Category Archives: farm boy

Elsie the Cow

Sierra Exif JPEG

I was a boy back when the milk man still came around in his blue-and-white panel truck delivering bottles of milk with Elsie the Cow on them.  I don’t remember clearly because I was only 4 years old back when I first became aware of being a boy in this world instead of being something else living somewhere else.

There were many things I didn’t know or understand back then.  But one thing I did know, was that I loved Elsie the Cow.  And why would a farm boy love a cartoon cow?  There were many not-so-sensible reasons.

For one thing, Elsie the Cow reminded me of June Lockhart, Lassie’s mom and the mom from Lost in Space.

Lassie’s Mom, June Lockhart


 It may be that June Lockhart’s eyes reminded me of Elsie’s eyes, being large, soul-full eyes with large black eye lashes.  It may be that she starred in a TV commercial for Borden’s milk in which Elsie winked at me at the end of the commercial.

Or maybe it was because Elsie had calves and was a mom.  And June Lockhart was Lassie’s mom and the mom of Will Robinson, so I associated both of them with my mom, and thus with each other.

      Elsie gave you milk to drink and was always taking care of  you in that way.  Milk was good for you, after all.  My own mom was a registered nurse.  So they were alike in that way too.

And she was constantly defending you against the bulls in your life.  She stood up to Elmer to protect her daughter more than once.  Of course, her son was usually guilty of whatever he was accused of, but she still loved him and kept Elmer from making his “hamburger” threats a reality.

And you can see in numerous ad illustrations that Elsie’s family were basically nudists.  Although she often wore an apron, she was bare otherwise.  And though her daughter often wore skirts and her son wore shorts, Elmer was always naked.  And that didn’t surprise me, because no cow I knew from the farm wore clothes either.  From very early in my life I was always fascinated by nakedness, and I would’ve become a nudist as a youngster if it hadn’t been soundly discouraged by family and society in general.

Proof that Elsie’s family lived the nude life.

Puppets from a Borden’s commercial

So there are many reasons why I have always loved Elsie the Cow.  And it all boils down to the love of drinking milk and that appealing cartoon character who constantly asked you to drink more.

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Small Town Inspirations

Pesch Street

I grew up in a small rural town in North Central Iowa.  It was a place that was, according to census, home to 275 people.  That apparently counted the squirrels.  (And I should say, the squirrels were definitely squirrelly.  They not only ate nuts, they became a nut.)  It was a good place to grow up in the 60’s and 70’s.  But in many ways, it was a boring place.

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Yes, there were beautiful farmer’s daughters to lust after and pine for and be humiliated by.  There was a gentle, supportive country culture where Roy Rogers was a hero and some of the best music came on Saturdays on Hee Haw where there was a lot of pickin’ and grinnin’ going on.  There were high school football games on Friday nights, good movies at the movie theaters in Belmond and Clarion, and occasional hay rides for the 4-H Club and various school-related events like Homecoming.

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I lived in a world where I was related to half the people in the county, and I knew at least half of the other half.  People told stories about other people, some of them incredibly mean-spirited, some of them mildly mean, and some of them, though not many, that were actually good and actually true.  I learned about telling good stories from my Grandpa Aldrich who could tell a fascinating tale of Dolly who owned the part of town called locally “Dollyville” and included the run-down vacant structure the kids all called the Ghost House.   He also told about Dolly’s husband, Shorty the dwarf, who was such a mean drunk and went on epic temper tirades that often ended only when Dolly hospitalized him with a box on the ear.  (Rumor had it that there were bricks in the box.)

And I realized that through story-telling, the world became whatever you said that it was.   I could change the parts of life I didn’t love so much by lying… er, rather, by telling a good story about them.  And if people heard and liked the stories enough, they began to believe and see life more the way I saw it myself.  A good story could alter reality and make life better.  I used this power constantly as a child.

There were invisible aliens invading Iowa constantly when I was a boy.  Dragons lived in the woods at Bingham Park, and there were tiny little fairy people everywhere, in the back yard under the bushes, in the attic of the house, and building cities in the branches of neglected willow trees.

Donner n Silkie

I reached out to the world around me as an artist, a cartoonist, and a story-teller and plucked details and colors and wild imaginings like apples to bake the apple pie that would much later in my life feed the novels and colored-pencil pictures that would make up my inner life.  The novels I have written and the drawings I have made have all come from being a small town boy who dreamed big and lived more in stories than in the humdrum everyday world.

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Children of the Land

Children are a resource that we, as a people, cannot live on without.

If we stop having children, nurturing children, raising children, providing children discipline and education, entertaining children, guiding children, and, most of all, loving children, in eighty or so years, human beings will be extinct in this universe.

How many universes are there with humanity being extinct in them? It is impossible to answer. But if there is more than one universe, there is more than one.

When I was a child myself, family farms were still the rule in Iowa. Couples would try for lots of kids to help with the farm work. Chores! I fed animals. I went with my grandfather to the feed store, the hardware store, and the hatchery. I drove a tractor. I walked bean fields and pulled weeds. I mucked out a hog house once (and believe me, once is enough for a lifetime.) I have slopped hogs. I shingled a house and a garage. I painted the family house (in town, not Grandpa’s farmhouse.) As a child, I helped my uncles who were farmers, and worked for other farmers in the area. I was just as important as fertilizer to the maintenance of the world I lived in. (I did not say I was important to USE AS fertilizer. They would’ve had to kill me to use me that way. But my work was a part of what made the land yield plenty.)

I was left, as a child, with the distinct impression that we were meant to live in the land as a part of the land. Nature was our friend. We didn’t cut down all the trees and pave over everything like the city folks did. The kid who never went skinny dipping was rare indeed.

There once were people who knew they lived with the land, and they were good stewards of the land. They knew if the land was not living well and healthy, then neither would they live well and healthy.

But I am not arguing that we should go back to the world of the 1960s. The work I did in the land back then is now mostly mechanized and done by machines, computers, automation, and factorization. But we can teach our precious children the values of old to use in new ways. If we don’t, well… I hope the AI Terminator Robots of the future will have a happy life without us.

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Inside Toonerville

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The Toonerville Post Office and Bert Buchanan’s Toy Store.

Toonerville is not only a wonderful cartoon place created by Fontaine Fox in the 1930’s, but the name of the town that inhabited my HO Train Layout when I lived in South Texas and had the Trolley actually running nearly on time.  The train layout has not been restored to working condition for over a decade now.  The buildings which I mostly built from kits or bought as plaster or ceramic sculptures and repainted have been sitting on bookshelves in all that time.  I still have delusions of rebuilding the train set in the garage, but it is becoming increasingly less and less likely as time goes on and my working parts continue to stiffen up and stop working.  So, what will I do with Toonerville?

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Wilma Wortle waits on the station platform for her train at the Toonerville Train station. I built this kit in the 1970’s, hence the accumulations of dust bunnies.

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Loew’s Theater has been awaiting the start of The African Queen for more than twenty years.

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Main Street Toonerville at 2:25 in the afternoon. Or is it three? The courthouse clock is often slow.

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Grandma Wortle who controls all the money in the family likes to park her car near the eggplant house when she visit’s Al’s General Store.

But I may yet have found a way to put Toonerville back together through computer-assisted artsy craftsy endeavors.

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A two-shot of Bill Freen’s house and Slappy Coogan’s place on the photo set to start production.

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Bill Freen’s house lit up with newfangled electricical. (and I do believe that is the way Bill spells it all good and proper.)

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Bill Freen’s house cut out in the paint program.

So I can make composite pictures of Toonerville with realistic photo-shopped backgrounds.  Now, I know only goofy old artsy fartsy geeks like me get excited about doofy little things like this, but my flabber is completely gasted with the possibilities.

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Bill Freen’s house at sunset… (but I don’t get why there’s snow on the roof when the grass is so green?)

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Filed under art editing, artwork, autobiography, farm boy, foolishness, humor, illustrations, photo paffoonies, Toonerville

Holiday Happinesses

This holiday season has not been all blues and depression as I have probably been sounding like in this blog this week.

It is true that the still-progressing pandemic has been rather hard and grueling on me and mine. Since it began I have lost both parents, though neither caught the disease itself, and the impacts on funerals and family support of each other has been difficult. I also lost a cousin, two friends from high school, and possibly an uncle on the Beyer side that we haven’t heard from since before it all started (his surviving children and their families don’t have our contact information, and we don’t have theirs.)

But it never pays to only put the dark things on the scale, and ignore the side where happiness goes.

I have had a lot of good gingerbread to eat, and , ooh, boy! Pumpkin pie!

I got to see Spiderman, No Way Home with my kids in the theater. And I got to see the whole Hawkeye series on Disney +.

Both of those stories were epic and made my comic-book-loving heart warm and happy.

I have become a third-part owner of the family farm in Iowa, the farm where my Grandma and Grandpa Aldrich lived when I was a child and spent a considerable part of every Thanksgiving week and every Christmas week there I and my two sisters successfully bought our brother’s share, and the farm will continue to be a part of our family into the future. The older of my two sisters is now living on the place and managing the farm, though a renter actually grows things on the farm.

My mother’s final Christmas gift turned out to be an inheritance large enough to pay off property taxes and finish off my Chapter 13 bankruptcy. I was also able to replace my failing computer and old cell phone.

So, of the three Christmas ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Future might be the most welcoming ghost of them all.

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The Real Magic in that Old Home Town

Rowan, Iowa… Not the place I was born, but the place where I got to be a stupid kid, and have the lessons of the good and god-fearing life hammered into my head hard enough to make a dent and make it stay with me for more than half a century. I got to go to grade school there. I learned to read there, especially in Miss Mennenga’s third and fourth grade class. Especially in that old copy of Treasure Island with the N.C, Wyeth illustrations in it, the one Grandma Aldrich kept in the upstairs closet in their farm house. I got to see my first naked girl there. I learned a lot of things about sex from my friends there, and none of them were true. I played 4-H softball there, and made a game-saving catch in center field… in the same game where my cousin Bob hit the game-winning home run. But those were things kids did everywhere. It didn’t make me special. There was no real magic in it.

Being a farm-kid’s kid taught me the importance of doing your chores, every day and on time. If you didn’t do them, animals could get sick, animals could die, crops could be spoiled, the chickens could get angry and petulant and peck your hands when you tried to get the eggs. Cows could get grumpy and kick the milk bucket. Cats could vow revenge if you didn’t direct a spray or two at their little faces as they lined up to watch you milk the cows. And you never knew for sure what a vengeful cat might do to you later, as cats were evil. They might jump on the keyboard during your piano recital. They might knock the turkey stuffing bowl off the top of the dryer when Mom and Grandma and several aunts were cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. And I know old black Midnight did that on purpose because he got to snatch some off the floor before it could be reached by angry aunts with brooms and dustpans. And all of it was your fault if it all led back to not doing your chores, and not doing them exactly right.

But, even though we learned responsibility and work ethic from our chores, that was not the real home-town magic either. I wasn’t technically a real farm kid. Sure, I picked up the eggs in the chicken house at Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm more than once. And I did, in fact, help with milking machines and even milking cows by hand and squirting cats in the faces at Uncle Donny’s farm. I walked beans, going up and down the rows to pull and chop weeds out of the bean fields at Uncle Larry’s farm. I drove a tractor at Great Uncle Alvin’s farm. But I didn’t have to do any of those things every single day. My mother and my father both grew up on farms. But we lived in town. So, my work ethic was probably worth only a quarter of what the work ethic of any of my friends in school was truly worth. I was a bum kid by comparison. Gary G. and Kevin K, both real farm kids and older than me, explained this to me one day behind the gymnasium with specific examples and fists.

Being a farm kid helped to forge my character. But that was really all about working hard, and nothing really to do with magic.

I truly believe the real magic to be found in Rowan, Iowa, my home town, was the fact that it was boring. It was a sleepy little town, that never had any real event… well, except maybe for a couple of monster blizzards in the 60’s and 70’s, and the Bicentennial parade and tractor pull on Main Street in 1976, and a couple of costume contests in the 1960’s held in the Fire Station where I had really worked hard on the costumes, a scarecrow one year, and an ogre the next, where I almost won a prize. But nothing that changed history or made Rowan the center of everything.

And therein lies the magic. I had to look at everything closely to find the things and strategies that would take me to the great things and places where I wanted to end up. I learned to wish upon a star from Disney movies. I learned about beauty of body and soul from the girls that I grew up with, most of them related. And I invented fantastical stories with the vivid imagination I discovered lurking in my own stupid head. I embarrassed Alicia Stewart by telling everyone that I could prove she was a Martian princess, kidnapped and brought to Earth by space pirates that only I knew how to defeat. And I learned to say funny things and make people laugh… but in ways that didn’t get me sent to the principal’s office in school. Yes, it was the magic of my own imagination. And boring Iowa farm towns made more people with magic in them than just me. John Wayne was one. Johnny Carson was one also. And have you heard of Elijah Wood? Or the painter Grant Wood? Or the actress Cloris Leachman?

Yep. We were such stuff as dreams were made on in small towns in Iowa. And that is real magic.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 14

Reichenbach Falls

Bobby and his book were perched in the rocking chair on the porch with Horatio curled up on the rug by his feet.  The reading lamp was on, but otherwise the porch was mostly dark.  Dad and Grandpa had finished closing the porch-window shutters over an hour earlier.  Thunder rumbled eerily somewhere out in the dark of the early evening.

“It sure is spooky out there,” said Shane from his seat in the darkness around the porch sofa.

“It’s just a summer thunderstorm,” said Bobby, turning a page.

“Whatcha readin’?”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

 “Oh?  What’s the story called?”

“The Final Problem.”

“Is that a good one?”

“No.  Sherlock fights Professor Moriarty at a waterfall in Switzerland called Reichenbach Falls.  They both go over the edge and fall to their deaths.”

“Sherlock dies?”  Shane sounded genuinely alarmed.

“Yeah.  But he’s not real.  And he comes back to life.  The Hound of the Baskervilles happens after this story.”

“Oh.”  Shane sounded relieved.

Then the place was briefly white with light from outside, and the thunderstrike that followed almost instantly meant that lightning had hit something nearby.  ProbaHbly the lightning rod on the barn’s cupola.

But Bobby and Shane both jumped as the electricity went out, leaving them in inky blackness.  A few seconds later, the lights were on again.

“What was that!?” Shane practically screeched.

“From the ozone smell in the air, I surmise that lightning struck nearby.  Close enough to cause a brief power outage via electromagnetic pulse.”  Horatio looked calm and unconcerned as he said it.

“Horatio says that the lightning struck the barn and caused the electricity to go out for a moment.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but I smell rats out and about,” said Horatio.

“Professor Rattiarty?” asked Bobby.

“What?” said Shane.

“Yes, but not alone.  He has the corpse of a poisoned rat with him.  Possibly Darktail Ralph.  He probably wants to tempt me to poison myself.”

“You won’t eat the dead rat, will you?”

“No!  Yuck!  I don’t want to eat any dead rats!” remarked Shane loudly and with disgust.

“I concur with your brother.  I will not be eating any rats tonight either.  Rattiarty is himself filled with rat poison.”

“What?  Rattiarty is poisoned but not dead?”

“What… what?” gasped Shane.  “Are you talking to Horatio again?”

“Rats often ingest poison slowly enough that, instead of slaying them, they become immune to it.”

“What are we gonna do if the rats are now immune to poison?”

“They are?  Bobby?  What is Horatio telling you?”

“What are you telling me, Horatio?”

“Professor Rattiarty is out there now in the storm.  He’s out of evil minions and wants to challenge me to a final battle.”

“Horatio says Professor Rattiarty wants a final showdown now.”

“The evil rat is out there in the storm?”

“He is.”

“Bobby, if you open the porch door for me, I must answer the rat’s challenge.”

“Now?  In the storm?”

“Yes.  If not now, then never.  My aged body is soon to give out, and I would not let that evil rat continue to threaten the Niland family that I have loved for so long, and who loves me in return.”

Bobby put Sherlock Holmes aside and rose from the rocking chair.

“Bobby, why are you crying?  What did the dog say?”

“Not now, Shane.”

Bobby moved to the porch door.  He opened the screen door inward and the storm door outward against the wind and the driving rain.

“Bobby!  What are you doing?”

Horatio leaped up and bolted out of door as a lightning strike illuminated everything with a burning blue-white light.

Bobby thought he saw the rat scampering across the farmyard as the light faded to blackness.

Shane, terrified, jumped out into the downpour.

“Horatio!  Come back, doggie!”

Bobby, too, went out in the rain.  Straining his eyes to try to find Horatio and the rat he was chasing.  He could see nothing.  A car out on the gravel country road had its brights on as it barrelled along towards Highway 69 going much faster than it should in the rain.

“Horatio!  Come back, it’s not safe!” Shane screamed, crying as he shouted it.

Grandpa Butch was suddenly directly behind Bobby.

“What’s going on?  Why are you boys out in the storm?”

“It’s Horatio and the rat.”

“Shane!  Come back to the house!”

“Grandpa, Horatio is out here in the rain somewhere!  Bobby let him out the front door!”

A car horn blared.  Brakes screeched.  Bobby thought he heard a sickening thump out there on the gravel road.  And the car skidded to a stop in the dark and the rain.

“Oh, god, no!  Shane!” 

Grandpa ran toward the car.  Bobby followed right behind.  As they drew near the stopped car, they heard Shane crying as if he were heartbroken.

“Shane!  Are you all right?”

“Grandpa, it’s Horatio.”

“Butch, I am sorry,” said Mr. Beetle Jones, out of the car and kneeling by the lump of soaked fur on the gravel road, illuminated by the headlights.

Bobby’s stomach quivered, leading to an uncontrolled string of chest-constricting sobs.

  “Ah, Horatio.  You have been a good and faithful friend,” said Butch Niland wearily as he kneeled down and petted the badly damaged body.

“Is he…?  Is he dead?”

“I’m sorry, boys.  He was an old dog.  It is a blessing that it was over quickly.  It means his life won’t end in prolonged suffering.”

“Bobby, how could you?” cried Shane.  “It’s your fault!  You and your dumb old imagination.  You shoulda never let him out of that door.” Bobby could take no more.  He lit out for the house as fast as he could run.  The lightning and thunder lent drama and illuminated his path.

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Elsie the Cow

Sierra Exif JPEG

I was a boy back when the milk man still came around in his blue-and-white panel truck delivering bottles of milk with Elsie the Cow on them.  I don’t remember clearly because I was only 4 years old back when I first became aware of being a boy in this world instead of being something else living somewhere else.

There were many things I didn’t know or understand back then.  But one thing I did know, was that I loved Elsie the Cow.  And why would a farm boy love a cartoon cow?  There were many not-so-sensible reasons.

For one thing, Elsie the Cow reminded me of June Lockhart, Lassie’s mom and the mom from Lost in Space.

Lassie’s Mom, June Lockhart


 It may be that June Lockhart’s eyes reminded me of Elsie’s eyes, being large, soul-full eyes with large black eye lashes.  It may be that she starred in a TV commercial for Borden’s milk in which Elsie winked at me at the end of the commercial.

Or maybe it was because Elsie had calves and was a mom.  And June Lockhart was Lassie’s mom and the mom of Will Robinson, so I associated both of them with my mom, and thus with each other.

      Elsie gave you milk to drink and was always taking care of  you in that way.  Milk was good for you, after all.  My own mom was a registered nurse.  So they were alike in that way too.

And she was constantly defending you against the bulls in your life.  She stood up to Elmer to protect her daughter more than once.  Of course, her son was usually guilty of whatever he was accused of, but she still loved him and kept Elmer from making his “hamburger” threats a reality.

And you can see in numerous ad illustrations that Elsie’s family were basically nudists.  Although she often wore an apron, she was bare otherwise.  And though her daughter often wore skirts and her son wore shorts, Elmer was always naked.  And that didn’t surprise me, because no cow I knew from the farm wore clothes either.  From very early in my life I was always fascinated by nakedness, and I would’ve become a nudist as a youngster if it hadn’t been soundly discouraged by family and society in general.

Proof that Elsie’s family lived the nude life.

Puppets from a Borden’s commercial

So there are many reasons why I have always loved Elsie the Cow.  And it all boils down to the love of drinking milk and that appealing cartoon character who constantly asked you to drink more.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 10

Front Porch Deductions

The next day, of course, was Sunday.  And after Sunday School and Church, Bobby knew exactly where to find Horatio.  It was a screen porch with room enough for two rocking chairs, a futon couch/bed foldout, an old easy chair, and a small table for iced tea, lemonade, and the checkerboard.  But there was also a spot on the homemade rug in front of Grandpa’s rocking chair where the sunbeams converged and made a warming zone that was absolutely perfect for warming arthritic dog joints and soothing old-dog complaints that needed to be soothed to allow half-day-long naps.

“So, Horatio, here you are!”

The elderly collie yawned.  “Yes, Bobby.  Here I are.”

“Silly old dog!  You’re supposed to say Here I am.”

“Yes, I know that.  You must remember, every time you hear me speaking like this, the voice is actually coming out of your own imagination.”

“Sure, and I guess I must’ve made you say it wrong on purpose for some evil reason.”

“Not an evil reason.  A familiar one.  Grandpa Butch makes that kind of joke by mirroring the things you say as if they were incorrect on purpose.  It’s the way his sense of humor works, and you are really smart enough to know that, though you often pretend that you aren’t.  Your mind filled in the blanks in a way that sounds right to you, even when there’s joking involved because that’s the world you’re used to.”

Of course, Bobby knew one hundred percent that he was writing the entire discussion in his head because he wanted Horatio to talk like he knew Sherlock Holmes probably would.

Bobby sat on the porch floorboards in his short pants and buried his right hand in the silky fur of Horatio’s neck.

“Why do dogs make such good friends?” Bobby said more to himself than to Horatio.

“Because dogs love their chosen humans.  And a dog knows how to listen to people much better than any cat or parrot, or goldfish.  Dogs may not know the words you are using all of the time. But they know your smell.  And they know how to read what you are thinking and feeling because the see it in your face.  No stupid cat can do that.”

“But cats are better at catching mice and rats,” said Shane, while stepping out on the porch with a piece of Mom’s cherry pie on a small plate that he handed to Bobby.

“Thanks, Shane.”

“You’re welcome.  I had mine in the kitchen, and Mom asked me to bring yours out here.”

“It’s good,” Bobby said with the first bite in his mouth.  “But, hey, wait.  How did you know what Horatio said about cats?”

“And how did you get the information so wrong, too?” added Horatio.

“It wasn’t Horatio talking.  It was you.”

“Oh.”

“See, my dear Robert, I told you my words all come out of your imagination.  And sometimes your mouth,” said Horatio.

“Did you hear Horatio say that last thing?”

“What?”

“That thing he said about where the words come from?”

“I didn’t hear the dog say anything,” said Shane.

“I told you, dear boy, it’s only in your head.

“Well, of course, it is.”

“Is what?” asked Shane.

“You shouldn’t be holding two conversations in your head as the same time.  You are confusing your brother Shane,” said Horatio.

“Yes, see.  Only I can hear the dog talking.”

“You’re weird,” said Shane, grinning at Bobby as he left him to enjoy his pie with Horatio as company.

Then, something in the yard caught Bobby’s attention.  Out between the porch and the barn, on the gravel drive, a large rat was slinking along doing rat business as if he didn’t care who or what saw him.

“Who is that, Horatio?”

“That, dearest Robert, is Whitewhiskers Billy.  He’s an evil, egg-sucking rat.”

“So, that’s Whitewhiskers Billy, is it?”

“Why would that rat be Whitewhiskers Billy?” asked Grandpa as Bobby realized that Grandpa Butch had suddenly appeared at the doorway between the porch and the house.

“Did you hear Horatio call him that?” asked Bobby.

“No, I heard you say it,” said Grandpa.

“Oh.  So, why is he called Whitewhiskers Billy?

“Because his whiskers smell white.  He eats chicken droppings.  It makes them sort of bleached white,” said Horatio.

“Because his whiskers smell white,” said Bobby.

“Smell white?  Horatio tell you that?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, I think we should put some rat poison out, maybe in the barn and under the hen house..” said Grandpa.  “That will give old Whitewhiskers Bill something to think about.”

“Will that kill him?” Bobby asked.

“It should.  But we will have to be careful that the dog and the stupid turkens don’t get into it.  We would hate to lose any of them by being less than careful.”

Bobby nodded wide-eyed.  He certainly didn’t want Horatio to get poisoned.  Of course, if it got a turken or two, he wouldn’t be too upset.

“I need to check the flyer I got from the hardware store in Clarion.  I think I remember a sale on a good poison to put in the barn.”  Grandpa left the porch again too.

As Bobby continued to sit in the warm, yellow sunshine with Horatio, he began noticing his bare white legs, how girlish they looked in the sunlight.

“Can you tell if Blueberry is a girl or a boy by smell?”

“She definitely smells girlish.  No boy smell.  No boy pee.  Lots of girly flower smells.”

“I have always believed she is a girl.”

“Yes, and you kinda like her too.  It’s a shame she already has a boyfriend.”

“Horatio!”

“You know I can tell how you feel about her by the scent of romance whenever you’re around her.  And I know that whatever gender-irregularities she may have, you are convinced that she must be a girl.  Remember, I will always know what you are thinking because…”

“Because you are the world’s greatest dog-detective with your all-knowing sniffer.”

“See there?  You are a lot smarter than you let people think you are.  And you are a great imaginer too.”

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Filed under family dog, farm boy, humor, imagination, kids, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

The Real Magic in that Old Home Town

Rowan, Iowa… Not the place I was born, but the place where I got to be a stupid kid, and have the lessons of the good and god-fearing life hammered into my head hard enough to make a dent and make it stay with me for more than half a century. I got to go to grade school there. I learned to read there, especially in Miss Mennenga’s third and fourth grade class. Especially in that old copy of Treasure Island with the N.C, Wyeth illustrations in it, the one Grandma Aldrich kept in the upstairs closet in their farm house. I got to see my first naked girl there. I learned a lot of things about sex from my friends there, and none of them were true. I played 4-H softball there, and made a game-saving catch in center field… in the same game where my cousin Bob hit the game-winning home run. But those were things kids did everywhere. It didn’t make me special. There was no real magic in it.

Being a farm-kid’s kid taught me the importance of doing your chores, every day and on time. If you didn’t do them, animals could get sick, animals could die, crops could be spoiled, the chickens could get angry and petulant and peck your hands when you tried to get the eggs. Cows could get grumpy and kick the milk bucket. Cats could vow revenge if you didn’t direct a spray or two at their little faces as they lined up to watch you milk the cows. And you never knew for sure what a vengeful cat might do to you later, as cats were evil. They might jump on the keyboard during your piano recital. They might knock the turkey stuffing bowl off the top of the dryer when Mom and Grandma and several aunts were cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. And I know old black Midnight did that on purpose because he got to snatch some off the floor before it could be reached by angry aunts with brooms and dustpans. And all of it was your fault if it all led back to not doing your chores, and not doing them exactly right.

But, even though we learned responsibility and work ethic from our chores, that was not the real home-town magic either. I wasn’t technically a real farm kid. Sure, I picked up the eggs in the chicken house at Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm more than once. And I did, in fact, help with milking machines and even milking cows by hand and squirting cats in the faces at Uncle Donny’s farm. I walked beans, going up and down the rows to pull and chop weeds out of the bean fields at Uncle Larry’s farm. I drove a tractor at Great Uncle Alvin’s farm. But I didn’t have to do any of those things every single day. My mother and my father both grew up on farms. But we lived in town. So, my work ethic was probably worth only a quarter of what the work ethic of any of my friends in school was truly worth. I was a bum kid by comparison. Gary G. and Kevin K, both real farm kids and older than me, explained this to me one day behind the gymnasium with specific examples and fists.

Being a farm kid helped to forge my character. But that was really all about working hard, and nothing really to do with magic.

I truly believe the real magic to be found in Rowan, Iowa, my home town, was the fact that it was boring. It was a sleepy little town, that never had any real event… well, except maybe for a couple of monster blizzards in the 60’s and 70’s, and the Bicentennial parade and tractor pull on Main Street in 1976, and a couple of costume contests in the 1960’s held in the Fire Station where I had really worked hard on the costumes, a scarecrow one year, and an ogre the next, where I almost won a prize. But nothing that changed history or made Rowan the center of everything.

And therein lies the magic. I had to look at everything closely to find the things and strategies that would take me to the great things and places where I wanted to end up. I learned to wish upon a star from Disney movies. I learned about beauty of body and soul from the girls that I grew up with, most of them related. And I invented fantastical stories with the vivid imagination I discovered lurking in my own stupid head. I embarrassed Alicia Stewart by telling everyone that I could prove she was a Martian princess, kidnapped and brought to Earth by space pirates that only I knew how to defeat. And I learned to say funny things and make people laugh… but in ways that didn’t get me sent to the principal’s office in school. Yes, it was the magic of my own imagination. And boring Iowa farm towns made more people with magic in them than just me. John Wayne was one. Johnny Carson was one also. And have you heard of Elijah Wood? Or the painter Grant Wood? Or the actress Cloris Leachman?

Yep. We were such stuff as dreams were made on in small towns in Iowa. And that is real magic.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, dreaming, farm boy, farming, foolishness, goofy thoughts, humor, magic, Paffooney