Old people complain nowadays about how social media takes away a person’s privacy. They say that nothing is sacred or secret anymore. It’s too easy for anybody to voice their opinions by simply touching their finger to the glass screens of their artificial lives. As my mother would always tell us, “You don’t air your dirty laundry in public.”
But back in the day, if I farted on one side of town, she knew about it before the smell had faded away. And what is less secret than having your underwear flapping around in the wind for everybody to see.
I lift my glass to those ‘good ole days’ when there wasn’t much to do but drive the gravel back roads, smoke cigarettes, and drink just about anything we could get our hands on. How we managed to survive it all is still a mystery to me.
My feet transfer the vibrations of tires touching gravel. The jarring shake of rut filled back roads move up my legs and out my arms then back into the steering wheel. I am in sync with my knobby tired, metal and glass steed as we speed through the perfect night.
The sky stretches out before me. A jeweled black velvet horizon surrounding a full moon that hangs brilliant; splashing a ghostly light into the countryside. The wood floors of ancient bridges rumble as I pass and the creeks and rivers catch the moon’s sparkle as they flow quickly beneath me and on into the darkness. The road comes alive for me while the rest of the world dreams. I move past cemeteries, where souls are frozen in place, longing for the freedom to ride along to oblivion. An old red barn built when the country was younger melts into its destiny. Brown brick grain silos stand godlike against the attack of time.
I roll down my window and let the cool night air blast away the anger, hate and dissolution that the sunlight brings. It mixes with the oven-like heater and I begin a dance with the night as the radio hums a low harmony and the soft glow from the dash lights mingle with it to create a perfect synchronicity.
These country back roads crisscross my path and stretch out into infinity. I travel through a landscape that is so satisfying and peaceful and I know that I am in control. I can choose my own destiny. Sometimes I think that if I just close my eyes and take my hands from the wheel, this could be…the end.
I lift my glass to those ‘good ole days’ when there wasn’t much to do but drive the gravel backroads, smoke cigarettes, and drink just about anything we could get our hands on. How we managed to survive it all is still a mystery to me.
When I was a kid hanging around the only grocery store in town, drinking Yoo-hoo and stuffing my cheeks with Bazooka Joe gum a surprising change started taking place. All of a sudden, it seemed like everywhere I looked there were girls. I mean, sure they were there before but they were just annoying little brats whose sole purpose in life was to cause trouble. I wasn’t sure what happened and honestly I didn’t care. All I knew was those little brats had been transformed into females. I can tell you that the only good thing about a hot ass, dust filled summer in the arm pit of the universe called Wakenda, Missouri was…the hotter the sun, the fewer clothes those females wore. A pair of short blue jean cutoffs and a halter top could start the blood pumping and I’m going to say, that to a 13 year old’s imagination, there were times when maybe that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that all we could think about all day and night was sex. I mean, sometimes we had to eat. But it did seem that we had an awful lot of different names for something none of us knew a hell of a lot about. Boff, boink, bump, diddle, dip your wick, doing it, doing the nasty, getting down and dirty, getting laid, got lucky, going all the way, rounding the bases, home run, touchdown, hide the sausage and squeaky-squeaky. Man, we became experts on the subject. But I suppose that’s what happens when you’re stuck in a town with the population about the size of a football team.
I’m from a fairly small burg stuck somewhere in the hills of north central Missouri. The land of corn, wheat and soybeans. We all know that the world depends on small town farmers to feed our bellies. But do you really understand what a rough life these brave men and women must face each day.
At six o’clock in the morning, you’ll find them at the Main Street Cafe eating breakfast and discussing in lengthy detail the price of corn, the weather, politics, Widow Johnson, and beer. At ten, they’ll be at the coffee shop over on Fourth Street discussing in lengthy detail the price of corn, the weather, politics, Widow Johnson, and beer. Around noon, there back at the cafe discussing in lengthy detail the price of corn, the weather, politics, Widow Johnson, and beer. About two in the afternoon, you’ll find them parked somewhere, drinking coffee from their thermos and discussing in lengthy detail the price of corn, the weather, politics, Widow Johnson, and beer. Until five o’clock in the evening when you’d find them back at the cafe again for dinner. Can we guess the topic of conversation?
I am pretty sure that there must some, ‘secret society of farmer’s’, dress code that us ‘townies’ have no idea exist. But every day, rain or shine, winter or summer, their wardrobe never varied. Maybe it is simply the fact that Orscheln Farm and Home is just about the only place within a day’s drive where you can buy descent work clothes or for that matter just about anything else.
Still the only way of telling one of them from the other is by the type of sweat stained baseball cap they wear. Some of the younger farmer’s wear logos of their favorite sports team or school mascot while the older ones show up with a ‘#1 Dad’ or maybe a ‘World’s Best Grandpa’. Generally though, it is just John Deere green. Occasionally one of them might get a wild hair and decide to wear a blue-checkered shirt instead of a red one.
I’ve grown up with the stories of how farmer’s wives always got up at 4AM to milk the cows, stoke the fire and all that crap so she could serve a home cooked breakfast to her family. But these guys are always at the cafe eating and none of them look fat enough to have eaten two breakfasts every day.
I do have to admit though; they are a friendly bunch and will always raise their index finger or tip their hat at me as I pull off into the ditch in order to get around their mile wide tractors parked in the middle of the road while they discuss in lengthy detail the price of corn, the weather, politics, Widow Johnson, and beer.
Now you know why the American farmer has to put in 18 hours a day. It’s because they spend 12 of them doing nothing but talking and eating.
I’m sitting here in my writer’s garret staring out the window. A full moon hangs high in the sky. The weather is warm and a breeze drifts in through my open window. I tell Google to play my favorite radio channel from Pandora. It’s mostly 1960’s and 1970’s music and I close my eyes to let the music surround me. ‘Henry the Eighth’ by Herman’s Hermits comes on and the images stretch out from a past life and pull my mind back to a simpler time. Before responsibilities of family and jobs consumed every moment; before the worries about how much money was enough money and before those dear to me departed to their heavenly home.
You see, Henry the Eighth was a favorite song from our youth. It was playing on the radio that night the front tire slipped into the loose gravel along the side of the road and sent us rolling end over end. I suppose it was a miracle that no one suffered any injuries, except Phillip, who got a bloody nose when I ‘accidentally’ kicked him in the face. We just pushed the car back over onto its wheels and drove back to town like nothing happened.
Now, when I hear the song, I see myself in my brother Norman’s 1966 Oldsmobile. With us three youngest brothers Paul, Phil and me rolling around the back seat while Norman performs ‘Bat turns’. My brother David in the passenger’s seat serving as the official co-pilot, beverage controller and radio technician.
We’ll cruise down those ancient gravel roads that lead us to nowhere in particular, just five brothers sliding through the darkness with the AM radio blaring out the day’s top twenty hits. None of us giving a damn about anything but the moment.
Oh youth, you make me smile.