that was a biter. I hated that one. Got me in the fleshy side part of my back once. Mean old thing. We had chickens out there near the horses, too. I remember being afraid of the rooster who would chase me, until I chased him back. I think my brother showed me how to do that.
I remember us kids making a tree house in the big White Oak tree out in the front field. I also remember that my brother accidentally buried the claw of the hammer into his head while we were making it.
I remember jumping off the back deck of the house. Our house was built into the side of a hill, so from the front of the house, coming up our long driveway, it looks like a single story typical ranch style home. But over the hill was the downstairs. Can't really call it a basement, so much of it is open. There was a deck off the kitchen/dining room on the top floor, running all along the back side of the house, kinda like a back porch with an 8' or 9' drop, so jumping off it was irresistible. Kids! Jump and roll.
After a while, Mom and Dad sold the horses, being sick of hearing us kids complain about having to take care of them and whose turn it was to do what with them. Then one day, our Mom bought us some motorcycles. She surprised my dad with a 250cc Kawasaki, I think it was, and then we got like a 175cc or 125cc and then a smaller 100cc or 90cc or something like that. I remember part of one summer where we had to clear some land, cutting and hauling brush, and we'd take turns riding the smaller motorcycle. The rest of us would have to clear brush while one of us got a turn on the bike. That was fun. The motorcycle part, while everyone else had to work.
We always grew a huge vegetable garden, and us kids had to work in it, hoeing and weeding in the summer. Usually hated it, as most kids do. We'd have to work for a while, then get to cool off and swim in the pond for a while, then maybe have to work some more. We got a ton of food out of that garden, and really, my Mom and Dad worked harder at that than us kids did, all combined. Didn't appreciate it much then. Sure do now. Loved the frozen corn we always had. And good potatoes. Getting potatoes out of the cellar in the winter. And Mom's canned tomatoes, and peaches, pickles... all that stuff. We sure gave our folks a lot of grief getting us to work in that garden. But we always ate a lot!
Once my sister, Kathy, and I were riding the motorcycles in one of the front forty fields, and I believe I was on the 90cc, and there was a small, very small, hill in the field. We'd jump it with the motorcycles. Get some air, too. Problem was one time was I took it in the wrong direction... the side with no slope. Stopped the bike cold and I went flying over the handlebars. Hurt like H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks and tore my shirt off me. I remember the shirt was blue with white buttons, and I was really bummed coz I loved that shirt. Too torn and blood stained to fix. Kinda screwed up the bike a bit, too.
My Mom sewed a lot. Back then, you could buy fabric for a shirt for less money than a shirt. Not so nowadays. Back then, with 5 kids to clothe, my Mom did a LOT of sewing. She was awesome at it, and still is. All the many, many, many clothes she sewed for us. Jeans to look like the popular painter paints, with triple seams and everything. My Mom could sew anything you wanted. Anything.
When we had horses, at various times we had quite a few, like 6 or 10 or so. Once we had a new stallion. I believe his name was Buck. Or maybe Blaze. Been a lot of years now, so I'm not positive... Anyway, Kathy and I decided to take a ride, and we took out a couple of mares. As it turned out, mares in heat. Buck was very interested in following us, and he broke through the fence and chased us. The mares took off like bats outta hell. Kathy and I were pretty scared. Buck was gaining on us, so we decided the safest thing to do was to get off the mares. How do you get off a galloping mare over which you have no control? Jump. I seem to remember the unfortunate coincidence of my decision to jump being right near the big briar patch. How accurate all these memories are is surely up for debate. But I recall briar patch related pain. And then we had to catch those darn horses. But first Kathy and I had to walk back home, all dirty and dusty and covered with scratches and blood.
I also remember one day when my folks were gone and my brother decided to hollow out a big old tree like the kid in the book, "My Side of the Mountain." Only that kid did it to a live tree. Jimmy had picked out a dead tree. And he tried to hollow it out like the kid in the book... using fire. Caught the tree on fire. I remember we called Uncle Don over to help. Lucky on that one, no forest fire ensued. I remember Uncle Don saying something about, "You know what happens to kids who play with matches? They wet the bed." I never did get that. We did play with matches a lot. Can't believe we never did any major damage.
Jimmy did a lot of things. He was a fearless boy growing up. And tough. I remember one time Dad had the trailer hooked up to the tractor and somehow Jimmy got his hand caught and pinched on the hitch. He screamed in pain. Dad stopped the tractor and jumped down quick. But Jimmy took off running, holding his hand, and Dad couldn't catch him. Jim did a heck of a number on his hand.
We gave our parents lots of opportunities for trips to the ER. I remember stepping on a board with a rusty nail... went right through my left foot. I still have a big scar there. ER - tetanus shot.
Once Jimmy and I were riding a horse, both of us on one horse, no saddle. Us kids always rode bareback. We were never supposed to ride down the road, but we did (of course). And I ended up falling off the back of the horse, slid right down his rump. He was a big horse, too. Fell on my left arm. Jimmy told me to get back up on the horse, but I told him I couldn't. I had to walk home. Boy, was Jim mad at me, coz he knew we were gonna get it. And I walked home and had to tell my Mom and Dad I broke my arm. And of course, they found out we had the horse out on the road. Boy, we sure did get in trouble for that. ER - broken humerus. Clean break, though. Too high up for a cast, so I had a sling. Started 3rd grade wearing a sling to school. And that stunk.
Once, Kathy and I took Dad's 250cc Kawasaki for a ride. Kathy had to drive, I was too small to handle it. I was wearing an old Lee coat that was my Dad's. It was way too big for me, but I loved that jacket. It was white denim with big pockets. We were ready to go, but Kathy had to run inside for something or other. Can't remember exactly. But I had to hold the bike up, but it weighed more than me and it started to fall. Which wouldn't have been good, but worse, a handle or something caught the sleeve of my coat and flipped me a good one when the bike fell. ER - broken collar bone. Compound fracture that one. Had to wear some kind of brace. That sucked. Shoulder tells me when it rains now. Coz I'm OLD.
Us kids used to fight with each other a lot, too. Like all kids. Chase each other around the table, pulling chairs out behind us so it'd trip up the one chasing. And we would get some speed going, too. We were tough. We'd wrestle for fun. And like wrestling fun with kids sometimes does, it'd turn ugly. Coz someone would get mad, and then we'd wrestle in earnest! We were very tough country kids. But let any other kid pick on one of us, and watch out, coz you'd have all of us kids to deal with. We always stuck up for each other. Dad and Mom taught us that, too.
We didn't have any close neighbors, so each other was all we had most of the summer days. We had tons of fun, though, always. Swimming in the pond (now filled in and no longer in existence), swimming in the river, climbing trees, making forts in the woods, playing inside the lilac bush, catching fish in the river and frogs in the ditch, running around summer evenings catching fireflies. Playing all kinds of games in the yard, our own versions of tag, football, baseball, Red Rover, especially fun when friends and family kids were over. Spying on our parents and their friends or aunts and uncles when they were over, coz we could look through the windows after it got dark and they couldn't see us. We thought that was so fun!
We used to walk along the road and try to find those brown beer bottles to turn in at the little store, I think we'd get 5 cents for them. Which was a lot of cash to us kids. I don't think kids today would bend over and pick up a nickel in the mall parking lot. With a nickel, we could buy 10 pieces of candy at the little store. We'd walk to the store on rare occasions, and since the store was a mile down one road and then a half mile down M-20 and our folks would NOT let us walk along M-20, we would walk to the store through this old oil well trail through the woods. That trail is still there, but I think it's private property now. Heck, it may have been back then, too, but the owner was never there. That was fun going to the the little store and picking out penny candy, getting it in a little brown paper bag... Two-for-a-penny candy, really, rootbeer barrels, chewy nutty squirrels, hot cinnamon fireballs, caramels, jawbreakers, sweetarts, bit o'honey, tootsie rolls, or suckers, all different kinds. Sometimes we'd get orange sherbet push-ups. Or a pop. Or a fudgesickle. Great on a hot summer day.
Us kids were pretty typical kids.... trying to find clever ways to get out of a bath or brushing our teeth. Or trying to get out of work. I somehow have the reputation of always having to "go to the bathroom" when it was time to clear the dinner table. I have no recollection of those events whatsoever.
Also, the usual fighting in the back seat of the car until we got yelled at. Breaking stuff and blaming it on each other. Hitting, getting caught, "but she/he started it!" Good times.
Actually, the thing I remember most about riding in the car as a family is that we would sing. All of us. Dad, too. I learned a lot of old songs that way. Like "Your Cheatin' Heart" (Hank Williams) and "(Put Another Nickel In) Music! Music! Music!" (Teresa Brewer, baby!) and "It Comes and Goes" (Eddie Arnold) and so many more. We'd also sing a lot of the good old hymns, and also some of the "new" songs, like "Proud Mary" and "Burning Bridges"... And yodeling!! My Mom can really yodel! Not that Swiss crap, I'm talking hillbilly yodeling. I loved that as a kid, listening to my Mom yodel in the car. I love hearing her yodel now! I yodel like my Mom, though not nearly as well (coz no one can yodel like my Mom!), and my kids groan at me. Eh.
We'd sing at home, too. My Mom can play the piano, she's awesome. Mom never had lessons, she played "by ear," and Dad would ask her to play a song, and Mom would play it and we'd sing.
Breakfasts. Feeding a family of 7 ain't no small thing. We had hot cereals for breakfast every morning before school, and often on weekends, too. Oatmeal, Malt-O-Meal, Ralston, Cream of Rice, Cream of Wheat... We all had to sit down together for breakfasts and for dinners. And dinners. Meat and potatoes. My Mom could fry chicken... yum. Meatloaf and baked beans on Sundays, come home from church starving and the house would smell sooooo good. Roast beef and gravy. My Mom's gravy was the best. Hamburger and beans, with bread and butter. Yummy. And home-baked cookies every weekend for school lunches. And Mom's jello cream cheese whipped cream lovely bowls of heaven. Chocolate cookie sheet cakes. Mmm... New potatoes out of the garden. Corn on the cob, dripping with butter. Enough for everyone to have too many pieces! We ate like kings. And we went through gallon after gallon of milk every week. I remember Dad would buy it 4 gallons at a time, using one of those plastic carrying things for milk.
Takes a lot of food to feed that many people. We were never supposed to just go into the kitchen and open the fridge and help ourselves to food. All the food in the house was for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Not for snacking. Though, of course, us kids would snack. I remember sneaking a big spoonful of peanut butter and eating it while I would read a book.
And books! Trips to the library all the time. Checking out tons of books. And then Janet's boyfriend, Bob's (now husband) mom worked at Kresge's, and when the paperbacks were discontinued, the store was supposed to toss them. (Did any store ever really do that???) So she would give us grocery sacks (the brown paper ones, coz there were no plastic grocery bags back then) full of Harlequin romance novels and other paperbacks, all with the covers torn off. We devoured those books. Well, not Jimmy.
Sunday evenings watching the Wonderful World of Disney TV show, with Tinkerbell and her little sparkling wand. And Mutal of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Playing the games in the front of the first huge book of the World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, a 2-volume dictionary, each volume weighing about 50 pounds!
All in all, the 5 of us kids were basically good kids, but we also gave my Mom and Dad plenty of unpleasant and worrisome moments. And here we all are, all grown and getting old, and we're all still close. Still totally a part of each other's lives. With Mom and Dad at the center of it all. They raised us right.