by Tamara Hillman
Can it be here already?
I’m sure you folks up north are turnin’ soil and plantin’ flowers and vegetable gardens by now. I can smell that moist, dark soil in memories myself. My back gets a wee crook in it remembering planting row after row of corn, beans, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, spuds, and cabbage, (for sauerkraut Mom made in late summer.) It was to die for! Apple trees were propped about now, and so was the scraggy old prune tree that yielded bushels of sweet prunes every summer.
In the southern states, we hibernate in summer because of HEAT, such as you northerners do in winter months because of COLD! But I was ready to stop shoveling snow, and see more year-round sunshine by the time we retired to Arizona…
We’ll be meandering north to my home state of Washington real soon because we have another graduating grandchild this month, and yard work and cleanup at our UNSOLD house on Camano Island. Will visit my brother and folks in my hometown too on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, and I always look forward to that. It’s from where my writing material all comes as fond memories of growing up free as a kid could be back in the forties, fifties, and sixties, (pre-Viet Nam War demonstrations, pot smoking, and free love which infiltrated even our beautiful little valley eventually.) I was married and working by that time, so luckily missed the worst of it. My brother, Clyde, was called to serve in the good ol’ army though, and we all feared he would end up in the jungles of Viet Nam. Luckily, he was a radioman, and they sent him to Frankfurt Germany for the entire four years. We lost several valley boys in that war though, and we all suffered since you’re one big family in a small, rural town.
On to happier memories— Summer season was a delightful time be a country kid. It meant NO SCHOOL for three whole months, riding horses bareback to the swimming hole, running barefoot, sleeping in the hay loft, riding our bikes clear to town while collecting beer and pop bottles along the way to trade in for a few pennies worth of candy, eating strawberries, rhubarb, and tomatoes straight from the garden on the run. It also meant more chores but we got them done morning and night, then ran like wild little Indians the rest of the day. We built forts, caught pollywogs in the pond, scavenged the town dump up the road a mile from us for parts to make go-carts and other fun stuff. Life was not dull, and I NEVER heard the words spoken, "I’m bored." We made our own fun, and knew better than to lay around the house or Mom would kick us out to the garden to hoe weeds.
Neighborhood moms were all acquainted with our mom and treated us like their own. If their kids were in trouble—so were we, if they were hungry—so were we, and so on. Everything and everyone was shared back and forth in the valley. I learned vitally important lessons too from the way others worked and played on their particular parcel of land. I even learned how to make a great piecrust from our neighbor, Dixie Ferguson. She had a houseful of big, strappin’ boys, twin girls, and a husband who could out eat three men. When she baked pies, it wasn’t one at a time, so if it was hot outdoors and we wanted to gather indoors for an hour to cool down a bit, she’d let us watch her whip out six or eight pies in a hurry. Her daughter, and my longtime buddy, Carolyn, still stay in touch and reminisce about those golden days when we were neighbors on the farm.
Carolyn had an ol’ horse named Ginger, and a cow named Horny, (for the curved horns on it’s head—no other reason) and we pestered each animal a lot. She and the boys milked the cow morning and night, and we would leap on Ginger from the fence whenever she was summoned with a carrot or sugar cube. No saddle, no bridle, just a handful of mane and two barefoot girls hangin’ on for dear life while that horse tried to scrape us off along the fence, or under low-hanging branches on the tree in the middle of the field.
I remember once, She and I meandered down to the McMillan place to ride some of their horses. The only problem was—they broke horses as added income to ranching, so all the horses on their spread were wilder than a March hare. Carolyn leaped on one tied to a post in the driveway after Phillip McMillan had been riding it. She beckoned me to crawl up behind her, and like a fool, I did! The next thing you know, we were crossing the field gentle as ya please when a dog ran across our path…Well, we soon learned why the McMillans were trying to tame this one—He took off like a gut-shot panther, buckin’ all the while ‘til he upended Carolyn on top of me right in a small irrigation ditch out in the alfalfa field. I was covered in mud, plus, the wind was knocked right outta me. Carolyn had a softer landing—ME!
Another girlfriend I never tired of sharing summer fun with was Mary Lou Blackhall. She was as skinny as I, and we ran the farmland together most often. She was fearless! I remember once she rode her horse bareback to our house on the highway, and picked me up to go back down to the swimming hole. We were both barefoot and in shorts pulled over out swimsuits. As soon as we left our gate, that danged horse decided two girls bumpin’ along on his back on a hot afternoon was one too many. He started leapin’ and jumpin’, and guess who flew off his backend? ME! I landed in a skid on the pavement with both feet, and tore the sole of my right foot clear back to the arch, filling it full of gravel just for good measure. Mary Lou followed me limping back to the house so mom could clean it out, pour Mercurochrome in the flap, and wrap it up. She wouldn’t let me go swimming ‘til it healed, and I just purely hated lying about three or four days. I probably gave her fits begging to go out and play.
It seemed every time I got near a horse, it meant trouble—Fern and Wayne Johnson’s Shetland pony stepped on my bare foot once (on purpose), and refused to lift his hoof, and a horse my cousin was riding at her neighbor’s place, bit me in the shoulder so hard, I carried teeth marks for a year! Can ya tell me why I still love horses? But I do, and all the fond memories, good and bad, that go along with summertime fun.
Here’s a poem to get ya in the mood for June…
Too long I’ve wandered this ol’ world
to find where I might blend—
no place can match that farm back home,
no matter where I’ve been.
Fireflies in the evening,
sunsets scarlet red.
oh, how those memories take me back—
how I miss my feather bed.
I see the farm in my mind
‘til it almost drives me wild—
I know it can’t be like it was
when I was but a child.
But I’m on my way back to that place,
to me—now hallowed ground
tho’ friends I knew, an’ dearly loved
have prob’ly left our town.
I have to go—I have to feel
once more that I have roots.
Just a thousand miles of hitchin’
in these worn out cowboy boots.