Thursday, June 03, 2010


My father, whom we all called Pop, was not a big man. He was small and wiry, with skin so browned and toughened by the sun that it resembled leather. He had big, broad, work-worn hands that held a steady grip on a plow and paused now and then to run along the flanks of a tired horse or mule. His black hair had turned to gray and he had a round bald spot on the top of his head. When children piled onto his lap, as they did when he sat in his old green chair, they would play with his hair and make it stick up like devil's horns, giggling and laughing at the way he looked.

He loved children. He wanted thirteen children. He had his favorites. Many of his grandchildren have fond memories of sitting on his knees, while others only have the memories of knowing a very old man. An old-fashioned man, he wanted the farm to provide everything we could possibly need. When Mom had to ask for money to buy such commodities as sugar and salt, he was reluctant to reach into his wallet to give her what she needed. He felt that a good farmer raised everything his family needed. To see anything "store bought" seemed to be an insult to his life's work.

Somehow, smack in the center of a gravel pit, he raised his yearly crop of corn, using no fertilizer, no method of bringing water to the fields, nothing but the sun and the rain and the constant work with the plow. God must have smiled down at him, because year after year that crop of corn filled the local markets and the stand along the street running by our house. He made enough money from the sale of corn to buy a few mules to help with the work. He made enough money to grudgingly give my mother a few dollars for that sugar and salt.

From seven boys, Pop only raised one true farmer. Hubert shared his love of the soil, while Bud had his nose stuck in a book, and none of the others paid a bit of attention to Mother Nature. They helped on the farm because Pop insisted, but made their way in the outer world as soon as they became adult, while Hubert came every week to look over the status of the corn.

I remember that my brothers, Hjalmar and Harold, whom we all called Bud, were prone to ponder. They would sit outside on the porch and, rather than carry on a lively conversation, would just sit there, stare at the sky and the green of the trees, and silently ponder. I never knew what they were thinking about and they seldom wasted a word in my direction, but I always thought they were solving all of the world's problems as they sat there.

Hubert never pondered. He chatted and smiled and now and then lost his temper with a balky child. He was completely in the moment and lived in a world of here and now, while I think that Bud was off in tomorrow's world, contemplating the future.

Most of my brothers and sisters were ten or more years older than me, which made them seem more like Uncles and Aunts than true siblings. To me, they were gods and goddesses, ruling the realm of adulthood, free to select their own activities and not forced, as I was, to trot to school every day, memorizing dates of the Civil War, trying to remember the names of the Presidents and, worst of all, working those enigmatic sums in that hated Arithmetic Book.

I especially hated "story problems." Joe took a train to Baltimore on a trip that took him two hours, while Jim took a train from Detroit that took him eleven hours, how fast was the train traveling? This kind of question did not teach me Math at all, but certainly stimulated my creative side. Yes, Joe enjoyed a pleasant trip, but Jim was mugged at the train station and spent two hours in an Emergency Room before he could make his way to Baltimore.

I remember showing my sister, Helen, the manuscript of my first novel. My heroine was named Fairy and how well I remember Helen trying not to laugh as she read my lines. My hero was named Larry and so it went...."Larry took his Fairy in his arms!" Helen read the entire book, then advised me to never again place a story in England, which I knew nothing about, and never again writing about a daughter of the Queen. I felt this was terrible advice, since I wanted my heroine to be a Princess.

"Write about what you know," Helen told me, reaching into her grim, humorless adulthood to hamper the writing talents of a genius like myself. I glowered at her and vowed to never show anyone a story again. It was obvious they didn't appreciate anything above their comprehension.

So I lived life on the Farm, a wild-haired, sun-tanned girl with absolutely no Mathematical ability, running in the orchard, playing in the fields, my best friends my dogs that followed me around like loyal shadows. Each day, I had an older brother or sister to contend with, to try to understand from the level of childhood. Looking back, I see that I hardly knew them at all, that I didn't know their dreams, their hopes, their ambitions. I didn't even know if they believed in God. I didn't know if they had ever loved or lost. I didn't know if they had had their hearts crushed by life's little cruelties.

They were actually strangers. Only Helma and Harlan (Deed) were anything near my age and our relationships were thus that I was the perpetual younger sister, not too bright, never to emerge from this trap to become an equal. Our family was so close that hardly a day went by that we didn't get together. There were picnics, ballgames, musical moments and both arguments and laughter, but these older people lived in a secret world I could not enter. Now, as the years have passed, I wonder what I missed, what great relationships passed me by, what friendships were never mine. The tragic truth is....I will never know!