Sometime in the late 1970’s, Jamie and I (cousins only seven weeks apart in age), just exiting our toddler years, already knew we contributed in big ways to this family farm operation. We knew our “jobs.” Mainly, we needed to stay outside, stay as clean as possible, enter any building or work site of the farm only upon invitation, and stay within the circle of the homestead. This still left us a dozen acres or so to explore, to invent and enter our land of make-believe.
Although hundreds of acres framed our family homestead, our boundaries cinched tightly within the visible interior perimeter of the buildings. Circling to the left of the dirt road “driveway,” several buildings made up the “home-place.” The ol’ chicken house. Quonset- a metal building that stored spuds and grains in season as well as large equipment like tractors. Next, the corral connected to the barn. Just up from the barn sat the “bunk house.” (Honestly, I’ve no idea what the purpose for this room-size building was originally.) To the center of the circle sat our Grandpa’s huge and tidy shop- housed his tools (wood-working, etc.)
Back out to the circle: The big house. Originally, a modest home, my Grandpa Ken build up and out as the family grew. (The creation and destruction of this house is a story all its own.) The well house neighbored the water well. Rounding out the home-place building circle, our Great-Grandparents summer home and Grandma Carrie’s home. However, Grandma Carrie moved out, and Jamie lived there with his parents until his was five years old. Now technically, I did not live on this place, but rather my parents and I lived on another family homestead a few miles away. However, this place felt like home, too.
Sometime in the late 1970’s, Jamie and I (cousins only seven weeks apart in age), just exiting our toddler years, already knew we contributed in big ways to this family farm operation. We knew our “jobs.” Mainly, we needed to stay outside, stay as clean as possible, enter any building or work site of the farm only upon invitation, and stay within the circle of the homestead. This still left us a dozen acres or so to explore, to invent and enter our land of make-believe. Funny, how even in those early years, we scouted the boundary lines closely… often encouraging… and taunting each other.
One particularly sunny morning… I’m guessing late spring or early summer. The temperatures, still chilly enough, were warming up by midday. The adults readily sent us outside. And after enough pleas, we convinced someone (I wish I could remember who) to grant us permission to wander beyond our customary boundary. Dressed in our official play clothes consisting of shorts and shirts, socks and tennis shoes that often coordinated or matched, we took off down the “driveway” taking a left toward the mail box. Unlike city mailboxes, our mailbox stood miles away. So, our plot and plan – quite akin to treasure hunting- traversed the gravel road of the Great Plains with great hopes of delivering mail to the happy surprise and wonder of the parents and grandparents.
Anticipating our noontime farm-hardy meal as a family, I’m pretty sure we could hear their pride and celebration… which is probably partly why we ventured… a little too far for our spring season stamina.
“As I went walking that ribbon of highway, I saw above me that endless skyway, I saw below me that golden valley- This land was made for you and me.”
We jibber-jabbered our way for a good while into the Wyoming wind.. fully focused on the horizon. The dot of the mailbox. Racing. Skipping. Walking…and looking back… now and again to see the “home-place” growing smaller and smaller behind us. Can you believe this? We’re really going some where… all by ourselves.
Eventually, our tired set in, our heads drooped a little, and our gaze set toward our feet. We spotted the glistening clusters of crystalized pebbles reflecting in the rising sun. Then, we imagined we’d stuff our pockets full of these “diamonds,” which is clearly a brighter treasure to the mail… But, what if we came home with both?
Simultaneously, we spotted the pertruding mound of these “diamonds” along the southern shoulder of the road, but just north of the home-place. We scurried over to inspect it. Leaning over it, we spotted parading tiny trains of black and red heave-hoing in and out, in and out of tiny holes in the mound. (I remember someone once warned me some insects bite or sting. And I hated horse flies because they hurt the worst.) Anyway, in our fascination observing their order and occupation, we didn’t realize where their marching led right up Jamie’s legs. An entire ant brigade … “left, left, left, right, left…”
Suddenly, Jamie screeched as his legs jumped and arms thrashed. Swinging. And kicking. Slipping… and falling… into the whole “diamond” mound. The trains of ants instantly derailed and frenzied. And I started laughing… yes, laughing. Kicking to his feet, Jamie paused… right there, both feet planted in the cratered mound… now, erupting with ants. He looked up at me… and he shot panic- like a light saber- at me. Then, I quickly grabbed him and started swatting and swiping. So many of them. As we cleared some away, I saw his skin welting red. Looking toward the home-place, I realized how very far, far away and all alone we were…
Mysteriously moving from girly giggles to pure panic and on to lifeguard mode, as Jamie’s tears flowed, his skin swelled, I ran both of us home. I just kept repeating, “You’re going to be ok. You’re going to be ok. Just run with me. Stay with me. I’ll hold your hand. You’re going to be ok!”
Maybe remembering The Little Engine that could, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” or maybe a gusto of grace…we arrived at the first house… dusty and disheveled. The adults swarmed into take-over duty… Rushing him off to a bath, my breath surfaced… racing. We made it. He really is ok, right? His eyes screaming panic… played over and over in my young mind… and sometimes, they still do.