Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Departure

I took a few photos of the old homestead on my way out.  I spent a good portion of my life here, and although the place has changed a bit over time, it's still the old homestead.

The Old Homestead
Back in the bad old days we had ten acres between my paternal grandparents who lived next door and my family.  About an acre of that land had to be mowed once a week, and that included trimming around the trees.  The only job I despised more than mowing the lawn was shoveling the snow, which I had to do for both houses.  I think I should mention that I have exercise induced bronchial asthma, and the winter air felt like a handful of razor blades had gotten loose inside my lungs.

Most of the surrounding land hadn't been developed, so we only had a few neighbors.  To our North was a sour old German, Otto von Westernhagen and his wife Ruth.  I think I was about 5 or 6 years old when I stopped to talk to Otto one day as he was working in the yard.  I asked if he'd been in the war, meaning WWII, and he replied that he had.  Then I asked him which side he was on, and got no reply.  When I related this conversation to another neighbor, he responded that it seemed an appropriate question.  I, of course, didn't know what 'appropriate' meant, so the whole business was retold to my parents.  Mom was somewhat embarrassed about the whole business, but didn't know how to explain to me that my questions might be seen to be a bit inflammatory.  My father smiled wryly and inquired as to Otto's answer.  I explained that he didn't answer, and Dad made a comment about being a no-good kraut son-of-a-bitch.  Mom got on his case and said that I'd repeat that, so Dad told me that I shouldn't.  Mom was still a little warm, and reiterated the command not to repeat Dad's comment.  Dad said, "Hell, they were the enemy."  And that was that.  It took me a while to digest all this - a few years, actually, and even then I wasn't sure what I'd learned.

For one thing, our neighbor Otto could have just told me that he fought for the United States in whatever branch of the service he was in, and that would have been that.  He didn't.  He also kept the von prefix to his German name, indicating his family was titled in some way, as in Country Squire.  He was taciturn with a sour disposition; he built his own home, and I don't think there was a square corner in the entire place.  In 1964 he sold out to a Lithuanian family, and the buyer had to hold his feet to the fire to make him go through with the deal as advertised.  I was glad to see him go.

Clearly, the lawn needs mowing.  I'm not going to mow it.

During the winter, we'd get snowed in every so often.  Dad would call AAA, they'd send out a wrecker and tow the car out.  On one memorable occasion when our car wouldn't start, AAA sent two middle aged men in a wrecker.  They got the car started, and when they were ready to leave Mom warned them about driving too fast out of the driveway.

"You came barreling in here, and if you drive like that you'll slide off the road and get stuck," she said.

"Well, lady, we came barreling in here, and we're going to barrel right back out again," the driver replied with some heat. 

So they did, and they promptly slid off the driveway and got stuck in the snow.

They were driving a wrecker with dual wheels and snow chains, and got stuck on the left (North) side of the driveway, which originally contained a drainage ditch, but erosion had taken its toll and now there was only a slight depression in the ground to mark where the ditch used to be.  The depression was enough, though, and if you were a kid driving a largish lawn tractor in the middle of winter and went into this depression, it took two grown men, three shovels, and a lot of cursing to get the tractor out again.

They tried digging out, gunning the engine and spinning their wheels to no avail.  Snow chains and all, they weren't about to get back on the driveway.  I went down to watch for a while, this being pure entertainment, and one of the men said a bad word.  Shortly thereafter, I got cold and went back to the house.

"Where've you been?" Mom wanted to know.

"Watching those two guys from AAA.  They're stuck in the snow, and the one guy said a bad word."

They were also tearing up the lawn next to the driveway.  Mom got dressed and ran down there, then lit into them about tearing up the lawn, making ruts in the driveway, and barreling out of the drive and getting stuck like she said they would.  They didn't know what to say.

Mom went back to the house and called AAA, who sent out another wrecker with a teenager behind the wheel.  Five minutes after he arrived, he was off the road and stuck too.  Yet another call to AAA produced a third wrecker with an older man driving, who parked and walked the drive before he did anything.  Working slowly and carefully, he got the other two unstuck and back on the driveway, and eventually out to the road.  The whole business left a mess behind, and Dad had plenty to say about it when he got home.

What I learned was that you didn't barrel out the driveway, and old people know more than young people.  Given my age, I hope that's true today, although most days I'm in doubt.

It's almost 11:00 AM, and time for my morning snort.  Here's how!


Momma Fargo said...

Aw. Beautiful place and nice memories.

CWMartin said...

You are a great storyteller when you have a mind to, know it?

Mad Jack said...

Thanks guys. I appreciate the kind words.

Unknown said...

I've missed reading your blog. You really can tell a tale.