Lord of the Dings

old_farm_truck_in_field I grew up on a farm and though I haven’t lived that way for decades I guess some aspects of the lifestyle never leave you. I’m not talking about raising cattle in my backyard, though there’s been a zoo inside my house for more years than I lived out in the middle of a cornfield.

No, I’m talking about my pickup truck. It’s getting old and there’s talk of trading it in for a new one. I’ve traded in vehicles many times but now that I’m getting as old as an old truck, the idea of giving away the old for something new just doesn’t sit well with me anymore. On a couple of levels, when it comes to my truck.

First, nearly every ding, scratch, dent and crease in that old black behemoth is there because I put it there, doing things that one does with a truck. And a couple more because of what one shouldn’t do with one. You ever see a farmer driving a nice, shiny old truck – he must be raising daffodils. In his living room.

Actually I’m kinda proud of them – my truck and me, well, we made them together. Maybe when it was new and I was younger such vehicular garnishes would have bothered me, but now that it’s old I do believe those dings, dents and other things give it … character.

Like the time I really thought I could squeeze through the slightly-less-than-a-parking-space left between a car and a light pole in a parking lot. I was sure of it – until the right side of the old girl started to lift up as I edged past the big concrete base of the pole and let out an awful scratching screech. I guess not, I realized, but no sense in going back now. Didn’t touch the car or even mark the pole but I found a nice, long, bright yellow-colored gouge creased deep across the lower part of my black passenger and backseat panel doors.

It was pretty near straight. And the doors still opened and closed.

“Look at that,” I said to her. “We got ourselves a racing stripe.”

Do that with a Prius. And be happy about it. I dare you. It’s what separates us farm boys from city folk, I guess. Manure happens – especially to a pickup truck.

And there was the time when I was sitting in another parking lot. Like any other full-size pickup driver does, I was off to the outer edge of the lot, away from most vehicles. I’d also parked so I could just drive away and not back up. Very simple, very easy, very smart. I’d just gotten back from shopping, sitting and idling with no one around me and looking at my sales receipt, when in the corner of my eye I saw movement by my door.

I looked over and down to see the front end of some non-descript Japanese sedan pushing along the side of my front fender, like a runaway shopping cart with an engine. And a driver. The car gently (as much as a car can do) swiped along my front fender and ended up stopped in front of me.

I’d just been hit by a car. In slow motion. And I wasn’t even moving. The driver looked back at me. I was staring at him. And then he started yelling and gave me the finger.

I was stunned. Of course I did what any other normal, red-blooded American raised on a farm would do.

I started laughing. I couldn’t stop. It was so damn ridiculous. I did manage to get out a couple words, though.

“I was just sitting here, you shithead!”

For me, the whole thing was entirely, completely hilarious. For him, apparently it all became very clear. He stopped yelling and took off. And for my wife? Uh, not so funny.

“You didn’t even get his license plate!?!? Why do I ever let you go anywhere by yourself.”

“I couldn’t stop laughing, hon. And it was just the truck – it’s like a white accent stripe along the fender. Didn’t do any real damage, still drives and everything.”

“This is why you should have a gun.”

“Why do I need a gun?”

“You could have shot out his tires!!!”

Obviously, my lovely wife was not raised on a farm.

If she had been, she wouldn’t think I was crazy. About this, or why I really don’t want to trade in my truck. I want to keep it and drive it until it can barely move. But still running enough to let me edge her into the backyard, park her off to the side and just leave her there. That’s how old trucks and other farm machines are laid to rest. That’s where they should go, to slowly rust away. Just like that old GMC you see up at the top there.

Gone, but never forgotten. I’ll even keep the keys in the ignition. Out in the sticks, you do that. You never know when someone, or something, might need it.???????????????????????????????????????

Grow up, young man, grow up

One of the best parts about growing up is you never know you’re doing it. It just happens, whether you like it or not. And that’s a good thing. Unless you really, really don’t like it, but that’s a different story and a whole ‘nother issue.

Growing up happens in a lot of ways. Take social situations. When you’re a kid, you often say some very immature, really stupid things during them. You can’t help it, you’re just a kid. But, without doing anything but living, you grow up. You gain experience, knowledge even. Just by living your life, day by day. With your eyes open. And your brain functioning. Most of the time.

And then over time, something changes in you. You find confidence. You gain maturity. You become an adult. And you find yourself, while mingling among other adults at  social gatherings, uttering some very mature … but really stupid things.

Oops, seems I may have gone a little on the high side in the “Guess How Much I Weigh” contest.

This is called growing up.

And that’s just one example. You gather up lots of them during the course of your life. So many that you eventually create a big, steaming pile of them. And they’re all crammed inside your full-grown, adult mind.

And before you know it, you’ve grown up so much, and for so long … that you overload your circuits. You contract Alzheimer’s, forget whether your pants’ zipper goes in the front or the back, your right from your wrong, even how to chew with your mouth closed. And you end up sitting on a park bench all day, yelling at every poor fool that walks by, “Who the hell are you, … and dammit it all, that’s KING Charles when you’re addressing me! Off with your freaking head!”

But I’m getting ahead of my point. Let’s get back to the growing-up part. Let’s find a good part about growing up. Let’s go back to the summer of 1973. My summer of 1973, to be more specific.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

And that’s MISTER Dickens when you’re addressing me, dammit.

I was 15 at that time. A really lousy age to be. Especially when you live in a rural area, far from the center of town and most of your friends. You’re not old enough to drive a car to hang out with them, which pisses you off. Yet you’re too old to be seen having your mother drive you to them, which pisses you off.

So, as you can imagine, you spend most of your days of 15 being pissed off. Especially during the summer when you have a lot of time on your hands and nothing to do with it. So what’s a pissed-off, not-full-grown man to do?

You work. For your grandfather. On his dairy farm. As I’ve mentioned before, dairy farms consist of a lot of cows. Can’t make milk without them. And cows can’t make milk without a lot of … hay.

Hay is a very interesting thing, actually. It’s made out of grass, which is very supple, very light and grows up very high and fast in large fields during the summer. When it gets to that point, dairy farmers come along, cut it down, let it dry out in the hot sun and then bundle it up in large lumps, called bales.

Reader, meet hay bale. Hay bale … reader. Great, we’re all acquainted now.

Here’s the interesting part. What once was light and supple, is now very stick-like, scratchy and heavy. Which is good for cows, because that’s the way they like to eat it. So much so, they eat lots of it. Which is good for the farmer, because the cows are happy, full and make lots of milk.

But … in order for all of this to work, all of this hay has to be brought to the farm and be put away in barns. Hay can’t get wet, don’t you know. Well, now you know.

And this is where the pissed-off 15-year-old comes in. Along with his only-slightly-less-pissed-off 14-year-old brother.

“Son, this is how it works. You go in the barn. Your brother here, he gets up in the hay wagon. He picks up a bale of hay, passes it to you, and you take it and stack it in the barn. But here’s the fun part. When you get them stacked up really high, all the way to the roof, then you two get to use this nice conveyor belt and the bales will come right up to you. Nice and neat, nice and easy.”

A photographer’s rendition of the “fun, nice and easy” part.

“How much do those things weigh?”

“About 75 pounds.”

“My brother weighs 75 pounds.”

“Good, then just imagine your brother has pissed you off, so much so you pick him up and throw him in the barn. Ought to be easy for a constantly-pissed-off 15-year-old boy like you. Okay, I’m going to get another wagon full of hay. Let’s see if you two can empty this one before I get back.”

I threw my brother in the barn a hell of lot of times that summer. Over and over. And my grandfather was wrong. It wasn’t easy. After more than a dozen of brothers, I mean bales, everything from my fingertips to my cell membranes hurt. Ached. Screamed at me, enough already!

But fortunately, my grandfather was right about one thing. I was 15 and constantly pissed off. And that meant I wasn’t fully grown up yet. Which also was good for him and the cows that summer.

Because the more it hurt, the more it pissed me off. And the more brothers I threw in the barn. Right up to the roof. And on to the next wagon, and the next barn. After a while, it didn’t hurt as much. But by then it was too late.

And by then, the summer was over. I was back at school, back in town, back among my friends. And back standing in front of my locker, when one of them came up to say … hey. Sort of.

“Holy crap, what the hell happened to you?!”

“Whatdaya mean, what happened to me.”

“I mean, wow, you’re really different.”

“And you’re really retarded.”

“No, I mean it, look at yourself. You don’t notice it?”

So I did. I went to the boy’s room and looked in the mirror. Really looked in the mirror. That’s when I realized that all those bales, the aches, all that pain … had paid off.

Me, circa May 1973.

Me, circa September 1973. Well, sort of. I wasn’t wearing a hat.

I went back to my locker.

“Oh my God, what happened to you?”

“Why, hello there Sally. How was your summer?”

“Not as good as my fall …”

That’s when I realized the second time my grandfather was wrong about lifting and throwing all of those bales of hay, all summer long.

This was the fun part.

Allowances?! There are no allowances in childhood!

Today I stumbled upon a small news item that hit me in the head like Moe. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, the average allowance for the average American kid is $15 a week.

They score for chores? Taking out the trash, walking the dog, mowing the lawn … $15 a week. Sheesh. I was an average American kid. I had chores. I never got an allowance.

What’s worse, according to the survey, only 1 percent of the parents said their children save any of that parental payout. According to the rest, their kids immediately blow their weekly wad on toys and entertainment.

That seals it. Today’s tadpoles are … soft. And a quick flip through my stash of childhood photos proves it. When I was a kid, when you needed something, you worked for it.

Let’s say you needed a new t-shirt. Ask your parents to take you to the mall and give you the money to buy it? Yeah, right. Not quite.

First, we had to plant the cotton.

That’s me on the right. Oh, and that plow? I had to whittle that out of a tree trunk. With a butter knife.

Then, we had to pick it.

You may notice that we have no shoes on here. We ate them for lunch.

Oh, but we weren’t done yet. You can’t wear a bunch of cotton balls. We had to turn that cottton into thread. And then into cloth.

Yup, that’s me. I think I was making new underwear here.

OK,  so you’ve made your cloth, now what?

The adults on the left used sewing machines to make their clothes. And as for me there? I had to sharpen my fingernail to use it as a needle.

I even had to clean up the place at the end of the day.

That guy behind me is there to make sure I don’t run off with the broom and pawn it.

See what I mean? Kids today … soft, soft, soft.

And another thing. I noticed a school bus drive by the house today and realized that the new school year’s about to start.

School buses. To take the kids to school every day. And bring them home again.

Hell, when I was a kid and had to go to school …