Category Archives: farm boy

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.

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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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Filed under artwork, autobiography, colored pencil, dreaming, fairies, farm boy, goofy thoughts, humor, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Cottonwood on the Corner

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The old cottonwood tree on the Aldrich farm corner has been there for as long as I can remember.  It was there when I was a small boy visiting Grandpa Aldrich’s farm.  It is still there 55 years later as I visit Mom and Dad who are still living on the farm.  A lot has changed.  Time has passed.  It is a different decade, a different century, a different millennium.

The old tree is like an anchor in time.  I can come home and look at it and be taken back in time.  I know that tree.  And he knows me.

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That isn’t true of all of the trees on the farm.

 

 

 

 

This pine by the house is tree who is younger than me.  I can remember when it was planted.  It was not so very many years ago.

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This gnarled old tree in the grove may be about the same age as I am.  I remember it when both it and I were small and we played together in the grove.  I was Tarzan, Jungle Jim, and the Lone Ranger.  It was the post I leaned on in my secret lookout post.  Back then my hand went most of the way around the trunk.

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It is good to come home to a place where you know the trees personally.  You can revisit old haunts, see old friends and acquaintances, and walk along gravel roads in a place where there is little traffic and no smog.

So I came back to Iowa to visit a tree.  Well, the farm place and aging parents too.

 

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Speaking in Iowegian

“We’re from Ioway…Ioway!

State of all the land…

Joy on every hand…

We’re from Ioway…Ioway!

That’s where the tall corn grows!”

Yep, I was an Iowa boy.  I sang that stupid song with pride, though we never once called our home State “Ioway” outside of that song.  I have driven a tractor, made money for pulling buttonweeds out of soybean fields with my own two hands, watched the wind ripple the leaves in the cornfields like waves on bright green ocean water, and hid in the basement when we believed a tornado might come and destroy our house.  Life in Iowa is made up of these things and many more, don’t ya know.

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And of course, I learned to tell corny jokes along the way.  That’s a must for a quick-wit-hick from the sticks.  Pepsi and Coke and Mountain Dew are “pop”, and when you have to “run down to the store” you get in your car.  You don’t have to do it by foot.  And other Iowans know this.  You don’t even get the raised eyebrows and funny stares that those things evoke when said aloud in Carrollton, Texas.  You have to explain to Texans that “you guys” is how Iowegian speakers say “y’all”.  Language is plain and simple when you speak Iowegian.  You have to follow the rule of “Only speak when you’re spoken to”.  Iowans are suspicious when somebody talks first, especially if you haven’t known that somebody for their entire life.  That’s what an Iowan calls a “stranger” .  “Frank is from Iowa Falls, and he’s only lived here for twelve years, so he’s still a stranger around here.”   So large portions of Iowegian conversations are made up of grunts and nods.  Two Iowegians can talk for hours saying only like ten words the entire time.  “Yep.  You bet.”

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But that only applies when you are outside the confines of the local cafe or restaurant or beanery or eatery or other nesting places for the Iowegian gossiping hens and strutting roosters.   Inside these wordy-walled exchanges for farm lore and lies there is no end to to the talking.  And because the mouths are already in motion anyway, there is also no end to the eating.  You are not too likely to see skinny farmers.  But farms and farmers definitely affect the quality of conversations.  In Iowa you have to learn how to stuff good grub in your pie hole in spite of the fact that farmers have decided to compare in detail the aromas associated with putting cow poop in the manure spreader (back in the day, of course) and mucking out a layer of toxic chicken whitewash from the chicken coop.  Perfect topic to accompany that piece of lemon meringue pie (which is the perfect color to illustrate the chicken side of the argument).  And, of course, if you have a family of health-care and service professionals like mine (mother was a registered nurse for forty years), you get to add to that discussions of perforated gall bladders, kidney resections, and mean old biddies that have to be helped on and off the bedpans.  You must develop a strong tolerance and an even stronger stomach, or you are doomed to be skinny and underfed.

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And since Iowegian is a language that is very simple, direct, and mostly about poop, they practically all voted for Trump.  Like him they never use transitions more than starting sentences with “And” or “But”, so they understand him mostly, even though there is no chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that he understands them.   It’s what allowed them to elect a mouth-breathing troglodyte like Steve King to the House of Representatives, and I can say that because they have no idea what “troglodyte” means, and will probably think it is a complement because it has so many syllables.  Insults have four letters.  Politics in Iowa is simple and direct too.  Basically, if you are not a Republican you are wrong.  Of course, somehow the State managed to go for Obama over Romney, but that was probably because, to an Iowan, neither one was right, and Mormons are wrong-er than anybody.

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So there’s my brief and beautiful bouquet of Iowegian words and their explanatory weegification.  I know there is a lot more to say about how Iowegians talk.  But I can’t say it here because my short Iowegian attention span is already wandering.  So let me wrap it up with one final weegification (yes, that is a made-up word, not a one-time typo mistake).

 

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Filed under autobiography, family, farm boy, farming, humor, red States, strange and wonderful ideas about life, word games, wordplay

Dows, Iowa

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Bustling downtown Dows with the grain elevator in the background

There are many simple truths to be gleaned from a simple visit to the scene of your childhood.  You need every so often to get in touch with where you came from and the roots of who you are.  Dows is not the town where I grew up.  But we played them in 4-H softball, and we won almost as much as we lost to them.  It is a town near enough to my little home town to be a place that impacts who I am.

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You have no idea what this is, right?

Day before yesterday we went to Dows for a dinner with relatives.  My cousin and her second husband were there.  Her parents, my uncle who still lives on Uncle I.C.’s farm place that has been in the family for more than a hundred years, and my aunt who is going bald a bit, were also there.  We ate in a totally Pepsi-Cola-themed restaurant and had a Rueben pizza with roast beef and sauerkraut on it (talk about your total cultural potpourri!)  The experience taught me a simple lesson.  We come from a bizarre mixture of themes and things cooked together in a recipe for life that can never be repeated and cooked again for our children.

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You don’t order Coke here.

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We avoided talking about politics because Iowa is very conservative and none of us enjoy yelling at each other about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton using fact-free Fox News talking points and cow poop about how building a wall that Mexico pays for will cure all our economic problems because we all think we know how Hispanics moving into Iowa are ruining our lives.  So, instead, we talked about how Eaton’s machine tool manufacturing plant in Belmond is facing more lay-offs.

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The restored and re-purposed Dows’ Rock Island train station.

We talked about businesses that have gone out and not been replaced in the little Iowa towns around us.  We talked about how no one walks beans any more, walking the rows of soy beans to pull button weeds and cockle-burrs by hand and chop rogue corn with hoe.  We talked about how farming has gone to spraying weed-killing chemicals and factory-farming pigs instead.  It is a simple lesson in how ways of life come to an end and are not necessarily replaced with something better.

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There is an artist working on a patriotic project to put one of these in every county in Iowa.

We constantly remake ourselves as the world changes and ages around us.  Nothing lasts forever.  Life is a process of growing and withering and regrowing.  A simple word for that is “farming”.  Who we were impacts who we have become and will affect what comes after.  But we learn simple lessons from going to the places we love best and doing our dead-level best to get from there to here and move eventually to someplace beyond.  And Dows, Iowa is just one of those places… I guess.

 

 

 

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Idea Fertilizer

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Picture borrowed from the North American Manure Expo’s Facebook page

This morning as I was going to QT for my daily dose of wake-up juice with caffeine in it, Jody Dean and the Morning Team on KLUV radio station were making fun of the North American Manure Expo taking place in London, Ohio this week.  Jody Dean, the radio talk-show host, was suggesting that the Expo would’ve been a natural thing to host in Fort Worth because, well, Texas and cow poop just naturally go together.  But it occurs to me, that this is fortuitously a part of Ohio this month because the GOP convention is taking place shortly in Cleveland, and the bull dookie won’t have to be shipped as far for that.  Besides, having grown up as an Iowan, I have a farm-boy awareness of the intrinsic need for poo-poo conventions where the latest distribution technology is on display.  After all, cow poo is fertilizer… it makes stuff grow.

Yesterday I was unable to write the post I had planned about the tragic police shooting in Dallas.  There was a lot to write about.  It was a terrible thing that affected me deeply and did considerable damage to the fight for human rights in this country and preserving the respect and dignity we owe to the men in blue who too often give their lives to keep us safe.  It also gave our Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick a chance to actually put both feet in his mouth at the same time, and for Dallas resident and former rodeo clown turned president George W. Bush to do a goofy smiley-faced dance during the playing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic while the memorial to the fallen Dallas policemen was in the middle of a rather somber occasion.  Poop makes stuff grow, and that post would’ve been epic.

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A project I was working on yesterday while sulking.

You see, yesterday I didn’t have the usual amount of time for writing because I had to install an air conditioner for my hot wife.  It was difficult to install because the bedroom I installed it in has no regular windows.  Only a window/door onto the patio.  And I had to do the installing because my wife wanted to take a sledge hammer to the bedroom wall and knock out enough bricks to make a vent hole for the air conditioner.  I did not want my determined little wife taking up the hammer herself, so I carefully mapped out a plan and bought supplies to cut a hole in the drywall and then jury-rig a makeshift air duct to a pre-existing hole in the brickwork.  I got the hole cut in the drywall and then ran into a snag when I exposed a support beam in the way of my plan.  Well, this led to a discussion of the details executed rather loudly and I believe I was compared to a donkey at least three times.  We then reached a compromise (by which I mean what husbands usually mean when they use the word “compromise” which is that we did things the way my wife wanted them done.  Or, rather, my wife picked up the hammer and crowbar, and I retreated to my room to sulk like a proper adult.  The air conditioner is now humming.  It is blowing half of the exhaust out through the space left by the two bricks she knocked out rather neatly, and the other half up through the wall into the attic.  Oh, well, it works and she is happy with it.  Hopefully no building inspectors read this post.

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Another piece of alien art done while sulking.

The point is, cow poop happens.  And cow poop is fertilizer.  It makes things grow.  Including ideas for posts on my blog.  I was able to illustrate the Telleron alien kids from two of my novels while I was busy sulking and feeling sorry for myself.  In fact, the novel Catch a Falling Star probably only exists because of Iowa and cow poop.  Yes, life in farmville is resoundingly boring and uneventful, so my fertile imagination couldn’t help but make up an alien invasion of a small Iowan farming community.  And my imagination was probably fertile due to so much exposure to cow poop on my grandfather’s and my two uncles’ farms.  So now you know.

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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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How to Be a Farm Boy Without Really Trying (or Wanting To)

Farmgirl is adapted from a picture borrowed from the Belmond Area Arts Council.

Farmgirl is adapted from a picture borrowed from the Belmond Area Arts Council.

I was born in Mason City, Iowa (the original River City of Meredith Wilson’s Broadway musical, the Music Man).  But my parents didn’t hold with no big-city Ioway sort of life, so we eventually moved to my mother’s home town, Rowan, Iowa.  It was roughly about 275 people (if you count the squirrels… which a lot of the townsfolk were… qualified squirrels).  My two maternal uncles and my grand parents were busy maintaining the family farm there, and though I lived in town because Dad was an accountant for a seed corn company instead of the farmer he grew up as… I got more than my fair share of farming-type opportunity.  You know the stuff… shoveling pig poo… cow poo too…   I got to help feed the chickens (and get chased by roosters, and get pecked by hens when we checked their nests for eggs, and watch the rooster rodeos as revenge for all the chasings… because roosters don’t lay eggs and the only thing they are really good for in an egg farming setting is lopping their heads off, and watching them flop around like rodeo bulls with no heads for fifteen minutes until they finally figured out they were dead, then plucking ’em and watching Grandma Aldrich cook ’em).  I got to drive a tractor, although they didn’t trust me to do more than the simplest of tractor-driving jobs like pulling the hay rake.  I got to shovel chicken poo out of the hen house and out of the brooder house.  (Notice how a lot of the world of the lowly farm boy centers somehow on poo?)  It was a rustic rural life reminiscent of Norman Rockwell… although he depicted mostly town life and not as much of the fields and animal pens (and poo) that are central to Iowegian farm culture.

Brent Clarke is a me character in my stories... but also one of my farm boy friends.

Brent Clarke is a me character in my stories… but also one of my farm boy friends.

Growing up a farm boy has a few advantages to go along with the many drawbacks.  First off, you learn young where babies come from.  Piglets and calves and puppies and kittens are not born in secret.  And it doesn’t take much spying out on farm life to learn how those baby animals are made either.  There is ample opportunity to learn what you are not supposed to learn at a young age from farm girls too… but we were gentlemen… and extremely embarrassed by the fact that baby people are made in the same grisly, awful way that baby animals are out in the barn.

You also learn to be somewhat self-sufficient.  I learned how to tend a garden.  I learned how to fix a flat.  I learned how to repair a roof and build a rabbit pen.  Hammer, pliers, screwdriver, saw… I learned to use them all and make stuff.  Crude stuff, sure… smashed-finger-with-hammer-stuff too.  I made a bookshelf in shop class that had a bit of Michael blood built into it.  But I learned things that boys should know, and really don’t any more.

So, I guess I am claiming that because I am an Iowa boy… a farm boy… and despite my many short-comings and short-changings my life has been good and worthwhile… being a farm boy is good.  And one of the greatest shames of the modern world is this… there just aren’t many farm boys any more.

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