Friday, June 24, 2011

The house on the highway, Part 6 - Some things I missed

These are some more memories about my grandparents' farm in north-central Missouri, the house on the highway, three miles from town.

The house had light gray slate shingles on the outside walls, with faint grooves in a wood grain pattern. One time Uncle Doc was standing near the house talking to someone. I was bored and looking at the shingles, and I saw one that had broken, at an angle, the split going from the top near one side and slanting toward that side. It was completely broken through, but it had enough nails that it was still hanging more or less normally. I finally pointed it out to Uncle Doc, who looked at it and felt the shingle with one hand, saying a sentence or two to me briefly, but soon went back to talking to the other man, while still holding the shingle and feeling it and sometimes looking at it.

Inside, the house had ceiling tiles with patterns that I sometimes formed pictures with in my mind, including a picture of an old woman. The smear or bump patterns in the plaster of the walls could sometimes be used to form pictures too. It was primarily in the 1960s that I did this.

I was told by my mother that my grandfather liked to get up early and try to light the gas stove, maybe to make some coffee, I'm not sure now. He would turn on the gas and then look for a match. When he then tried to light the stove, the accumulated gas would go off in a small explosion. The others would hear the noise and come in and find him standing there with a surprised expression on his face.

One time we were eating over at the farm again, having supper I think. It was after we had moved, probably away from Missouri and not just to town, but were visiting again. My mother was somewhere else for the moment, in town somewhere, maybe at a store. She had left us there for several hours, so we could visit. Considering that she was gone for hours, it sounds like it might have been the time when we had briefly moved back to Missouri, and had a house in town then, which would make it 1966. In my mind it feels more like the early 1960s, but I guess it could have been slightly later. Now, at supper, I had a big plate of food and was eating it rapidly, and my grandmother remarked on how fast I was eating, and said something about not wanting me to choke. I ate for a little more, but slowed down and gradually stopped, becoming afraid to eat. I think I managed to eat a little more, stuff that was more without objects, like mashed potatoes, but I think I even stopped that after a while. When my mother came back, I was still sitting there. I think some of the others, my brother and sisters, might still have been there too, but by that time they were either finished or getting close to it. My mother came in looking happy, but soon asked what was wrong, based on my reactions and sitting there looking worried and sad with a big plate of partly eaten food in front of me. My grandmother told her briefly about it, and I said something or other regarding it. I worried, too, about it being permanent, and whether I could somehow get over it. I did manage to eat food again, though I'm not sure it was that same day. Eating wasn't something I could expect to avoid for very long, and I knew I had to do it again even if I wasn't comfortable with it right now. I hoped the fear would somehow fade away, though I worried about the time that would take, picturing weeks without food, though I knew that couldn't happen, that my parents would make me eat at some point, would insist that I do it, and I would in any case have to eat. The immediacy of the fear had faded some by bedtime, though the worry remained, even as I tried to sleep. The next day it was distant enough that I could force myself to eat, and the fear had begun to seem kind of stupid, that I should be afraid of choking so much, but it was still there, nagging at me. I still worried about choking for a long time, weeks, and even longer, and ate kind of slowly and carefully, not enjoying it as much as I used to.

One time when we had gone back to the farm, it seems like it was one of the times we went back there for a month in the late summer, in the early 1960s, a dog had killed a chicken that had gotten out. It was far out in one of the fields, on the side toward town. The chicken had been chewed open, and I saw a circle of eggs in formation, buds on stalks, the buds getting bigger as the array of them progressed through the circle, approaching the size when it would be time to be laid. It was interesting to see. I didn't know it had a structure like that inside it. The farmhands were going to take the chicken away and dispose of it, because the dog might choke on it, might choke on one of the chicken bones.

Most of the windows in the house had old, cranky, sometimes brittle at the edges paper shades that rolled up, as well as large Venetian blinds, and curtains too.

One time one of the babies, one of my sisters, was rolling over and over, heading for the edge of the bed, apparently because someone had sat down and tilted the mattress, and my grandmother quickly caught her, scooping her up. Years earlier it had happened to another baby, and someone else had caught him or her. The last one it happened to was my littlest sister, one of the times we had come back there from Arizona. It seems there was also someone that tried to roll off a couch in the living room, and someone caught him or her, and there was someone who managed to roll off the couch and didn't get caught, maybe my littlest sister again. She cried after landing on the rug or carpet, but seemed alright.

One time, when I was little, I was waiting with my brother for my mother to come back. We were standing in our cribs, in our bedroom at the farm. We called for her off and on for a long time, but she didn't show up. We were supposed to stay in our cribs and not climb out, because we might get hurt. She or another adult was supposed to lift us out. She didn't show up this time, though. My brother and I talked to each other a bit and sometimes tried calling for her again. He finally got disgusted and said he wasn't going to wait anymore, and started to climb out. I begged him not to, and said that we were supposed to stay in the cribs, but he said it was too long and he wasn't going to wait anymore, talking disgustingly about her leaving us in the cribs and not coming. She finally showed up, sometime after my brother had left the room. She looked really surprised and somewhat dismayed.

A family lived nearby on the other side of the road, a little closer to town, and we sometimes went over there and visited. The adults would talk, sometimes going inside, and my brother and I would usually stay outside and play with the kids there. Sometimes an adult or two would join in. One time we were playing baseball and a window got broken, I think from a ball I hit. The adults came pouring out of the house to see what happened, and the game broke up after that.

When my brother and I were very little, we had little red winter coats with strange interlocking metal buckles that my mother would have to fasten for us. The buckles were basically loops with a flat end with corners, then short sides, and then the metal would go into the cloth strap. They somehow hooked into each other, turning until one fit inside the other, then it would be pulled tight. I had trouble figuring it out, and it seemed to go together the wrong way and stick out or not stay together at all.

When I was little, maybe around four or five or so, I had a shirt with colored Autumn leaves sown into it, made out of thread. That was my favorite shirt, the shirt with the colored leaves. I would sometimes wear it for a short time years later, when I was much too big for it. My mother finally cautioned me not to put it on anymore, that I might tear it. We could keep it and look at it, she said, but I shouldn't wear it. I also had a second one with sown-in-thread Autumn leaves, that I was given several years after the first. It was significantly larger, and I also sometimes tried to wear that even after I had gotten too big for it, but also eventually gave up on it. The second shirt was nice, but it was not as good looking as the first, and the first was always my favorite anyway.

When my little brother was very little, he got trapped in the bathroom at the farm one time. It had some kind of slide latch and he was too small to use it, he could barely reach it. He didn't usually try to lock it, but this time he did. He couldn't unlock it though, and he was trapped in there. My mother was at the door, and my grandmother. They were listening, trying to hear him, and they were trying to tell him how to open it, my mother doing most of the talking I think. I asked what was happening and my mother told me. I tried to help too, telling him what to do in a loud voice. We were at it for a long time. He finally somehow got it open, the door just suddenly opened and he was there. He later claimed that he could always get out, which didn't make sense to me. He gave a reason of some kind for not opening the door, but I don't remember it. The door also had an old-time style key hole, made for an old-fashioned key, the kind with a long rod with a metal flap on the end, but we never used it, and I don't think we even had a key for that door. Other doors also used that type of key, but I think the front door might have had a more modern lock. The one toward the highway might have had a more modern lock too, but I think it also had an inside slide latch.

By the time my brother was born, when I was a year and five months old, I had already felt like I had lived a long time, and done many things, and played a lot with my mother. It felt like I had only come into a proper awareness of things a few months before, though, that before that things were dimmer, and much simpler, and while I had a lot of fun then, it was more like living in the moment, now I felt very grown up. The few months figure seems an odd thing for a very little kid to be thinking, but somehow that's how I formed the image in my mind, of a block of time that I thought of as months, going back into the previous fall, perhaps to around the beginning of fall. I didn't really think of the seasons too much, I just pictured how things were those times of the year, and thought mainly in terms of months, and the approximate time of year the transition occurred, a few months before the end of the year, and my brother being born not long after the end of the year, relatively close in time to it. Winter was pictured as a time of darkness, and cold outside, but the transition was before that, at a time when it was cooler than before, sometimes cold, and the light dimmer, but it could still be pleasant, the weather could still be nice. One of the times I was thinking about this was the time when my brother, when he was just a baby, had thrown his baby brush out of the crib and broken the handle off it. I was worrying about it, and my mother finally said that he didn't care, that he was just a baby. I said that I knew that, but when he got older, and could care, he wouldn't have a baby brush. I was also thinking at the time, doesn't she know I know this, I'm old now and I can understand these things, I'm not a baby anymore, and I went back through it in my mind, back to the time the transition occurred and what things were like before that.

My mother used to talk of how she had told me that I had to give up the baby bottles so my brother could use them, and about how nice I was to do it, and I think even how brave. I remember the discussions about it, but just a little. I also remember being saddened that I had to give them up, but understanding that I had to, that my little brother needed them now, and I was getting grown up enough that I didn't really need them anymore, which was her argument. My brother was still using them when we moved into the house in town, which would definitely put our move there, I would think, as no later than 1956, probably spring, summer or fall, which would put me as either nearly three or just barely three. She finally got him to stop using the bottle by cutting too big a hole in the nipple, and it ran out on him when he tried to use it. She said he looked very surprised.

One time after my sister was born, in 1960, we were at the farm and I was out in the front yard one evening, far from the house. My father was out there with me, smoking a cigarette. He was unusually thoughtful, and said that girls were different and had to be treated gently and protected, something like that. He told me to remember it, and asked me if I would remember it five years from now. I said yes. He pressed me on it, turning toward me and asking if I would, looking hopeful. I said yes, hoping that I would remember. It seemed a long time away, but I was going to have to try to do it, to try really hard to be sure and remember. It seemed like a lot of pressure to put on a little kid. (The weather was pleasant, so that would place it several months after she was born, maybe even over half a year.)

One time, in the 1950s or early 60s, we found a baby mouse and kept it in the bathtub for a while, but it only lived about a day. It was very cute.

One time in the early 1960s, we, or more probably I, made some small holes in one of the big trees that ran beside the farm house, by swinging a garden tool into the trunk. Charley, the old farmhand, was upset and yelled at us, saying the sap would run out and the tree would die. He was a very little old man then, and we were bigger and a lot heavier than he was, or at least I was a lot bigger. He was very skinny, though, and we were tall for our ages, and overweight. It seemed a little odd for it to be that way, for him to seem so small, though of course we were just children and he was an adult, so he had the authority, and of course I liked him and didn't want to upset him. It bothered me that he thought that the tree would die, though, even if I couldn't see how what I had done could really do it. I later mentioned what had happened to my mother, and she said the tree wouldn't die, he was just old and worried about things, that sometimes old people did that.

Sometimes, on rare occasions, a young woman, a cousin, drove up and parked at the edge of the driveway by the farm house. She was friendly, but spent most of her time with the adults.

One time my aunt, my mother's younger sister, gave me a big metal airplane with wings that were separate from it, they were in one piece and had to be put up into a big metal slot in the bottom and secured by a metal tab or two that had to be swiveled into place. In later years it got so loose that the wings kept slipping out, and it became hard to get it to stay together, but I still liked it. She had gotten the plane when she had been in a different city, maybe St. Louis.

One of the toys I had was a sheet metal waiter, perhaps 8-10 inches tall, dressed in fancy clothes and carrying a tray held far in front of him, with a cloth draped over his arm, with him leaning out, in mid stride. He had little wheels on his feet that made noise when turned, and I think gave off sparks, unless I am thinking of a different toy. He wasn't able to stand on his own though, though it seemed he might have been intended to. There was also a toy that was a little metal tank that had a flat metal Superman under it. That tank also had little wheels, and if you pushed the tank ahead Superman was supposed to rise up under it and lift the tank, his hands and maybe head were attached to it with a simple hinge. It sometimes needed a little help to work though, and didn't always lift up all the way. We had lots of metal toys, including a big top that made a humming sound when spun. It was spun by pumping a twisted metal rod that went through the top of it. We also had a lot of simple toys made out of wood. Later, toward the end of the 1950s, we started to get more and more toys made out of plastic. They seemed odd things. Some of them were little simple planes with little propellers snapped onto the wings. The ends of the propellers were flexible enough to bend some, and sometimes I even took them off and put them back on. It seemed a very strange material.

I had a piggy bank that I was carrying one time. I took it from the living room area into one of the bedrooms. I was bent over, my hands on the sides and underneath it, the piggy bank hanging down quite a ways. It was large and heavy and hard to hold onto. I had been talking to my mother and brother back in the living room, and as I was slowly walking through the bedroom, still talking, and my brother perhaps having come with me, suddenly the piggy bank slipped out of my grasp and fell on the floor, and completely shattered, a lot of it turning to powder. I felt very bad about it and felt very guilty, that I was too old and shouldn't have had that happen, that I had failed, though I was still in actuality pretty little.

My brother and I each had little red scooters made out of heavy sheet metal. We would stand on them and push them along with one foot. It was a lot of fun. One time one of them was left out in the gravel driveway and someone drove over it. My mother told us about it and scolded us a bit. It was bent up pretty badly. My father tried to straighten it out some, but it was still pretty bent. It was harder to use that way, not as much fun. The tiny straight handlebars were even bent to one side. There was no way to know whose it actually was. I think we both ended up using the remaining one more often and using the bent one only when the other was not available, and then not for very long. We still have it, though.

We had a big rocker that my father's brother had made for us. It had plywood sides cut to look like a duck, or perhaps a swan, and a wood seat between them, within kind of a box-shaped seating area. It was painted white, and because of the curved shape of the bottom of the sides, it could be rocked back and forth when sat in. It also had some detail of the face and feathers painted in. It was only big enough for one person at a time, and I think may have been made specifically as a present for me, perhaps at a time when my brother may have been too little for it. I think it was generally kept outdoors, in the yard.

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

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