Monday, February 28, 2011

The house on the highway, Part 1

The house on the highway was in north-central Missouri, three miles from town, or more precisely three miles from a place on the edge of town called Reed's Corner. The house was a farm house, but it was not the farm my mother grew up on. That farm was much farther out, away from things. It was a large farm for that time and area, and was doing well. The coal company, though, wanted to buy all the farms in that area, and wouldn't unless they sold their farm, since it was the biggest. My grandparents, and my grandfather's brother, felt they had to sell it, because the other farmers really wanted to sell their farms. They had begun to be worried, anyway, about being out there. The farm was too far out in the country, too isolated, too hard to get to. My mother's father was much older than her mother, and there was a concern that there would come a time when her mother would be all alone. They moved to this farm, the house on the highway, in 1952, but it was not my grandfather's first choice.

This farm had a better location, but it had a lot of work that needed to be done. The land was worn out, and needed a lot of fertilizer. The fences needed repairing. Even the barn needed repairing, because the owner had taken boards from it to repair the house. My grandfather was already in his late seventies. My mother thought it had a much better location, though, than the place he preferred, and she convinced him to buy it.

His older brother, my Great-Uncle Doc, refused to partner with him in buying it, though they had co-owned the previous farm. Even so, Uncle Doc joined him there, staying at the house with the rest of the family.

The house was set back from the road quite a ways. The road had broad deep ditches on each side, with long slopes covered with green grass. As the land rose back up from the ditch, it gradually came to a hedge running around the somewhat raised yard of the house.

The part of the house that faced the road was actually the back of the house. A gravel road left the highway and ran beside the hedge, gradually curving around, to eventually go up a gentle slope leading up to the garage, at the far side of the house. Beside the garage, on the town side, three or four concrete steps led up to the door. Beyond the door was a long hallway, leading eventually on the town side to the kitchen, and beyond that, on the other side, to some small rooms, behind the garage, where Uncle Doc stayed. At the far end of the hall was a window, looking out toward the yard and the highway. The kitchen was a tall step up from the hallway, but I don't think Uncle Doc's rooms were like that.

The hall had some things hanging on the wall, including a swordfish sword with a handle cut in it, just a slot you could put your fingers through. It was a gift from some friends of the family who had gone deep-sea fishing. When I was little, I said that it looked like it was made out of wood, that it had wood grain. They insisted it was from a swordfish, and I had to believe them, but I couldn't figure it out. In recent years, looking at it, I can see where it sort of has kind of a grain-like look in places, but it's not something that would ever be mistaken for wood.

The hall had some other things on the walls too, and I think that was where the picture of President Harry Truman, wearing Masonic clothes at a Lodge meeting, was kept.

Another feature of the hallway, though not always there, was a large galvanized metal tub, a few feet from the door to the outside. It was the slop bucket, and food scraps and some leftovers were thrown in there, for the hogs.

The kitchen had its own door, and in the winter, patterns of frost appeared on the window in it. They would melt when food was being cooked, and then reform.

The kitchen had a door to the basement. Wooden stairs led down, and the air there had a strange, damp, kind of moldy smell. A small grinding stone with a hand crank was mounted on the railing of the stairs. A lot of stuff was down there in the basement. A modern (for the times) washer was down there, but some appliances from the old farm were also there, including wash tubs and a double roller to feed clothes through to squeeze the water out. There was also a big, simple wooden table that had small stacks of newspapers and some magazines on it. They were getting a bit mildewed, because of all the moisture in the air. There were many other things down there too, including, I believe, an actual icebox, that had to have ice put in it for it to keep things cold. It wasn't used anymore, of course, since we had a refrigerator up in the kitchen.

One time down in the basement I saw an old comic book on one of the stacks on the table. It had a cover with Elmer Fudd sitting on a motorcycle frowning, while Bugs Bunny. playing a service station attendant, wiped Elmer's goggles. I may have taken it back up with me. In any case, it did end up in the main part of the house, eventually in with a stack of magazines, on some shelves behind a narrow, wood-framed glass door, probably in what I later learned was called Uncle Doc's bookcase. Only part of it was really a bookcase. It also had a big fold-down section to the right of the door, with cubby holes and tiny drawers inside, and above that a flat surface with a mirror at the back of it. Underneath the fold-down section was a door that swung out, with more shelf space inside it. The comic book, oddly, seemed to disappear from it one year, and then reappear the next. This was in the 1960s, at a time when we lived somewhere else, and visited once a year. My grandmother was beaming when I pointed out that the comic book was back. I think she probably had something to do with it.

Along with the refrigerator, the kitchen had a modern gas stove, and a kitchen table with a gray patterned plastic top with metal around the edges. The pattern was of different sizes and shades of gray blobs and streaks, on a lighter background. However, over the years, I noticed that that table changed, the pattern being sort of the same but somewhat different, and at least one of the tables had a brownish tint to the gray. There was also sometimes a second table, out in the room behind the kitchen, or close to it.

The kitchen also had various cabinets and cupboards, of course, and a cupboard that had shelves behind glass doors, that had dishes and glasses in it. Some of the glasses had pictures of flying geese on them, just colored outlines of the geese and the scenery, the lines raised up on the glass. We sometimes used them, and my mother used to talk to me about them, and slowly sing a song, mostly talking, that went something like "my heart goes where the wild goose goes, my heart knows what the wild goose knows."

The kitchen sink was next to the door to the hallway, on the left side of it. It was a big square sink, and when I was little I sometimes was given a bath in it, which was a lot of fun. When I was a little older, I had at least one bath in it with my little brother, which was also a lot of fun. We laughed and splashed in the water.

The room behind the kitchen held more kitchen things, including a flour bin and a long metal surface to work on, with metal cabinets and drawers at the back of it, and probably under it. This was all placed on the wall that it shared with the kitchen. This room was given a specific name, that I don't remember now, but was essentially the far end of a long room, with occasional partial divisions, that ran all along that side of the house, the side that faced the highway. The long room was given the name of the sun porch, because sunlight came in through the windows there.

Going along the sun porch, past a partial wall to the left, my grandmother had some little shelves where small things were on display, little ceramic figures and things generally, I think. There was also a cabinet or two, with glass doors and shelves behind them, with more things on the shelves. One of the things was a fancy white plate with a black and white picture of my mother, probably taken when she was around 20, more or less. I think she said it was something they got in St. Louis. It's possible one of the cabinets was in the kitchen, with glasses and plates in it. I'm pretty sure that there was something like that in there.

Further along the sun porch was an organ. It had big rectangular cloth-covered wooden pedals under it, that had to be pumped to push air through it, and lots of little knobs in a row, that they called stops, each with a name on it. They could be pulled out to change the sound. It used to have some kind of ornate railing on the very top of it, my mother said, but when she was young she didn't like it and convinced them to get rid of it. She said that she regretted it, because she thought not having it lowered its value.

The organ had a special upholstered stool that was supposed to be used with it, but we frequently used a little narrow wooden table instead, as a kind of bench seat. In later years the table was almost aways used, as the stool had problems staying together (the seat wanted to come off) and was in any case not as easy to use as the table.

Past the organ was an opening to the rest of the house, to a living room. On the other side was a door to the outside, toward the yard and the highway. Past the door the sun porch continued for a bit, with I think a small couch and maybe a sofa there, and maybe a small table with a drawer, that a lamp sat on, and perhaps some low small shelves, that books or magazines might be put on.

The living room had an old fashioned couch, that my grandmother sometimes recovered with new fabric. The fabric was always fancy, with a texture of rich swirls. Sometimes it was a shade of gray, and sometimes a more purplish color was used. Big brass tacks went along the front of the arms, holding the material in place.

The living room had various other chairs, most or all upholstered, and she sometimes reupholstered some of them, too. In probably the late 1950s the living room gained a picture of a deer, in panels on both sides of a light bulb. It sat on a lamp table, and the light inside it could be turned on to illuminate the picture of the deer from within.

A television set was in one corner, the corner toward town and away from the highway. I was told I liked to pull the knobs off it when I was very little, and they had to put something in front of it to block it from me. I have some memories of doing it, mostly just of reaching toward them.

Among other lamps in the room was a very wobbly floor lamp. It had a long sheet metal pole that fitted into a round sheet metal base, but it was always wanting to tilt one way or the other, the base not securing the pole very well. I think the lamp was kind of a tan color.

On the floor of the living room was a very low dense carpet, mostly gray but with some kind of pattern. In one area it had a small rectangular darker gray rug on top of it, with a rabbit with rounded glass eyes. Decades later, my mother talked about a small blanket with a rabbit on it that my grandmother was given by my grandfather, back before they were married, and she would put it on her legs to keep them warm, when they were out riding in what was apparently a horse-drawn carriage. We decided that the rug on the floor must have been it. The blanket had originally been black, but it could have faded with the years.

The floor had oval rag rugs in places, too. My grandmother made them out of pieces of different colored cloth, frequently red and black, frequently patterned, that were rolled up and sown to each other, then wound up into the rug shape and then sewn across them.

On the end of the living room was what they called a picture window, because it was just a sheet of glass with no divisions, like a picture in a frame. It faced toward town. In the early and mid 1960s, when my mother went to town to buy groceries or do other shopping, I would sit on the floor with my brother and, when she was a little older, my sister, and we would pay attention to the cars that sometimes went by in the night, hearing them as they approached, and seeing their headlights, and wondering if they were our mother coming back. Eventually, one of them would turn out to be her car, and it would slow down and pull off the highway, hidden for a while as the gravel road dipped down, then would eventually go past on the other side of the hedge, just the top part of it visible.

In the daytime, the picture window looked out on the broad side yard, with its green grass, and a flowering plant in some kind of big bucket in the middle of the yard, and then more grass and finally the hedge. A time or two I saw a gray rabbit out there in the grass, huddled down in it, with the wind sending waves through the grass.

On the other side of the living room, on the side toward the front of the house, away from the highway, were I believe two little rooms. One was a sewing room, where my grandmother kept a lot of sewing materials and a Singer sewing machine, along with partially finished projects. She used to do a lot of sewing, and made quilts and clothes and couch pillows and other things.

I don't remember a lot about the other room, which was right on the corner. I think it might have been used for storage. It might have been the place where they kept the old clocks. They had a lot of old antique clocks, some of them fairly large. Or it's possible the clocks might have been in the sun porch, or perhaps some of them.

On the other side of the sewing room was an opening that led to a bedroom, through another opening right on the corner there. On the other side of the opening to the bedroom was the furnace, used to heat the house. It was a large thing, and sat at an angle across the corner of the room there. I sometimes played behind it when I was little.

One time I left my Jack-in-the-box there, and it melted its head. The box it was in was metal, but the head was plastic, and it got too hot. I worried and worried about it, so I've been told, though I only remember a little of it. Finally, one of the men said to go to town and get that child another one. It was secretly substituted for the old one, and when the head popped out I looked surprised, maybe even startled, then left it and started doing something else.

I only remember a little about the whole thing, mainly about being warned not to go back there and the Jack-in-the-box getting damaged, and feeling sad about it. It probably happened sometime in the mid to late 1950s. The concern about going back there was maybe a little about getting burned or somehow getting hurt by the gas, but was probably mainly about the electric cord going from the furnace to the wall. My mother worried that I might get shocked in some way, either through a problem with the cord or by playing too near where it plugged into the wall, that I might touch it in the wrong place and get shocked. There was some validity about this, besides the general concern a parent might have about kids poking something into the wall outlets. The cord was old and it had a place where the cloth outer cover was very frayed, broken through actually.

The room between the living room and the kitchen was the dining room, though we normally ate in the kitchen. The dining room shared the carpet of the living room, but the kitchen had linoleum. The room behind the kitchen may have had linoleum too, but if so at some point along the long room it changed, perhaps to wood slats. I'm not sure now. I'm pretty sure the hallway that went from the kitchen to the front of the house had a wood floor, though.

The dining room had a massive wood table that we used to play under. It had huge wooden legs, with heavy curved ornate pieces of wood connecting them near the bottom. The table had a tablecloth, with one or more doilies on it, and some decorative things set on it. Some of the chairs in the living room had doilies on them, too. Some of the doilies were real lace, but some were one piece flexible plastic. We used to take the plastic ones and put them under a paper, and then draw on top of them with crayons, making designs on the paper in different colors, the hard edges of the lace pattern catching the crayons as we went back and forth with them, causing the pattern of the doily to show through.

A short hallway led away from the living room toward the front, ending in a bathroom. On each side of the bathroom was a bedroom, with doors in the hallway to them. Another bedroom was reached through a short narrow hallway from the kitchen. The bedroom may have also had a door in the side, to another bedroom, but I'm not sure now. The short narrow hallway to the kitchen had shelves on each side, and a red curtain of heavy cloth. My mother said I used to go through it head first when I was little, going into the kitchen in the morning, and everyone would stop what they were doing and talk to me, saying things like "Who's that?" I only remember a little of it, mainly of pushing through the curtain with my head, and happily and expectantly going into the kitchen, my head peeking out as the cloth parted and fell away, and the other people being there, sitting around the table, their heads partly turning toward me, as they paused in their conversation and said things to me.

I played with my little brother a lot, when he was old enough for me to do so. I remember one day in particular, where we played and laughed all over the house, and in places outside it, going everywhere it seemed. At the end of the day we lay together on the floor, looking out the door toward the yard and the highway. We were there for a long time, watching and talking as the day gradually faded into night. In my mind I later called it the bestest day, not because I would actually have talked like that, but because it seemed to fit the theme of being young and happy. Years later I saw a picture of the two of us laying on the floor in front of the open door. I was astounded, because my brother looked so young. He was just a baby in diapers, with little crooked legs sticking out. I asked my mother if it could have been possibly that time, and she quietly nodded and said yes, smiling. I wondered if she could have been right, there might have been other times. Still, it all seemed to fit somehow.

Sometimes in the evenings the family sat outside the house, in the yard that faced the highway. The door had a drop down to the ground, but not as nearly as much as on the other side of the house. There may have been a small concrete area there in the yard, next to the house, but I'm not sure. In any case, chairs were brought out, I think there was already a picnic table there, and the adults talked while my brother and I played. Sometimes a lot of fireflies were out there, and they tended to congregate around a large cone-shaped evergreen tree, near the house on the end with the kitchen.

Sometimes we were out on the other side of the house instead. I remember one night, probably around 1960, or even later, when the sky was mostly overcast and heat lightning kept flashing in the clouds in the distance.

My father was in the Air Force for most of the 1950s. He joined to prevent being drafted. If he enlisted, he could choose what branch of the service to join, but not if he was drafted. He particularly didn't want to be in the Army, and maybe end up a foot soldier. He had to be in the Air Force had a longer period of time, though, four years on active duty and four years on reserve. It started out before I was born. He was stationed in different places, and they were in Texas for a while, then they ended up in St. Louis I think, at a time when I was a baby. My mother finally went back to the farm with me, to the house on the highway. My father visited every couple of weeks or so, for a weekend. I remember seeing him one time when I was out in the yard. He had parked by the front of the house, the side away from the highway, at the edge of the gravel road, and was walking across the yard at an angle, heading for the front door, wearing his uniform, a big grin on his face. I was playing near the house, not far from the corner, and he didn't seem to see me.

Continued in Part 2.

The house on the highway, Part 1
The house on the highway, Part 2
The house on the highway, Part 3
The house on the highway, Part 4
The house on the highway, Part 5
The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

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The house on the highway, Part 2

The hedge only went partway around the house. It went between the house and the broad ditch by the highway, but I'm not sure if it went toward the house on the side away from the highway. It did come beside the house on the side toward town, where the gravel driveway ran from the road on the other side of it. I think the hedge curved part of the way around, following the driveway, but then ended. leaving most of the front open. Some more things were there where the hedge would have been had it continued. At least one very large wooden wagon wheel was embedded in the dirt, and painted white. There was also at least one pole there, a tall one from my perspective, though probably only five or six feet high. It had a rain gauge on the top, that Uncle Doc had put there. Most of the area after the hedge ended was open, though. In the area where the drive sloped up toward the house, my grandmother sometimes planted vegetables beside the drive, in single rows going along it. They were things like different types of lettuce, and green onions, and maybe radishes and cabbages and other things.

At the other end of the gravel driveway, back at the highway, was the mailbox, on a post. I used to look at it from the house and wonder if the mail had come yet. I think it had a little metal flag that was supposed to be raised if we had mail, but I'm not sure I paid any attention to it (or perhaps it was just supposed to be used by us, to indicate mail that we had put in to be picked up by the postman). The mailbox was in any case far away from the house and difficult to see details on. It was a long walk out there to it, to get the mail or to see if there was any.

Inside the yard in the front was a very large, very long cylinder, with rounded ends. It ran parallel to the house, out in the middle of the yard. It was huge. It contained the gas that was used for the stove and for heating. It was probably ten or twelve feet long and three or four feet high. It was covered with some kind of gray silvery paint that rubbed off on us when we touched it. My brother and I used to try to get on top of it, but it was so tall it was difficult, and we kept jumping at it, trying to get to where we were laying across it, but most times we ended up slowly sliding back down. My mother didn't like us doing it, because it came off on us and our clothes, and because she was afraid that we would somehow cause it to catch fire or explode.

The front yard had a few bushes in it I think, and some places where my grandmother had put flowers. She had a bucket out in the side yard, between the hedge and the house, that had flowers with white petals and a yellow center trumpet that stuck way out. More flowers were in something at the corner of the side yard and the front, in maybe a metal tub or perhaps part of a wooden barrel. They had small bright blossoms. More flowers were I think around the corner of the side yard and the back yard, and under the picture window, by the side of the house. I think there may have been some more in places along the front of the house too, either flowers or occasional bushes of some type. My grandmother used to show me the flowers, going from one to another, and telling me what types they were.

The yard also had a large willow tree in it I believe, somewhere in the side or front yard, perhaps to the side of the front yard.

On the other side of the house, on the side of the garage, was a large honeysuckle bush, with large, trumpet shaped orange flowers. I think it came with the house, though, and was not something she planted.

On the side of the house away from town, on the side with the garage, perhaps ten feet or so away from the house, the yard abruptly began a long sharp downward slope. Near the bottom of the slope was a line of large, widely spaced trees. Not far past the slope, where the land leveled off, was a barbed wire fence. Beyond the fence were some of the fields, or perhaps pastures. The slope gradually disappeared in the direction away from the highway, as the land in front of the house and the land beyond the slope became the same level.

The barbed wire fence ran between the yard and the fields, on the side away from town. It turned the corner and ran along in front of where the chickens were, continuing on, perhaps changing to a fence of horizontal slats for a while, I'm not sure. Even if it didn't turn to wood, though, it eventually got to a place where a very wide wooden gate was, maybe ten feet or so wide. It closed off the wide dirt path that led out to the barn far in the pasture. There may also have been a smaller gate near it, I'm not sure. I used to like to swing on the big gate, but I was told not to, that it would make it sag.

One time, maybe in the early 1960s, I scratched one of my forearms on the barbed wire, a scratch that ran almost entirely around the arm. I worried about it, fearing that if I had scratched it all the way around the skin might slide off. I finally mentioned it to my mother, who while being sympathetic about the scratch, pooh-poohed the idea that my skin might slide off.

In the front yard on the side away from town, the adults at some point built a sandbox for us. It was of thin boards in a square, perhaps 6-10 inches high, with short thin boards over the corners to sit on. It had a lot of sand in it, and tulips partway around it. My brother and I used to play in it a lot, but later on the cats used it as a bathroom. We still played in it some, but not as much.

At the corner of the fence where the chickens were, where the fences crossed, directly across from them at an angle, with the long side of it toward the house, was a garden. It was fenced off from the rest on all sides, and had a little building at the corner where the fences joined, where some tools and things were kept. The garden had rows of different kinds of vegetables.

One time I went with my grandfather while he hoed the garden. He talked to me while he worked. He moved very slowly, as he went along the plants. After a while he sat down in the dirt, leaning to one side and rubbing his leg. I thought it was strange for him to sit down in the dirt like that, and stared at him, wondering about it. He cheerfully said that he had a charley horse in his leg. I had to ask him to repeat it, though I heard most of it. It didn't make any sense to me. I told my mother about it later, and asked what it meant. She said it meant that he had a cramp in his leg.

Another time, years earlier I think, it was winter and he had come back into the kitchen after being outside. He was trying to warm himself up, before going out again. He was wearing three pairs of socks and he was still cold. He stood there, moving slightly from one foot to the other I think, wearing a heavy coat, probably with his arms wrapped around him. I was there solemnly looking up at him from a few feet away, while he talked to my mother and grandmother, who were busy with something and sometimes were in other rooms. Sometimes he looked back at me.

He used to let me ride on his knee in the living room sometimes, while he sat there talking with other people. He would bounce me up and down a little, and say he was taking me down Old Morley, a street in town.

I remember one time I was out in the yard, and it was late in the day. I looked out toward the fields, in the direction of town, and saw him in a field, or perhaps between fields or on the edge of them, far away, a dark figure in silhouette, sideways to me, slowly walking. He was headed further out into the fields, but may have been going toward the path between fields, that led back toward home.

My grandfather had a somewhat square face, with high cheekbones, and his body was a bit heavy, but strong looking. He almost always wore overalls, along with some type of shirt. His name was Ernest Rice. I called him Grandpa.

I was, in part, named after him, with his first name becoming my middle name.

My grandfather's brother, Uncle Doc, I have only a few memories of interacting with. He was a small, slim man, who was quiet and generally cheerful, at least when he talked to me. He spent more time talking with adults, though.

He lived in a series of small rooms behind the garage, that were reached through a door at the far end of the long hallway. I think the rooms were basically the width of the sun porch, which ran along the rest of the house. He had some small furniture, dressers and shelves, along the wall on the left, and on the right was a closet, covered by curtains I think. Beyond that were one or two deep narrow bookcases, four or five feet high, made of very stiff gray unfinished wood. They were homemade. The wood had a very rough appearance, and I think was taken from old crates. Then the next room was the bedroom, very small, with the bed on the right. Beyond that was a bathroom.

He was called Doc because his parents had named him after the doctor that delivered him. He usually signed his name J.D. Rice, though.

The farm had a lot of people that worked there, at least sometimes, but there was one person who had his own house. He was a little old man named Charley Roe, and he had been with them at the other farm, too. His house was very small, and was not far from the fence that separated the yard from the chicken houses. Outside, in the front, it had a small rectangular area in front of it, that a short concrete walk went through to the door. The small rectangular area had very dark dirt and was damp, and was covered with low moss, like a carpet. He also had a tall barrel near the door that had dirt in it, and larger moss, that looked like an odd tangle of short fleshy growths with little flowers.

Inside, the house was basically divided into two rooms I think. The first one had an iron stove with four iron lids where the burners would be, and I think some kind of oven low on it, but it also had a big door on the front where wood or coal had to be put in. I'm not sure if he had any other source of heat, though it's possible he may have. The room had other furniture in it, a small table and one or more chairs, and probably some small shelves on the wall, perhaps even some cupboards, I'm not sure. I don't remember anymore whether he had his bed in there or in the other room. My mother didn't want us to go in the other room, she said that it was more private. I only got some glances at it. It seemed to have a lot of stuff stored in there.

The chicken yard had a large building where the baby chickens, that we called baby chicks, were kept at certain times of the year. The building was near the corner of the fences, a little way on the other side of the fences from the yard. It had a large room at the front, and another one that seemed to be mostly where some things were stored. When the building had baby chicks in it, they covered almost the whole floor of the first room. They were tiny fluffy things, and were constantly cheeping. If any of them got hurt, got pecked and got any blood on it, it had to be taken away from the others or they would kill it. It was because they instinctively pecked at small dots.

Across a dirt area, in the direction of town, was a chicken house where the adult chickens were. It was much smaller, and was made of boards that had gaps in them, so some air and light got in. Even so, it was fairly dim inside. My grandmother took us in there sometimes while she gathered the eggs. The inside had shelves along the walls where the chickens had their nests, with tiny wooden walls making separate areas on the shelves. She tried to explain to us how to gather the eggs. Apparently you had to just reach in there under the chicken, while trying not to upset it, because it might peck, while being careful not to break the eggs. I was too scared of the chickens to be any good at it, though, and I'm not sure if I ever gathered any of the eggs. I remember I tried to slowly put my hand under a chicken a few times, but the chicken would be jerkily moving its head around and back and forth, clucking and sometimes squawking, and I would get scared and pull my hand back. My grandmother would just reach right in though, even feel around under it to make sure she got any eggs that might be there.

The chicken yard frequently had a lot of chickens out in it, pecking at the dirt, looking for food. My grandmother would go in there with a basket or bowl of corn kernels, and would take handfuls out as she walked along, and throw it out in a bit of a sweeping motion, spreading it on the dirt.

It was interesting to watch the chickens, but I was a little afraid of them. Sometimes some of them would start to come toward me, which was scary. Sometimes one would even fly for a little bit, close to the ground, which was a lot scarier, and sometimes one of them would even manage to make it to the top of a fence post, and sometimes a few would get out of the chicken yard.

One time when I was little I was taken out to the barn and shown it. The opening to the barn was on the side away from the house. My grandfather was there, a little ways into the barn, and a lot of other people were in it, with things like shovels or pitchforks. I was told that it was being cleaned, and not to come in, I might step in something. I stood there while my mother talked to my grandfather for a while. The barn was very dim inside, made more so by my being out in the sun, but even after standing there for several minutes it didn't seem to improve. I could barely see anything. Just the dim shapes of the men and their tools, and what looked like a lot of straw on the ground. The rest was just vagueness, dark shapes in the dimness. After we had moved on a little, off to the side some, I told my mother that it was too dark in there, and I couldn't see anything. She was surprised, and said she hadn't had any trouble seeing.

Beside the barn, on the side away from town, on the ground by itself, was a small circular wooden cover, very old looking. I was told it was a cover for an old well that wasn't used anymore, and it was emphasized that I was not to step on it, because they didn't know how strong it was and it might give way and I would fall into the well and get killed. I stared at it while my mother talked to my grandfather some more. He was out beside the barn with us, and a few other people were around too, doing things. This might have been during the same visit to the barn, or it might have been during a different one.

Toward Charley's house was a strange old tree, that curved off into two massive trunks at a point perhaps a couple of feet above the ground. The bark was very dark on it, and thick. Something had happened to the trunk on the side toward the house, when I was very little I think, and it had to be cut off. It still stuck out quite a ways, perhaps three feet or so. The trunk on the other side, toward Charley's house, had several big branches, with a lower one with a porch swing on it. My brother and I used to sit in it sometimes, and sometimes my grandmother sat in it too. I remember her sitting there with big baskets of food that she was working on. She showed us how to shell peas and let us help her, and she also let us help her snap green beans. My mother may have joined in sometimes, too, and I think a time or two she worked on the vegetables without my grandmother.

Sometime in the early to mid 1960s the branch that held the swing split, while we were in the swing. It sagged quite a bit, and the branch still sagged some even when we got up. We didn't use the swing too much after that. Though the branch still held it up, it sagged so much and was so flexible now that it was too worrisome to sit in the swing for long, and especially to actually swing in it.

A few very small buildings, huts basically, were in the area on the other side of the gravel driveway, between it and the fence. One was a meat or smoke house, though I may be getting this wrong, and they may have been two different buildings. The dog house was also in this area, a fair distance from the house.

One or more other building were out in the pasture, about barn-sized, but not as far out as the barn. They were somewhat barn-like in appearance, with rough wooden exteriors. I think one or more old cars were there, some perhaps inside and some outside, and I think the tractors were kept there, too. A long machine was there, outside the buildings, that took kernels off corn cobs. I was shown how it worked. It took the corn cobs in very quickly, with a large grinding noise, putting the hard, separated kernels in some sort of bin and shooting the cobs out the other end. It was kind of scary and intimidating to see it work. Various other tools and equipment were also there. This may have also been the area where the large circular grinding stone was kept. If so, the buildings were fairly close to the fence, not far from the chicken houses.

The farm had three ponds. Two were normal in shape, more or less round, but one was small and shallow, and very elongated on the side toward town, finally petering out in a series of very long, very large connected puddles. This pond was near the fence that ran by the chicken area, on the other side of the fence from the farmhouse, and was so long it almost went all the way to the long gate.

Another pond was nearby, on the other side of the dirt road to the pasture, and on the house side of the fence, but enclosed in its own fence, with its own gate. Uncle Doc had built a small dock out of bricks on the shore near the gate, that went out into the water a little ways. In the 1960s, we fished in it sometimes, particularly one year in the mid '60s where I caught a lot. My grandmother cooked them for me, preparing them and breading and frying them in a pan, but I was reluctant to actually eat them, and I'm not sure I ate any.

The pond also had frogs in it. Many times in the 1960s, I would lay in bed, waiting for sleep, listening to them croak.

There was also what was apparently a well at the end of the first pond, within its own fence. There seemed to be a platform with some equipment there, maybe a pump. I'm not sure if it was actually the well we got water from, though I don't know of any others that might have been used. It should be noted that although it was right next to the pond, it did not get its water from the pond, although I used to think so. It had a shaft that went into the earth (though I never saw it, and to the best of my knowledge never actually went into the enclosure).

The well-water had an odd flavor. It was noticeable, but it didn't used to bother me too much. One time in the 1960s, though, it tasted so bad I could hardly bring myself to drink it. Even when made into iced tea it tasted bad. It was its regular taste, but amplified enormously. My mother was concerned about how it tasted to me and the trouble I had drinking it, but didn't seem to notice anything wrong with it herself. She said it was just the well-water, and after the iced tea tasted bad didn't have any other solutions.

The last pond was out in the pasture, probably over halfway to the barn. it was roughly circular, maybe even slightly square. It was a little ways off from the dirt road, but not too much, on the side away from town. The side of the pond toward the road was level with the ground, but the other side had a broad raised flat mound running along it, to hold the water in, because the ground fell away some on that side. Charley went into it sometimes, though I only saw him once or twice. The fish tended to want to bite some when he did. My father went in one time, gradually walking further out into the water, the water eventually getting up around his waist. He said a few times that something was biting him, and finally walked back out of it. I had been hoping to get to go in too, while at the same time being a little afraid of it, because the bottom would be uneven and it had actual live things in it, which might try to bite or eat me, and because it didn't really look very clean. I definitely wasn't going to go in it if something was actually biting, though I still felt some longing to do so.

One time I also saw a group of horses out there in a dirt area by the pond, on the end toward the barn, taking a dirt bath by laying down and rolling back and forth over the dirt, then twisting their bodies and getting back to their feet. I had gone out there with my brother and mother and maybe grandmother. We were taking a walk out to the pasture, which was basically almost everything out there, and just happened to come across them. Most of them were either finishing up or almost finished, and as we got closer they galloped away.

There were also some horses way out in the pasture, on the side toward town, in their own large fenced area. One of them was Old Tony, that my mother knew from when she was a girl. He would come up to the fence when he saw us coming, and my mother would pet and talk to him, and we pulled up some grass and fed it to him. It was a little scary to have him take the bunch of grass from my hand and eat it, because he was so big and his mouth was so powerful.

The farm had sheep and cattle too, and cows and few bulls. I would sometimes see some of them, usually from a distance. The sheep tended to be in compact herds, at least when I saw them. The others tended to be more separated.

There was a large salt lick for the animals, out in the pasture. I was told they liked to lick it. I never tried to do it myself. My mother even cautioned against it, saying the horses and cattle and other animals would have licked it and it was all dirty. I could see how that would be the case, but still I was curious, and a little saddened that I couldn't taste it to see what it was like. I even asked about the back side of it, that didn't appear to have had much usage, but she didn't want me to lick that either. I didn't really want to anyway, because I didn't really trust it; I could never know whether a place had been licked or not, even if it appeared to have not been worn away any. It was just a forlorn hope.

On rare occasions I sometimes saw a very tasty looking red clover, out among the grass and the regular clover. It was vaguely strawberry shaped, point upward, and looked something like the pulp of an orange, but red colored, and dry, more feathery in nature. I had a very strong urge to eat it, but I never did. Besides the concern about it not being washed, I didn't know how safe it would be, and wondered if might be poisonous to people, even if cattle ate it.

Continued in Part 3.

The house on the highway, Part 1
The house on the highway, Part 2
The house on the highway, Part 3
The house on the highway, Part 4
The house on the highway, Part 5
The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

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The house on the highway, Part 3

One time when I was very little, and we were in the living room-dining room area of the house, my brother and I were given beagle puppies as gifts. Mine came right at me, putting its front paws up on me and trying desperately to lick me, while I drew my face back. My mother was a few feet in front of me, leaning down and grinning. I could see the other dog going after my brother, and him looking uncertain. He was pretty little, still wearing a diaper. He was pulling himself to his feet, leaning on something for support. He was turned away from the dog but his head was partly turned back, looking more toward me and our mother than at the dog. My mother later said the dog kept trying to lick his wet diaper. They decided that we were really too young for the dogs, and after a while they were kept in a dog house on the other side of the gravel driveway, off to the side quite a bit, in the direction of town.

Sometime in the 1960s, my parents got a small horse for us, and we took it to the farm in the car. It stood there, on the floor in front of the back seat. We tried to talk to it and keep it calm, if I remember correctly. My father tried to teach my brother and me to ride, but it was a slow process, eventually abandoned. We had to take turns, too, with just one of us being on the horse at a time. I remember one time, out in the pasture, at night, my brother was sitting on the horse and my father was talking to him and trying to hold the horse steady. I was standing a ways off behind them, watching, feeling kind of bored since I had nothing to do at the moment. I had already been on the horse for a while myself, I think, but now I had nothing to do but wait. All of a sudden the horse took off running, and my father was standing there, holding my brother in the air by the back of his pants. It was a strange sight, surprising and amusing, especially when talked about later. I marvelled some, too, that my father was strong enough to do that, to hold my brother out there like that with one hand, like my brother was a toy. I'm not sure what became of the horse, or whether we eventually got it back or not. That may have been the last attempt at riding it.

My grandparents had a very large metal barrel out near the fence, on the town side of the path to the chicken house, on our side of the fence, in a mostly barren area, where they burned trash. I watched them do it sometimes. The adults would stand around and talk to each other, and keep an eye on it. One time there was a large plastic tub, wider than it was tall, that used to contain ice cream. It was a cloudy plastic, partly transparent, and may have been a half gallon, though it seems bigger than that, perhaps even a gallon. I kept an eye on it, being intensely curious about what would happen. It wasn't made of anything normal, like wood or paper, and I couldn't imagine what would happen to it. Would it even burn? I watched the fire get closer to it, and burn things behind it and then beside it, but still nothing was happening to it. It just stayed as it was. Then, all of a sudden, it it seemed to collapse in on itself, going in from the sides, folding over into a much smaller thing, full of rounded folds and wrinkles, then collapsing still more and turning darker, finally catching fire. I had no idea it would act like that, but now I knew. It was fascinating. I remarked on it to my mother, I think, and maybe to one of the men, too.

Another time, years later, the fire was left unattended. The adults, which would have included my mother and father and grandmother, and maybe Charley, went back to the house. I was still out in the area with my brother, though, playing. It may have been the early to mid 1960s. The fire got out of the barrel, drifting up and out on one or more burning pieces, and started burning the sparse grass. I discussed it with my brother. The fire was slowly making its way toward the building where sometimes baby chicks were kept. I didn't know if the fire would end there, when it ran out of grass, or might possibly catch the building on fire. I was nervously arguing that maybe it was alright, that maybe they intended for it to happen and didn't care, that nothing bad was going to happen, but my brother thought differently, and kept saying that we should tell someone. I think we had stomped on part of it, that had been going the other direction, putting a lot of it on that side out. I didn't want to believe that the adults would have created a situation where something bad might happen, and that it would be left to us, the kids, to save the day. I finally went back to the house and nervously told them, that the fire had gotten out of the barrel, drifted out on the wind, and was burning the grass and was heading for the chicken house. They were very surprised, and I had to repeat it a time or two. Then we all went back out to the area. My brother was still stamping at it, and maybe hitting it with something. The fire had died down some as it approached the chicken house, but was still slowly heading for it. They quickly went to work and put it out.

A bread truck used to come by sometimes, perhaps every week or so, and my grandmother would look at what he had, while the driver talked to her. He brought in a display of the items in a bunch of shelves on something on wheels. It didn't seem like a cart, it was more of a display case. One time I saw that he had a strange cake. I was fascinated by it, I had never had anything like it. I was told it was a coconut cake. The cake was finally bought, by either my grandmother or mother, and I was served a piece. I was too worried by the strangeness of it to eat much of the icing, though.

We sometimes had ice cream too, that my mother bought at the store. Back in those days we generally just had one flavor, chocolate I think. One day my mother brought home a different flavor, vanilla I think. I was baffled and very suspicious of it. My mother kept insisting it was ice cream, just a different flavor. It didn't look like ice cream to me. I finally tried it though, and it was very good. It's possible I could have the flavors reversed, but I don't think so.

The house had a party line phone, which meant that the phone number was shared with several neighbors, and each neighbor had a distinctive ring. When the phone would ring, the adults would listen to see if it was for this house. I was told what our ring was, but I never learned it, it seemed too hard, and I was too afraid of getting it wrong. It was possible to listen in to a neighbor's call if you picked up the phone, but you weren't supposed to, and I never did. It was also possible to pick up the phone to call someone, and find it already in use. In that case you had to hang up and try again later, or ask the people using it to hang up so you could make a call.

We were told to stay away from the phone during a storm. They knew of someone whose phone was hit by lightning and it blew it off the wall.

It rained, and stormed, in Missouri a lot. I was told that if the farmers didn't get rain for two weeks, they considered it a drought. Sometimes it stormed very bad, with lots of thunder and lightning. The thunder was very loud, with tremendous sharp crashes that would shake the house. We sometimes also worried about tornadoes.

One time in the mid 1960s my brother and I tried to grow a plant from a potato chunk. My grandmother helped us set it up. After a few days it was doing very well, and eventually had a nice sized plant. We decided to try to color the leaves and stems then. We had heard that putting ink or maybe food colors, or something like that, in the water would cause it to be taken up by the plant and make the plant partly that color. Unfortunately we used the wrong thing, and put water colors or maybe even some tempera paint in the water. Evidently it was too thick and clogged the plant's veins, and it wilted and died, even though I tried putting different water in it at one point.

My brother and I sometimes played hide and seek. Sometimes we played outside, among the bushes in the area toward the fence that had the chickens on the other side. A lot of times we played inside, though, hiding in different areas of the house. We were still doing it when our sister was old enough to play with us, in the mid 1960s. One time I hid in the small, square closet of the bedroom that was near the kitchen (the closet was on the side toward the kitchen, too), and pulled clothes and towels and washcloths out of the shelves and drawers there until they completely covered me and lay in a jumbled mess all around me. They looked in a few times, not seeing me. They looked all over the house for me, and finally came back to the closet, and stood there looking in at the mess, talking with each other. My brother finally said that he couldn't imagine anyone being under that. They finally moved off, still discussing me and where I might be. I could hear my mother sometimes talking too. My brother said they couldn't find me. He didn't know where I went, but I didn't seem to be in the house. I finally got out and went to them, and explained where I had been.

Sometimes they took me out walking in the fields, in the paths that ran by them, and I saw the plants growing. Some of the plants were things like turnips or radishes, and my grandfather or another person would temporarily move some of the dirt away to see how they were doing. Sometimes a lot of men were quickly working at harvesting them, going along the rows, pulling turnips out of the ground, maybe sometimes potatoes too. One time they let me do it for a while, and I found it was very hard to pull the turnips out. I was very little, but I felt I should be strong enough, but it felt very hard to do, and I was much slower than the men at it. The men were so fast it was shocking, almost scary. I didn't do it for very long. I felt I should be strong enough, even though I knew I was just a little kid, and it bothered me that they could do it so easily, and it was so hard for me.

One time, when I was walking out in the fields with my father, we walked for a long time, and we came to an area where we were going through heavy mud, because it had rained earlier. I guess the ground in the other areas was stiffer, and maybe in some places had some grass, so it wasn't too bad to walk through. Here, though, I left big footprints, and the mud clung to my shoes, probably rubber galoshes, and then more mud clung over that, while the mud on the ground sucked at my feet when I tried to lift them out. It got harder and harder. I was very little, and it was very tiring, and I fell further and further behind. My father kept on walking, while talking to me some. Finally he stopped and turned around, quite a ways ahead of me, and looked back at me where I stood glued to the ground. He said something about the mud being heavy, wasn't it, and walked back to me. I think he may have picked me up and carried me for a while after that.

One time my grandmother made a picnic, and she took us in the pasture, down the dirt road and then to the left of the barn. We came to a tree with branches that spread out particularly in one direction, the direction away from town, and roots that spread out that way, too. My grandmother put a sheet on the ground and we had the picnic there, under the branches. A little ways off I could see an animal path, a narrow irregular trail worn through the grass, that I think the sheep had made, that led off in the direction away from town. It felt very pleasant out there.

In the mid 1960s, when we stayed there at the farm again, I used to take long walks on the uneven dirt road that led out to the barn. Sometimes it was very cold, with the wind blowing strongly in my face, so cold and hard it hurt my skin. One time I turned around and tried walking backwards for a little while, a few feet, but it was awkward and I was still cold, so I gave it up and started walking normally again. There wasn't a lot to do on the farm, and the walk helped to keep me occupied for a while.

In the walk, I tended to go out to the barn, sometimes around it maybe, then head away from town, going past the tree where we had had the picnic, near the animal path, sometimes maybe even along it for a while, going out far, to where a barbed wire fence finally crossed the area, then going along the fence back in the direction of the highway.

I finally found at the corner of the fence, where a section of land rose just before the corner and then dipped down on a small slope, a place there on the slope where some moss was growing. I had read that moss grew on the north side of a slope, and had been looking for an example of it. I guessed that the slope must face north, since it had moss on it, though I had no independent verification for it. On the raised area I also one time found something else I had been looking for. I had read about a type of fungus that looked something like a small irregular dark rock, even kind of spongy looking, and finally saw such a thing there. If it was stepped on, a cloud of spores was supposed to be released. I stared at it for a while. If it was the fungus, I wasn't sure it was a good idea to release the spores. I also didn't want to badly damage it or kill it, just to check to see what it was.

I finally went ahead and stepped on it. I had to know if it was the fungus, and not something else. It squashed almost flat, like stepping on a sponge, and a dark cloud came from it. I quickly moved away, trying not to breathe, unsure of whether the spores were harmful. The book hadn't said anything about whether they were or not. The fungus seemed to mostly restore its shape when I took my foot off, so maybe I hadn't damaged it too bad. I left the area quickly, though, and worried about the spores for a long time afterward.

One time in the mid 1960s, in the winter when the pond had ice on it, my brother and I walked around it looking at it, and walked on the ice, keeping fairly close to the edge, where it was shallow and where we could presumably get out if the ice broke. The ice really was not thick enough. It had lots of cracks, basically where it was actually split but still jammed together, and it creaked and moved and even shifted some while we walked over it, all around the pond, within a few feet of the shore. It was slippery, too, and one or both of us fell down on it. I'm pretty sure that I did, but I'm not sure that he did. Our mother had strongly warned us not to get on the ice, that it might break and we might fall in and get killed. I was talking about it when I got back, including walking on the ice near the edge of it. She looked at me horrified, and was warning us again, and saying you didn't go on the ice did you? Even though I had just said that we did, she didn't seem to want to believe it, too horrified at the thought. This was the first pond, because it was in the area where the house was, whereas the rest of the ponds were not.

Sometimes in the summer the adults would set off firecrackers, sometimes putting them under cans and then running away. A few times they were also put in holes in the old stump that was at the side of the tree that had the swing. The explosions would blow off pieces of wood, usually not very much, though. My brother and I got to set off some of the firecrackers ourselves when we were older, in the 1960s.

Sometimes they had other types of fireworks, too, including things on little sticks that shot up into the sky. We also had sparklers, that we could wave around making patterns in the air, and little things that when lit slowly grew into little worm-like things that twisted and moved, and cherry bombs that we could make explode by throwing them hard at the ground.

When my brother and I first rode bicycles, we used training wheels. Eventually, when we were older, we tried to learn to ride without them. Our father helped us sometimes, holding the bicycle and then pushing it along to get it going. When it was going at a fair rate of speed it was easy to keep it upright, but when it was going slower it was more difficult, and I found it almost impossible to actually start it going. He had removed the top bar from the frame, making it easier to get on it, but I still found it very difficult to ride unassisted.

We sometimes used the slope beside the farm house to practice. The bicycle would get rolling fast fairly quickly, so the awkward early part didn't last long. However the rest was also a bit awkward, as we were going over lumpy grass and slightly uneven ground, and were going pretty fast pretty quickly. It was difficult to control it under those conditions, and I had to keep looking at the ground to avoid the worst areas, then had to stop before hitting the wire fence, or without hitting it too hard. Stopping meant putting my legs down and walking it to a stop.

One time, I was paying too much attention to the ground, and ran into one of the trees, hitting the handlebar and my knuckles on it, which hurt. I had seen it at the last minute, but was unable to avoid it. The grassy slope was too uncertain for me to feel safe making sharp turns on, and I wasn't sure I could do it and still maintain my balance.

The line of trees there, widely separated, were of at least two types, maybe more. I don't know what types they were, though I remember being told what some of them were. One time I found a rotten acorn on the slope, so I guess at least one of them was an oak. At least two of them, I think, had odd twisted little pods for seeds, which corkscrewed through the air as they fell, landing farther from the tree than they otherwise would have done.

One time, when there was a lot of snow on the ground, we made a huge snow fort, with the help of the adults, including my father. We used Uncle Doc's crutches from the garage for supports. He used them when he was recovering from the stroke he got back when he was 70, but he hadn't needed them for a long time. We were finishing it up when it got to be time to go in for supper. We talked about how we could go out and play in it the next day, and what we might do. Somehow we didn't, though, and spent most of the day inside. I'm not sure we ever did anything with it again, though it weighed on my mind.

We also had a small log fort that was out in one of the pastures, on the side toward town. It was built one summer in the early 1960s, again with help from the adults, including I think farm hands in this case. Unlike the snow fort, the log fort was very low. The next year when we went back, we were told not to go in it, that it might have snakes. Sometimes when I was in that pasture, I looked wistfully at it, from a distance, at it out there in the grass, partly overgrown by it. I could sometimes see a farmhand riding a machine harvesting, or at least cutting down, whatever was growing in the pasture, but of course he couldn't do it where the logs were, so the grass there didn't get cut.

A neighbor on the town side was a woman farmer. Her name was Pauline. Sometimes when we were out walking in the fields, she would come over and talk to who was with us, generally my mother and/or grandmother; sometimes someone else was there too, or instead, and sometimes she talked a little to my brother and me. She was somewhat heavyset and always wore overalls, and always seemed cheerful. Later, when we were back in Arizona, she sent us a book about art, showing things famous artists had done (my brother and I were interested in art). She also sent us a very large decorated stein, with a forest scene.

Sometimes my grandmother would make doughnuts, and we would help her. She would make the dough and then roll it out, sprinkling flour on it to keep it from sticking. She would use drinking glasses to cut the doughnuts out with, and then clean ketchup bottles to cut the holes out with (ketchup bottles were made of glass in those days). She would show us how to do it and we would then try it. The ends of the glasses and ketchup bottles had to be spun in the flour on the table, or the dough would start sticking to them and not want to come out. This was particularly awkward with the ketchup bottles, as the doughnut hole was much harder to get out if it got stuck, particularly if three or more were in there. Then she would fry the doughnuts in a frying pan, with lots of white Crisco. They were very good.

She also made candy sometimes, with Hershey's Cocoa. After cooking, it was poured onto plates which had been heavily greased with margarine, and then it had to cool. It was very soft when still warm, but got harder as it cooled, finally getting very hard, especially after a day or two. It was very good, and I wanted to keep on eating it. It was hard to stop.

She also made pies, sometimes round ones and sometimes long rectangular cobblers. Cherry was the most frequent flavor, but she also sometimes did apple and I think even peach.

She liked to make doorstops, too, both round and rectangular. I think she used metal coffee cans or other food containers for the round ones, filling them with something for the weight, and sewing cloth around them. The rectangular ones I think were large wood blocks, pieces that had been cut from fence-post size wood, that she had covered with cloth.

In the 1960s she also made some yarns dolls for us, showing us how to do it. She would get a big bunch of yarn, cut a lot of strands to a particular length, around 12-14 inches, then fold it over. She would then tie off the top part for the head, then tie off strands for the arms, waist, and legs.

She also made toy horses for us to ride, with old stuffed socks for the heads and broomsticks for the body.

My grandmother had some ferns that she kept in the house. My mother talked about how when she was little she liked to slide her fingers along the stems, popping the leaves off. She showed us and we tried it. It was fun, with kind of an odd feeling when they just popped right off. I felt kind of guilty doing it, since it must have been damaging the plants. We did several strands, but then we were told to stop, because if we did too much it might kill the plants. I eventually went back, though, and popped the leaves off all the stems. I felt bad doing it, but it just seemed so fascinating that it was hard to stop. Afterward, my mother was saying, "Why did you do that? I told you not to. They're going to die now." I was hoping that maybe the ferns might grow some more leaves, but she said they wouldn't, that they would die. I still hoped that somehow they would live. I remember the ferns being there in the pots afterwards, for days, with just the green stems, but I don't remember them getting more leaves.

Much, much later, in Arizona, I bought several plants for my grandmother's yard, and over time filled up her house with artificial plants, most of them silk flowers, given to her for Christmas and Mother's Day and her birthday. They were everywhere, in an explosion of color. A person who saw them remarked that someone must love her very much.

Her name was Lola Pearl Rice, and she sometimes said that she was an Albert, and talked about her family, and them moving to Missouri from Iowa.

I called her Mom, instead of Grandma, because Mom is what my mother called her. My mother tried and tried to get me to stop, giving me one arguement after another, but I refused, insisting that she called her Mom, so that was what I was going to call her. My mother said that she called her that because she was her mother, but she was my grandmother. She said that I didn't call her father Daddy. Of course I didn't, Daddy was my father. Mom, however, was Mom. She could not convince me otherwise.

My grandmother was Mom, but my mother was Mommy, so there was no confusion in the names. And so it remained that way, forever.

One time, after she had moved to Arizona, near us, she told me that the neighborhood children called her Grandma Rice. So she did eventually get called Grandma after all, even if not by her grandchildren.

In the 1960s, when we would stay there at the farm for a month at the end of the summer, and then when we moved back for a while in the mid 1960s, I spent a lot of time reading books that I found there. I read some fairy tale books and children's stories, and also some old books my mother had had when she was young, including school books, and some Nancy Drew and Kay Tracey books. I liked Kay Tracey a lot more than Nancy Drew. My favorite Kay Tracey book was "Beneath the Crimson Brier Bush."

My mother showed us some of her old dolls, too. One was a fairly large one, that closed its eyes when laid down. When its eyes were open, though, they had a disturbing feature. My mother already knew about it, and was smiling and telling us to look at the eyes. The eyes seemed to be looking at you no matter where you were, like they were following you around. They didn't actually move, it was an illusion caused by how they were made. The colored part was somewhat sparkling and was dished, with clear plastic or glass over it. It was kind of creepy to feel like the doll was watching you.

She also had some old teddy bears, that were very stiff, and had movable arms and legs, like regular dolls.

There were a lot of little figures of various kinds in the square closet of the bedroom by the kitchen, a lot of them very old. There were more of them back on the upper shelves of the short hallway with the red curtain. Some of them may have been ceramic elves, but most of them were other things, some of them Oriental, and even some native girls. Some seemed related to movies or cartoons. One figure was a very odd Donald Duck. It had the traditional sailor cap and coat, but it had a small head with a long narrow bill. The head sat on a too-long skinny neck, with a big round stomach under it.

I never played with the little figures. We were cautioned not to, we were just to look at them. They seemed very strange to me, anyway. Most of them didn't look like toys, and those that might have been, looked like they were so old they weren't really toys anymore, just keepsakes.

We had a lot of toys of our own, though. When I was little, I used to play a lot with jigsaw puzzles. They were wooden with large pieces, and I would put them together over and over again. One of them had a big rabbit in the lower portion of it. Another one was of the United States, back when it had 48 states, and there were other puzzles. I had several. I kept them in a box, I think. When I got older, I was given puzzles with more pieces, but I still did the old ones, too. My mother used to help me, and we would talk about the puzzles and what was in them.

I had lots of other toys too, including wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, white plastic Block City Blocks, stuffed toys, various metal or wood toys, a large metal top that hummed when pumped with its twisted metal rod, and many other things. Later on I was given a large stuffed panda bear that I called Joe Bear. My brother was given a similar one, but a different color. We also had large stuffed dog toys with the legs out to the sides, that we liked to sit and lay on. We had lots of coloring books too, and I would spend a lot of time coloring them, sometimes with my mother helping me.

My mother would read to us a lot, at bedtime and other times. We had a lot of children's books, Little Golden Books, Tell-A-Tale books, and others. Sometimes my mother would play a game with us when she would say, "I am the giant, great and still, who sits upon the pillow hill." She later said that she did it when she was tired.

Continued in Part 4.

The house on the highway, Part 1
The house on the highway, Part 2
The house on the highway, Part 3
The house on the highway, Part 4
The house on the highway, Part 5
The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

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The house on the highway, Part 4

At some point we moved to town, to a house on Morley. My father had it moved there from a different location, and a lot of work had to be done on it afterward. I remember we visited there one time while they were working on the kitchen, which was very small, just a set-off part of a much larger room, with a counter and cupboards and appliances. A man was on his knees in the kitchen laying pinkish brownish floor tiles, spreading out a sweep of grooved dark glue lines and then setting the tiles in it, working very fast.

One time on the farm my mother came to me and showed me some of my wooden puzzles. She said the workmen had gotten paint on them when they were working. She said it was an accident, though I also got the impression that they weren't overly concerned about it. She said there was nothing she could do to get it off. The paint was basically in globs, sometimes broad, over parts of the puzzles, like some had been slopped out and fell on them, though they also had some spatters and drips. I was saddened by it, but I realized that there was nothing I could do. I continued to play with them, though I was always bothered by it.

When we finally moved in, I went right to the cupboards in the kitchen, under the counter, and opened the doors to see if there was food in there. I had been very worried that there wouldn't be, or wouldn't be very much. I was very surprised to find that they were full of cans. I mentioned it to my mother, who had come up behind me and to the side. She said something like, "Yes, we have food," seeming to be gently amused by my concerns.

Years later, there was some confusion in my mind about how old I was when we moved in. For a long time I thought I was 4, but it eventually came to me that that couldn't be right, that too many years had passed there. It seems likely that I was 2, based both on my sense of a passage of a lot of years there and on how old my brother was at the time. When we moved there, I'm pretty sure he was still crawling. My mother disagreed, but I remember my father made a barrier across the stairs so that my brother couldn't go down them. It was just a board, something I could step over, but he couldn't because he was still crawling.

Another factor in this is that my father was on active duty in the Air Force until his discharge in June of 1956. If we moved then or shortly before, I still would have been 2 years old, though only a few months from 3. If we moved in late summer or early fall, I would have been 3. However, my brother would have been approaching a year and a half or even a little older, and should have been able to walk by that time. Maybe he did walk and just crawled on occasion. If I remember correctly, the board was down a little ways from the top of the stairs. My brother might have crawled when attempting to go down the stairs, and then been unable to get past the board. I remember being up there, though, and trying to herd him away from the stairs, while he gleefully tried to reach them, and I see him in my mind as crawling then. My mother was downstairs and told me to keep an eye on him, and keep him away from the stairs. However, I can also see him standing, holding onto something to his right for support, maybe the post by the stairs. It's hard to say if the memory is as early as the other one, though.

If we moved there a year earlier, or almost a year earlier, he would have definitely been crawling, and I would have been approaching 2 years old or maybe a little after 2. It wouldn't match my mother's memory of him being able to walk, though. The most likely explanation, I guess, is that my brother could walk, but sometimes crawled when presented with something difficult, such as the stairs. That would put my age at almost 3 or just barely 3.

A complication in this is that I also had to keep my brother, and years later my sister, away from the opening to the long hallway back on the farm. Sometimes the door was left open in the kitchen, and the drop-off to the hallway was a big step down, and they didn't want them crawling over it and falling down into the hallway. I would try to distract them and play with them, ultimately pushing them back, while they kept gleefully trying to crawl over to it. This sounds very much like what was happening with the stairs at the house in town, and it's possible I could have confused the images, but I don't think so.

We still went back to the farm often, to visit the people there, and usually had Sunday dinner there. I remember one time, maybe a two or three years after we had moved, going out in the rain to get into the car to go there.

On September 5, 1959, around 2:30 AM, my grandfather died, at the age of 85. I don't remember anything about it, just what I was told. My mother said he had been sick for a while, and the night he died the dogs kept trying to get into the house. She said that after he died, he kept coming back for a long time. She gave an exact number of days, but I don't remember what it was anymore. It might have been close to two weeks, maybe even close to three, or it could have been something like 12 days. She said she could hear his footsteps coming down the hall, and then he would stop and talk to her mother. She couldn't see him, but her mother could. And though she loved her father, she was afraid of him now, because he was a ghost, and she hid in her room. Each night she could hear his footsteps, though. She said that he talked to her mother for a long time each night, maybe for hours, I'm not sure. He finally said that he had to stop, though, that he couldn't come anymore, that he was only allowed that amount of time. He didn't come after that.

On July 9, 1960, around 9:00 PM, Uncle Doc died, at the age of 90. We had just been at the hospital visiting him. We had been there for quite a while. They were expecting him to get better, so I was told, and it was late at night, and we were finally going to leave now. He didn't want my mother to go, though, she told me later. Before we left, she asked if I wanted to see him. She cautioned me that he had a lot of tubes going into him, and not to be scared by it. She took me in to see him, but the light was so dim it was hard to really tell much, though she didn't seem to be having any trouble herself. I could see a small figure on the bed, under the sheets with the head and maybe arms showing, with some vague equipment around him, including a few tubes, but it was hard to tell where they went or even if they went to him. I couldn't even make out enough of his face to recognize him. I said something about not being able to see very well, but she acted surprised at it. I think I said something to him at her prompting, though I don't remember what now. I'm not sure he said anything back, maybe a muffled groan, but maybe not even that. I was a little scared, apprehensive, about being there in the room with him, maybe because it seemed so odd. Normally I got along well with him, but here I couldn't even recognize him.

We went home then, a long drive, because the hospital was in another town. My brother and I evidently slept part of the way. My mother said that she was talking to my father as he drove back, and that somewhere along the way she said to him, "Oh, there's a cloud that looks like Uncle Doc." Or, perhaps, "That's funny. There's a cloud that looks like Uncle Doc." Something like that. My father said that it meant that he had died. At least that's the best I can remember it, from what she said. When she got home the phone was ringing, and when she answered it she was told that he had died. I went to his funeral, but I still couldn't recognize him. I don't remember anything about my grandfather's funeral, and my mother said that my brother and I didn't go to it, she felt we were too young.

Sometime after the school year ended in 1960, we moved away. I didn't want to leave, but I understood we had to. My father had bronchitis, and his lungs couldn't take the cold and the dampness anymore. He was gone for a while, looking for a place for us to live. He finally came back one night, while I was sitting at a small table working on something, perhaps a puzzle or a game, or maybe even a drawing or coloring in a coloring book. My mother had gotten a phone call earlier and was expecting him. I stayed at the table, working, while my mother went to the door. I was glad he came back but I wanted to finish what I was doing first, before I went and talked to him. She opened the door, and I could feel the cool night air come in. She stood there, talking to him for a while, while I continued working. I hoped to get done while he was still at the door, but after a bit he came to me and stood there, on the other side of the table from me. After a pause he said, "Well. Aren't you glad to see me?" I continued to look down at what I was doing, and said yes, but I wanted to finish this first. I continued working, feeling somewhat guilty, and eventually got it finished and then went and stood near where they were talking, my father standing while my mother worked at something, a few feet away. He occasionally turned his head and looked at me, and eventually I did get to say something to him, briefly.

Initially we went to a house in California, and spent the summer there, or what was left of it. I remember that the salesman pointed out that the house, on the back yard side, had an outside door to the bathroom, so kids didn't have to run through the house tracking dirt on the floor to get to it. I also remember that I was greatly dismayed when I walked out into the back yard in my bare feet, with the dry stiff grass poking them like little spikes. The grass out here was certainly different, not soft at all. There was some kind a decorative pool out in the back yard too, something built with a low circular wall of gray bricks or blocks, with a gray concrete bottom. I'm not sure it actually contained water, though we may have filled it sometimes. For years it felt like we only stayed there for two weeks, though I was corrected decades later, even by my younger brother, that it was all summer. It seems likely that we moved sometime after Uncle Doc died, though, so we may have just stayed there for a month or so.

Before school started, for second grade, we moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, eventually to two houses there, but we moved again before the end of the school year. I finished second grade in Phoenix, and we ended up moving to a second house there, too, and then eventually to Scottsdale, right before third grade started.

We usually went back to Missouri, to the house on the highway, for a month late in the summer. We would drive out there, generally in two cars I think, and then my father would drive back to Arizona. Before school started he would drive back to Missouri to get us, and then we would all go back to Arizona. It was a very long trip, around 1400 miles one way, if I remember correctly. I think we generally took three days to do it.

One summer we didn't go back. The previous summer Charley was upset, and told my mother that he wasn't going to see her again. She tried to reassure him that he would, but he still didn't think so. The year after the summer we didn't go back, on February 2, 1965, he died, at the age of 80. We went back for the funeral. My mother cried a lot at it. He didn't look the same to me as he lay there. He just looked like a little old man, in a generic sense, and not like the one I knew. I knew it was him, though, and I was sad, with tears in my eyes sometimes. It somehow felt like he wasn't really there, though, that it wasn't really him, even if it was his body.

I tried to comfort my mother, but she spent a lot of time crying, and there didn't seem to be anything I could really do. Time stretched on. Sometimes people talked to each other, and sometimes more people came in. Most of the people looked old, though not all. It seemed to be taking a very long time, with nothing really happening, but I was still just a kid. They were probably waiting for everyone to arrive, before they started giving the speeches, although they may have had a scheduled time for it. The small room was filled fairly well, a lot of people came to the funeral. My mother later said that he would have been proud to know so many people came.

We moved back to Missouri in late 1965, and stayed with my grandmother in the house on the highway. We thought my father's lungs had healed enough, but it eventually turned out not to be so.

We stayed there at the farm for several months, though we eventually moved to a place in town, an old two story house with a lot of problems, in a residential neighborhood, with streets paved with bricks. In the winter, there was sometimes snow on the ground, and my brother and I sometimes went sledding down a steep snow covered street, along with to some extent my sister, though she was still pretty little. In warmer weather, I planted some marigolds in the remains of an old stump, that was on our front lawn, out near the road. I recently saw where my mother wrote that I had planted moss there. I don't remember it, but perhaps I planted some with the marigolds, some of the large moss like Charley had had in the barrel.

The trees in the neighborhood had lots of squirrels in them, up on the branches chattering and eating, and sometimes running in little spurts on the lawns. Occasionally one would get hit by a car, and its remains would stay there on the bricks of the roads for a while.

It was evident during the winter that my father was not going to be able to stay there, but we didn't move away until the middle of the summer. I remember on the last day, being back at the farm again, as we were getting things ready to leave. The weather had a somewhat threatening feel, as if it might storm again. There were a lot of clouds, broad, somewhat banded I think, and below them small, low, gray flat-bottomed clouds raced along, going in the direction away from town, looking astoundingly three-dimensional, almost solid. The air felt a little damp, though not as damp as sometimes, and alive, though not as alive as it had sometimes been. The aliveness would disappear in Arizona, along with the dampness, along with the 3-D clouds, and along with the explosion of greenery that was everywhere. My mother hated Arizona, but it felt more like home to me now.

Continued in Part 5.

The house on the highway, Part 1
The house on the highway, Part 2
The house on the highway, Part 3
The house on the highway, Part 4
The house on the highway, Part 5
The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

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The house on the highway, Part 5

My grandmother came out to Arizona around 1967, eventually buying the house we lived in at the time. We moved to a different house in the same neighborhood, then moved again to another one, still not very far away from my grandmother.

In 1972, we took a trip back to Missouri to the town we used to live in, driving there in a new Chevrolet van, green with a white top, that replaced our 1964 Chevrolet station wagon. Unfortunately it was not as car-like as hoped, and my mother hated it. We stayed in Missouri for several days, at a motel a little ways from town. When we went and looked at the farm house, from the road, slowly driving by it, we found that the place was neglected, and the hedge had grown up into trees.

Within a few months of returning to Arizona, we got a 1973 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, light blue with a white top. It was a very large, luxurious station wagon, with a tailgate that electrically slid under the floor and a back window that electrically slid up into the roof. My mother loved that car.

On December 15, 1984, my grandmother died at the age of 90. After a funeral here, my mother took a trip back to Missouri, for a funeral for her there also. My grandmother was buried there, in Missouri, in a place that had already been prepared for her. I just attended the first funeral, in Arizona. My grandmother lay there in the casket, with too much wax and too much makeup on, looking only a little like herself. I felt she wasn't really there, though, that she had left, and this was just what was left behind, almost like a doll, something that wasn't really her anymore. I cried a lot at the funeral, though. I cried a lot.

My mother and brother, and some others too perhaps, flew back to Missouri for the second funeral. The funeral was held a little too quickly though, too soon for a lot of people to find out about it. A lot of people later said they would have gone, if they had known about it in time.

Perhaps some weeks later, I was coming into the house through the carport door, and saw my mother sitting at the kitchen table, her back to me. My grandmother was sitting in a chair beside her, sideways to her, wearing one of her purple dresses, a small peaceful smile on her face. I paused there in the doorway, stunned. I think I blinked and shook my head a bit, and suddenly my grandmother was gone, in her place a large, but much smaller, plastic doll wearing a small purple dress. I remarked on it to my mother, telling her what I had seen. Then, or a few days later, she told me that other people had seen her there too, and maybe she should move the doll. My mother later told me, decades later, though I think she might have briefly said something at the time, that she had seen her out in the backyard, looking at things.

In October of 1997, my mother took another trip back to Missouri with my brother, again by plane. He had offered to take her, and initially she had thought she wouldn't go, but then felt that this might be her last chance. She got to visit with some old friends, and my brother drove her to the area of the first farm, the one she had grown up on. The coal company had dug up the whole area long ago, long before we moved away, and had torn the houses down, leaving just a chimney standing. They never found any coal, though, and went out of business. The whole area had been restored since then, and now looked normal, and my mother could even recognize some areas.

The house on the highway, three miles from town, turned out to be a surprise, though. They found that it had been destroyed, perhaps by a tornado. One had gone through the downtown area, only a few miles away, on July 4, 1995. Perhaps it was that one, or another, or even something else. However it was done, it was completely gone, just boards laying over and in the basement. My mother and brother could see past the boards into the basement, and some of the old equipment and things were still down there. It looked too dangerous to try to get down there though, so she brought back a board wrapped in paper. It was a thin flat board, perhaps four feet or so long, with part of the edges split off. We never unwrapped it, except for perhaps a very small place, but I plan to some day.

She never made it back to Missouri again. My mother's health declined, and it became impossible for her to travel long distances. She was sometimes in the hospital every few months, and had several close calls. Nevertheless, there were times when she felt better, and we continued to hope for the future. She was usually able to get up and do things, but as time passed this became more difficult for her, though she still tried.

One time at my sister's house, probably sometime in the last two or three years, my mother saw her mother, my grandmother, again. My grandmother brought her pink roses, and told her that she couldn't visit her as often now, because she, my grandmother, was going to the next level. I arrived at the house after it happened, but everyone was talking about it. My mother was in the living room by then, but they showed me the area by the kitchen table where it happened, and where the roses were left. Looking at it, I could see an odd pinkness there, in the whole area, and something else, and my glance kept going there, to the pinkness. When I was asked if I could see them, and if they were three dimensional, I looked again and thought and concentrated and realized that I could. Initially it was vague, just a suggestion of a shape, almost like a faint three-dimensional ink drawing, with the suggestion of petals, but then suddenly, briefly, it was fully there.

My mother passed away late on November 8, 2010, at the age of 79. The funeral had an amazing amount of people, most of whom I didn't know, and I doubt she did. I guess they were friends of the other people. As it had been with my grandmother, my mother had too much wax on her. She also had the skin of her face pulled down into folds around her neck, which seemed very odd, and certainly wasn't how she looked in life. Like my grandmother at her funeral, she had lipstick on. My grandmother didn't wear any in life, not while I knew her, and although my mother had occasionally worn red lipstick when she was younger, she had not done so for a long time. The bright red color looked odd against the pale bland color they had made her face, but I think she would have wanted the lipstick on her. She looked in general very nice, and her hands looked very natural.

As I looked at her in the coffin, for a moment, for an instant, another version of her seemed to recede several feet away from me, away from the body in the coffin, through the side and the open lid of the coffin, a version of her that was alive and several years younger, partly sitting up, looking toward me with her mouth open slightly, a slight smile on her face, almost of slightly uncertain expectation. She was looking toward me, seeming very comfortable herself, but looking a little unsure of my reaction, of what my reaction to her might be. I drew back, blinking and shaking my head I think, turning away from her. I looked back a few times, but the vision was gone now. It seemed astoundingly real, though, in the brief instant of its happening.

My brother gave the eulogy. A day or two before I had been asked if I wanted to say anything, too. Some other people were also going to talk, and I could say something if I wanted to. I said no. I was really tired and feeling kind of shaky, and didn't feel like I could. And although I didn't know it at the time, I was only a few weeks away from going in the hospital myself. Over the course of the day I thought about it, though, and decided that I really had to say something. I felt it was my duty, that I was the only one who could say the things I was thinking about. I had to do it. I went ahead and wrote it down in a rough draft on the computer, then printed it out. I went over it some more on the way to the funeral and while I was there, making a few minor changes, just in my head, not writing anything down.

When it came time for the speeches, my brother went up and talked, then a few other relatives, then I volunteered to be next. I went up and got on the platform, and stood at the dais and adjusted the very ineffective microphone to point up toward me. I looked out at the crowd, scanning my eyes over them. I recognized a lot of people, but most of them were strangers. It didn't bother me that I had to speak before all of them, though there was a time when it would have. Now I just felt that I had to give the speech as best I could, and try to speak loudly enough so that everyone heard me. It was a fairly long speech, but I think I succeeded for the most part in what I was trying to do. Several more people spoke after me, not all of them relatives. I couldn't hear most of what was said, because of the poor microphone and my hearing problem. Evidently the other people were having a lot more success in hearing than I was, as evidenced by their reactions. I know I was heard, at least for the most part, because of reactions to what I was saying during the speech, and because of things that were said to me afterward, in one case about a specific thing I said, and in another case word was relayed to me that someone had said that I should be a professional writer.

Unlike my grandmother, there was no second funeral. My mother truly never made it back to Missouri again, for she was buried out here, in Arizona. It was in a very nice cemetery though, a place she had visited before her death, and really liked. After the funeral, at the cemetery, I joked that she finally got to ride in a station wagon again, referring to the white Cadillac that had been modified into a hearse. The people with me turned to look at it and laughed, remembering how much she had loved the station wagon.

It was mentioned to me that it was common for coffins to be buried on top of each other there, and that when my time came I could be buried there in the same grave with her, if I wanted. I agreed to have it done, though it wasn't anything official. I assume, though, that it will be carried out, that it will be remembered and the arrangements made, when it becomes necessary for it to be done. That time is probably quite a few years away. I have reason to believe that, but you never know for sure.

It seems like so much of my life is in the past now, though there are still things yet to be done. So much is gone now, and much exists now only in memory.

Many things from the house on the highway are still here, though many are not, lost forever along the way. We still have the swordfish sword, and the old organ, and the plate with my mother's face on it, and the shelves with the glass doors, and Uncle Doc's bookcase, and the heavy wood table, and many other things. I miss the things that are gone, though, and I miss the farm and the people and the old times there, when I was very young. I long ago knew, even when I was still a child, that the times there, at the house on the highway, and at the house on Morley in town, would be the best times of my life. I knew it then, and I know it now.

The house on the highway, Part 1
The house on the highway, Part 2
The house on the highway, Part 3
The house on the highway, Part 4
The house on the highway, Part 5
The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

Related posts:

What I said at my mother's funeral
Dreams and visions of my mother
The cat that came back
"Until we meet again"
The bedtime prayer
Jumbo Elephant
Finding my grandmother
Red Rover, Red Rover
The shoe salesman's cigarette
Sliding down the stairs
The Idea of a Circle
The broken baby brush
Streaks in the air
The Clarabell Clown doll
Is this really necessary?
Is someone calling my name?
Blood poisoning
My father and the Air Force
Paper airplanes
My mother tries to teach me about God

Dream - My mother and the cat that came back
Dream - Grandpa and the violins
Dream - My grandmother is voted president of a club
Dream - My grandmother's birthday party, and old cars disappearing into fog
Dream - I meet my grandmother in a hardware store
Dream - With my grandmother, on the bridge
Dream - My grandmother is younger and admires herself in the mirror
Dream - Young self one and two, dreams of different lives
Dream - Through the doorway
Dream - My dead grandfather helps me look for the dogs
Dream - The girl on the mountain

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