Two years ago, I wrote about spending time in tunnels as a way to make sense of a monumental event. You might remember it; you might not.
Two weeks ago, Dad died. The week spent on the business of death became a day. I was surprised when I came home and the world hadn’t stopped. The cucumbers that I had “just bought” were slimy, the prosciutto a bit strong. (The dogs don’t mind.)
Dad led a magical life. Up until the last 6 months or so of his life, he didn’t do anything that he didn’t love doing. And that was 88.5 years of it. Below is a recollection of the life he had on the farm which followed Grampa’s ranch adventures. While the text describes a work-filled existence, the affection with which he recalls it is evident. Thanks, Dad, for leaving us this memory of a part of your life we didn’t know.
The farm year “began” in the spring. That’s when most crops were planted, after the long Kansas winters. Plowing, harrowing, planting, these were tractor operations. For row crops like corn, there followed weeding and thinning with a horse drawn two-row cultivator, and ultimately a hoe. You have no idea how big a forty acre field looked to the guy with the hoe. According to my slop-jar calculations it actually added up to about 250 miles of hoeing.) Obviously it wasn’t a weekend job for one man, nor was it one that elicited a lot of enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, it was a job that was most often undone, or was done in a generally lackadaisical manner when nothing more pressing was in view.
When planting was complete and thinning and weeding done to whatever minimal level demanded, we waited for the crops to mature. However, on a 247 acre diversified farm there was always something more pressing to do, since 247 acres; only about three quarters in farmland (the rest in woods) needed all the help it could get to provide a living for a family of four. For us the something-else was feeding animals, (as you have already learned) hogs and calves for market, fed-sheep for the wool clip, the work animals, cats and dogs because they were there and on a farm they were essential.
The cats early learned to go with us to the milking barn, where they sat expectantly and ready for the occasional squirt of milk to the face. They got good at this form of exterior ballistics in a very short time and the spatter-level on their faces declined dramatically All these animals had to be fed twice a day, and every day. After the chores and work were done, after supper, the evening was pretty much “free time”, except for Mom. I don’t think her day ever ended.
When school was on, for Walt and me evening was homework time. Since we had a pretty good library (acquired by Dad’s careful selection over most of a lifetime) we could work on papers and assignments at home by the light of Coleman gasoline lanterns. At the end of the evening when we turned off the lamps, Coleman-like, ours continued a constantly-dimming glow as we went up the stairs and into bed, the light eventually gently dying on its own to usher in the night. It was like they understood.
And one more excerpt from Dad’s time in Venezuela, another grand adventure in a life filled with them.
In the truly undissected areas of this expanse of limitless distance, there were occasional “bombas”, vertically walled shallow pits, perhaps thirty to fifty yards across, two to three meters deep, water-filled in the rainy season, bone dry in the dry season. To me they appeared to have been formed by loss of fine grained silts and sands by subsurface flow to the bluff-like margins of the llanos during seasonal fluctuations in the water table. They were so well concealed by the flat terrain and knee-high grass that a too-fast approach could almost instantly submerge the jeep (or land it with a monumental crash and accompanying stream of profanity) in a very large empty “swimming-pool”.
I yet clearly remember one time when I was driving for pleasure, at night. It was beautifully clear, bright moonlight. I was driving with two or three other field camp friends, when dead ahead we suddenly saw a bomba. I admit I don’t react well to shouted instructions in potential emergencies. I clearly remember hearing screams, “go right”, and almost at the same time another, “go left!” Apparently while mulling this over in an effort to resolve the conflicting recommendations, we plunged off straight ahead into a flooded bomba.
There was an almost-thunderous splash, and then dead silence. We were sitting in a jeep completely submerged in very clear water. It was noticeably cool, about mid-chest deep to those of us in the jeep. I still vividly remember the sudden and absolute silence, and the brilliant shine of the submerged head-lights, gleaming from under the beautifully clear, cool-cool water.
I haven’t responded to friends’ calls or concerns. You see, I can only hear them faintly from deep in the tunnels, but I did hear them. So, thank you.
I’m almost ready to emerge again, but I think it will take some time for the last vestiges of this cocoon to rot off. I think I’m a moth. Or Mothra.