Misdirected “townies” wandered in our direction one summer day, looking for a place to fish. As “townies” went, they were among the nicer ones–far different from trespassers. I could overlook their christening my hometown, “Chesterpatch.” At ten years old, I knew that equated the real Chesterfield, (population 300), with Granny Clampett’s unsophisticated Ozark hometown of Bug Tussel.
Old timers called our farm, “the jumping off place,” because it was, a mile, past the county road–at the dead-end of a winding country lane, on top of a hill. It was a white, square, one-story farmhouse, with a wide front porch.
Mother taught school, father farmed, and took care of livestock at the big barn down the hill. We, older boys, did farm chores after school. Younger ones fed the chickens and gathered eggs. They were free-range chickens before the term became a buzz word.
My sister was the youngest. At first, she stayed with Dad during the day. We three older brothers went to school. As boys sometimes do–we gave her no privacy, and did terrible things to her dolls.
She endured other assaults to her self-esteem at the hands of her well-intentioned father. Fixing hair–there were lots of pony tails. In some pictures, we looked like war-weary refugees. My sister sported “grandma-ish” head scarves in winter.
Four-mile winter trips to town in the old red Ford pickup were tough. Three sat in front–two in the back. The noisy heater blower motor sounded like a stuck “ah-oo-gah” horn with laryngitis. My sister always rode shotgun, because she was the littlest. Me and my younger brother rode in the back shivering. Cardboard over the wooden side racks did little to block the cold wind.
In warmer months, there seemed to be snakes everywhere. Tippy, “the wonder dog,” kept them, and other stray critters, at bay. One night, a snake dropped from the rafters, slid across Dad’s shoulders–when he closed the garage door.
Blood curdling screams came from the house on the hill one morning. Dad scrambled up the hill, not sure what he would find. Out of breath, heart thumping–he threw open the door and dashed in. There was my little sister, screaming at the top of her lungs in terror, In the window was a ferocious green bottle fly. Dad dispatched the offensive insect, calmed her down–went back down the hill.
The farm-house was sturdy, with a full basement. But, it was a bit crowded for two adults, plus four children. Us, three boys had one bedroom, mom and dad took the other one; my sister’s bed was in a corner of the dining room. There was neither running water, nor an indoor bathroom. It had to have been a big let down for my mother; we’d previously experienced more creature comforts.
This was my father’s “go big or go home” opportunity. To become a successful farmer on a big scale–not under the thumb of his father. Things didn’t always go as planned. When told to do something, we knew to obey, or suffer the consequences. None of it was open to debate–it was a dictatorship.
Something was wrong one summer. Mom cried a lot, Dad came to her defense when us kids asked too many questions. Mom gave birth to little Julia Jean in early 1962–she died from breathing problems. Mother and father barely held things together.
There were so many things that happened in the years between 1958-63; it’s difficult to recall them all. The joy seemed to have run out after 1962. I was seriously injured in a farming accident during late summer. Macoupin Creek flooded our farmland during two seasons.
Not everything was bad–there were plenty of good times. I learned how to fish in the muddy pond–just north of the house. I watched wild deer, feeding with our cattle. I befriended a one-eyed, stray gray tomcat named “Bash.” I took long walks in the woods, searching for fun things to do–sometimes to just think.
There was the time my younger brother and co-conspirator, fell into the livestock watering tank. He survived unscathed, weighted down by a heavy wet woolen overcoat, and didn’t freeze to death. We built two clubhouses in the chicken yard–one with discarded carpet walls; the other one, our version of a jungle hut.
My generation was supposed to want ponies. And deprived of such–we would have low self-esteem and other personality disorders. We never had ponies–or ever felt entitled to them. But, we did have an 860 pound, gentle giant, Duroc boar hog named Jack. He was, as big as, a Shetland pony.
The spinet piano, that was played so joyfully, from the back of a friend’s pickup truck, upon our arrival, was moribund–somewhere in a trash heap. Freight train horns, from the distant CB&Q railroad, mourned the day’s events.
My feet were numb from subfreezing cold. With most of the furniture and draperies gone–voices echoed in the old house. When was the moving truck going to return? I later learned, that my mother cried, at the thought of returning, to the drafty, ramshackle, Queen Anne house in town.