Every year that passes, life becomes more challenging, more difficult.
Ill health denies me many things. The poverty that comes with ill health and teacher retirement denies me even more. But I made it home to Iowa to visit the family farm once more. It could well be the last time. My parents are in their 80’s and more ill than I am. I lost my aunt a little more than a week ago. She passed away one day after her 80th birthday. Nothing is permanent. But those things that resist the ravages of time, the places, the people, the culture, the wind in the corn…
Of the people in the school picture from Rowan Rural School #4 (a one-room schoolhouse from Midwestern history and lore) all the ones who survive are octogenarians. Three of the survivors were at our family reunion for Great Grandma Hinckley’s descendants. My mother and uncle were there. Their cousin was also there. The school house stood on the Aldrich corner, near the house where my Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived, the farm house of a farm that’s been in the family for over a hundred years. My mother and Uncle Don and Uncle Larry could easily walk there. The rest came from country miles around by horse-drawn wagon.
Uncle Larry is now gone, but they have survived from the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the time of Criminal President Doofenschmertz Jehosephat Trumpennoodle. Things have changed. The house I now sit in was, back then, a place with a windmill and hand-pump for water, an outhouse for bathroom chores, and a radio for entertainment.
If they hadn’t endured through World War Two, and Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, and the assassination of JFK, we wouldn’t even be here. We are the children of hardship, endurance, and conviction of the rightness of life on Earth.
We saw progress through the creation of Disneyland, landing the first man on the surface of the moon, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Scooby Doo, and the Pink Panther… Nixon and his Watergate break-in, Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk, Laugh-in… President Ford falling down stairs, Saturday Night Live, the Peanut-farmer President, Reaganomics… the Iranian hostage crisis… Saved by the Bell, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones… The invasion of Panama… Operation Desert Storm… the second war in Iraq… the downfall of Saddam Hussein… Thundercats, Jerry Seinfeld, Friends, the Wonder Years…
I am especially impressed that they lived through all those Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons. And Leisure Suits… Aagh!
And their time is not completely up. Mother and Dad and Uncle Don still move on and go to reunions and bury loved ones… and tend to the needs of grandkids and great-grandkids… And pass on the good things to the next generation… and the next. So it goes, towards times not yet dreamed of.
Canto Five – Everyone
is Naked Under Their Clothes
The night was typical.
Six nasty old hens pecked Valerie’s hands as she searched under them for
eggs. The last one of those took a
girl-fist to the side of the head. That,
of course, didn’t faze the stupid hen.
Chickens apparently have their brains hidden safely in their butts. But chores always came to an end. Mom was always sympathetic about
chicken-stupidity-caused peck marks, and rubbed salve on them, visible wound or
not. Then it was time to finish any
homework needed, and up to bed. And Val
always slept naked under the quilts and comforters. She slept well because… well, because naked
was good when you were asleep.
Morning came, as mornings do, with a stupid rooster crowing
the sun up. Of course, if hens are
stupid, roosters, having the additional mental handicap of being male, were
stupid times ten. No, stupid times
twenty. Beau the rooster always got it
wrong. The sun was never actually up
until at least a half hour after the stupid rooster claimed it was up. Chicken pot pie. As Valerie pried her eyes open, she imagined
chicken pot pie cooking on Mom’s stove.
Beau-flavored chicken pot pie.
When she got to the bathroom, Daddy Kyle was already in
there shaving. No problem. Once again Valerie marched in naked as the
day she was born, though with considerably more hair on her head. She went straight to the shower, grabbed the
shampoo off the shelf, and twisted the water on to just the right level of warm
she always used. Warm, soapy water all
over your body… piles of foamy shampoo in your longish hair… it was a little
like Eden must have felt to Eve. And Eve
liked being naked too… at least, until the mistake with the snake. Of course, Eden had to end when the water
began to grow cold. Even in the
summertime the well could put out near freezing levels of cold once the water
heater was drained.
Kyle looked at her when she stepped out and grabbed a towel.
“No hot water left for me again, huh, Princess?”
“Sorry, Daddy. I need
a good hot shower in the mornings.”
“Shouldn’t you put on a robe or something, dearest? You come in here every morning completely
naked. You are getting too old for
“Old? Too old for what?”
“When a girl reaches a certain age, she starts to
change. When that happens, well…”
“But, Daddy, you are used to seeing me naked. You changed my diapers while Mommy and I were
still in the hospital after I was born.”
“I know… I know… And
it isn’t that there is anything wrong happening. It’s just…”
“You can’t be getting shy.
I’ve seen you naked too… a lot.”
Kyle’s face reddened.
He was apparently trying hard to stutter on.
“When a girl reaches a certain age… well, she…”
“Yeah, she changes. I
know Dad. Mom told me what to
expect. But honestly, I don’t even
really have boob bumps yet. I look like
a little boy when I’m naked… except I don’t have one of those water hoses to
She was standing with the towel in her hand, looking at him
while she was completely bare and being mildly amused by his extreme
discomfort. He finally sat down on the
closed cover of the commode, completely defeated. She decided to push things a little. She dropped the towel and went to sit on his
knee even though she was a little damp around the edges and quite sincerely
“I love you too, Daddy.”
“No… I mean, yes, I love you… but this is not a good thing
for a big girl to be doing. I worry you
are getting so used to being naked around a man like me… even though I’m your
Daddy… and one day… when boys, um… get curious… the way boys are… and, well…”
“If that’s what worries you, Daddy, no boy besides you has
ever seen me naked. And I won’t let a
yucky thing like that happen… until the time is right.”
“Okay, but promise me the time is not right until you are
“Daaaad! You know
everyone is actually naked under their clothes.
Everyone has a body… so no one should be ashamed of it.” Surely he recognized that bit of wisdom. After all, it is what he’d said to her on the
subject more than once.
“Okay. I trust you
and believe in you. But develop a little
modesty maybe? Put on a robe when you come in here. Or wait till I’m done.”
“Don’t you like me like this?”
“I love you. But you
are getting to an age where you being naked like this around me… well… begins
to get… um, uncomfortable. And your
little wet behind is making my pants wet.
I have work to do today, and now my pants have a wet spot shaped like
“Oh, Daddy!” She
leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
He put an arm around her shoulders and gave a squeeze.
“I hope we can start getting some better habits going,
Princess. We don’t want to get your mom
mad or anything.”
hopped off his damp lap and padded over to retrieve the towel. She wrapped it around herself and then gave
him one more grin before she barefooted it out of the bathroom and toward her
waiting school clothes. You never knew
anything for certain. Maybe one day she
would just have to go to school naked… to show Daddy that… well, okay… maybe
not to school.
Yesterday I posted another maudlin doomsday post. I probably gave you the opinion that all I do with my time is mope around and think about death. And maybe write a little creepy black Gothic poetry. But that’s not me. I am a lover of the humor in stories by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Kurt Vonnegut. I am a former teacher that managed to teach the entire zoological range of possible middle school and high school students in Texas and did it without being convinced to hate them rather than love them. Yes, my heart is full of mirth and love and memories of weird kids and troubled kids and kids that could melt the meanest of hearts.
My passion is writing fictional stories about the kids I have taught, including my own three, and setting it in a fictionalized version of my little town, the place in Iowa where I grew up. And I put them in plots of impossible fantasy and science fiction in a way that can only be explained as surrealism.
Nobody reads my books. So far, at any rate.
But that isn’t the important thing. The important thing is that, despite my illness and deteriorating quality of life, my books now actually exist. I put off being a full-time writer for 33 years as I finished my teaching career. A writer has to have something to write about. So, teaching came first.
Writing novels was always the ultimate goal, however. I am a story-teller. The story itself is in the very center of my heart.
–Discovery Doesn’t Happen Without Risk
Leaving the Ghost House, Valerie waited until Conrad Doble
had left. She didn’t like old King Leer
looking at her. She would’ve been
happier if Pidney had stayed around a bit longer. Not only could he protect her, but she really
liked looking at Pidney’s broad shoulders and cute behind. But Pidney left when Mary left. She didn’t have to worry for too long though
about being alone with Conrad. He left
shortly after Pid and Mary. Danny Murphy
and Ray Zeffer were both still there.
“You wouldn’t mind if we walked you home, huh, Val?” asked
She looked out the cellar doorway where Conrad had just
disappeared. “It would be kinda good to
have two guys around when I have to go back home and that creepazoid is around
“We promised Pidney a long time ago that we would look out
for you,” said Ray.
“I don’t really know you very well, Ray. Why do you wanna help me?”
“We are like second cousins or something,” said Ray. “Grandma says there are connections between
the Zeffers and the Clarkes. Back a
couple of generations maybe.”
“Besides,” said Danny, “You may only be ten years old, but you are so beautiful. We’d do anything for you just because of that.”
“That’s kinda sexist, ain’t it? You know my mom and I are both feminists, right?”
“Maybe,” said Ray, shoving Danny for having been so
stupid. “But it is entirely true.”
She looked at him then… really studied him for a moment. Ray Zeffer, tall and thin, was nice to look at too. He had big brown eyes like a deer… Bambi’s eyes. Those eyes could look soulfully through you like x-ray eyes. He could see Valerie’s heart inside her ribcage. She shivered ever so slightly because of those big Bambi eyes. But those eyes were sad. Something about the way those eyes looked at you told you that something deeply sad and soul-searing had touched Ray. She was fairly sure his mother hadn’t been killed by hunters though.
“Let’s go then. If
you walk me to the north edge of town, that will be good enough.”
“You skated in all the way from the farm?” asked Danny.
“Walked to town,” she answered. “You can’t use the board on the gravel
roads. It is only two miles.”
“That’s still a long way,” said Ray. “But if you don’t mind, we’ll walk you all the way home.”
“I don’t mind. You
are both very sweet to do it.”
***** The walk along the gravel roads had been pleasant. The rocks and sand crunched under your sneakers in a way that was reassuring. Your feet were firmly on the earth when you walked on the gravel. No danger of floating away into some dream world. And the sound the gravel made could warn you of oncoming cars both ahead of you, and behind. Stalking King Leers too. They couldn’t sneak up on you without being heard.
“That farm place there is where I live with Daddy and
Momma,” said Valerie. She looked at Ray.
“We know where you live,” said Danny. “We all three have lived in this town all our
“Oh, yeah, I know that,” said Val sheepishly. She didn’t want to be awkward in front of
“It’s a nice farm,” said Ray. “Your dad must work hard with so many acres
“Yeah, he’s pretty busy in the spring, summer, and fall. He should be in the fields now picking corn,
unless he’s finished all the corn that survived the hail in August.”
“I’d be in the fields now, too,” said Ray sadly, “except my
dad passed away two years ago. We just
rent our land out now, Mom and me.”
Val knew about Ray’s father.
He had passed away in the Summer of ’82 from a heart attack while
driving his tractor in a field down by Dows, Iowa. Maybe that’s why Ray looked so sad all the
“Do you miss it?” asked Danny. “The field work, I mean?”
“Not really. Being a
farmer is a hard job. It’s like you are
never done working.”
“Danny wouldn’t know,” said Valerie with a mocking
grin. “His dad works in an office in
Belle City. He counts beans or
“He’s an accountant,” said Danny frowning fiercely. “Bean-counter is a nick-name for an
accountant. He doesn’t actually count beans!”
“What does he really count, then?” asked Ray.
“Payrolls and prices and ledgers and stuff… I think,” said
Danny. “But I have done field work! You know I walked beans the past two summers,
Val! You walked ‘em too!”
“Ack! I hate walking
up and down the rows with a hoe, pulling button weeds and chopping rogue corn!”
“I like it,” said Valerie laughing. “I pretend some of the weeds are people I
don’t like or who have made fun of me. I
grab ‘em by the throat and yank their little fat heads off, or I chop them in
two with the hoe. Besides, walking beans
is how I got to see Danny naked last summer.”
Danny was seriously blushing now. If Val hadn’t killed him with embarrassment
before, this was sure to do the job now.
“Tell me about it,” said Ray with a chuckle.
Danny was hesitant, but certainly didn’t want Valerie to
tell it. “Well, er… I made a bet with my cousin from Clarion
about who could clear out the thistle patch in his row faster. The loser had to do the next two rows stark
naked, with the winner holding on to the clothes. I didn’t know anybody could chop thistles
“After two rows in the sun with that white skin of his,”
said Valerie, “he was red all over… just like a cherry… even in places a person
should never be sunburned.”
All three of them laughed about it and Danny didn’t even die
of embarrassment. Almost, but not quite.
“We’re here,” said Val at last. “Thank you for walking me home. You are both gentlemen, and very gallant.”
“What does gallant mean?” asked Danny.
“Like a white knight,” said Ray, “protecting the princess
“Are we white knights?” asked Danny, looking directly at
“One white knight and one cherry red jester, I think.”
Danny grinned again. Ray laughed. It was good to hear Ray laugh. Some people simply need to laugh more.
Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. Batman has his Batcave. Every Superhero needs a place of his own to reflect on the trials and struggles of the never-ending battle for truth and justice and the American way. I achieved another dawn today, waking up at sunrise on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm place. It is for me a place of safety and quietude where I can rest and regenerate, plan, plot, and create the story of my life.
It is a place far older than me, a family farm that has been in the family for more than 100 years. It connects me to the past and the people who’ve come before me, not only the family I have known and loved, but those who came before them that were gone before I was born.
It is possible that it is unwise to reveal my secret lair and my connections to such an important place. Will my enemies take advantage of the fact? No, probably not. Most of my enemies are ignorant people who do not read, and so, will never uncover this secret I have now shared with you.
On the road to Eagle Grove, Iowa, site of the 2018 Wright County Fair
Yesterday we went to the Wright County Fair as it winds down on the last weekend. My daughter and I went with my mother and father, all of us not ready to run any foot races, in fact, looking forward to viewing the small fair at a snail’s pace, two of us walking with canes.
It has always been a small county fair. But it has become almost depressing to see how much it has shrunk since I was a kid and competed there. Of course the beneficent pumpkinhead that runs the country now has put a cloud over it all by cutting off farmers’ primary markets in the trade war with China. Soon there may be no agriculture community at all to celebrate with a county fair.
The Iowa Township Hawkeyes Club that I used to be a part of
We toured the 4-H projects exhibit building and saw all the baking, woodworking, photography. and sewing projects that the kids in 4-H had worked on all year. As always they were impressive in the way that enthusiastic kid-work inevitably is. But it was depressing to see that there are only three 4-H clubs in Wright County now where once there were seven. The elderly viewers of the goings-on outnumbered the kids about two to one. Iowa’s farm community population is getting older and older. Schools are shrinking. People per county numbers are declining too.
But as depressing as the long-range view is, the County 4-H program is still giving kids a firm farm-kid grounding in the values that made America great. It proves that pumpkinheads don’t need to try to make it great again.
It is important to celebrate who we are and what we do. Especially in a time when a tractor-and-cornfield way of life seems doomed. And a county fair does that. I helps us define who we are, what values we hold dear, and who we are determined to be for as long as we can be that.