Monday, February 28, 2011

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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