(Part one of a two part tale)
I quit fantasizing and just left work early one Friday afternoon. I had carried the illicit plan around for weeks, finally springing it upon my household that I was going to abandon them and my more proper responsibilities for a weekend at the Cedar Rock Squirrel Ranch, our “place at the lake.” The two hour drive was one I had made many times over many years with my family. I could “do it in my sleep” as they say. But today was different. I was alone.
It was Friday. I left my office early for lunch and didn’t go back. The Dockers, button down shirt with tie, and dress shoes I wore seemed an odd uniform when I climbed into the cab of my old time pick-up truck, loaded with tools for cutting fire wood and doing carpentry work on the old house trailer at the Squirrel Ranch. I was hungry, but I did not stop for food, hungrier to be out of the big City and “out in the country.” There were a couple of fishing poles in the back of the truck too.
A few miles down the highway I cracked open my window. It was really too cold outside to be letting that breeze in or to be thinking about fishing much, but I longed to be more connected with the world outside the truck cab. It started to work.
I was all alone but I heard my Mom’s voice retelling the story of visiting her relatives on the dairy farm “just down that road over there somewhere.” She couldn’t remember exactly what road, but could remember the adventures and recounted them to me several times. The long drive in a family friend’s car, the milking, the processing, playing… Though they were long gone now, she still loved that farm and family in a place and time I never got to visit.
Continuing my sojourn the rhythm of the highway struck me as even and smooth. In the distance I saw remnants of small once busy towns about every 20 miles, or as my history teachers and great grandparents described, a good days walking or riding in a time not so long ago. For a few moments, as I drove past highway exit signs for some of those towns, I was once again a child riding in the back of my parent’s station wagon. In my youth the highway which now is so straight and fast and seemingly ignorant of the surrounding landscape, was a little more “natural”, winding and slowing for every little creek or river or “settlement” along the way.
I stopped at an old gravel “pull off” to stretch my legs and breathe in the “country” air that smelled of fresh cut hay, and cattle manure, unaffected by the smell of the city’s diesel busses and competing fast food restaurants. I looked at the adjacent vacant land and saw what used to be there. I saw a little mom and pop burger joint where an enterprising farmer had taken advantage of the wide spot in the road at the edge of his farm, to make a place to sell some ground meat from the cattle he raised himself. In my mind the smell of manure was replaced by that of 5 for a dollar greasy cheeseburgers from a brown paper bag. It made me more hungry.
I got back in the truck, turned the radio on and tuned to a country station. I think Hank Williams Jr. was singing “A Country Boy Can Survive” but soon I was in the back of the station wagon again, listening to the C B radio chatter. “Breaker breaker one nine. How boutcha rubber boot, you gotcher ears on?” The truck drivers and my dad both wanted to know if the “rubber boot”, a small town sheriff, was taking his regular post near the “Speed Limit 35” sign on the edge of his tiny jurisdiction. “Yep this here‘s da rubber boot. Got my ears on and my eyes wide open. You all be careful out there.” Dad slowed down. I slowed down too as I looked over at a section of wicked curves on the “old highway” pavement a few hundred yards off to the side and saw the scarred tree where as a child I had seen several car windshields and assorted parts strewn about by those who apparently had not heard the rubber boot.
A little more than half way to the Squirrel Ranch is a big town, one that used to have a “real” grocery store and a flashing red light. The store has been replaced by a Wal Mart and the flashing light has been replaced with three red, yellow, green set ups. I felt no urge to stop in this “little city” but three traffic signals made me anyway. I didn’t pull over or get out of the truck. The smell and signs of fast food restaurants beckoned, but I did not want any of that just now.
About two more “good days of walking”, or 30 miles further down the road, the new highway fades into the harsher landscape of hills and valleys that the engineers have not yet defeated with earth movers and concrete. The road is narrower, not unlike the views of some of my relatives who used to live along this section.
I will never forget the look on my young black friends face when my 9 year old innocence invited him to come along on a trip to “the country.” When I told him what town, he stuttered, “Er um, my Dad says I best not go down there.” Glad I did not understand the problem then. Glad it’s not as much of one now. Hope my grandsons just know about it from an ancient history book.
As I pass an old boarded up “filling station” and local store I recall my Dad making stops there in the ‘60’s to buy us old fashioned deli sandwiches that didn’t have names. Each one was made by the man behind the counter by slicing off the loaves of meat and cheese after you told him exactly which kind and how thick to cut it. Fat bologna with catsup, or thin liverwurst with horseradish, lettuce pulled off the head right in front of you. “Do you like the outside leafy part or the inside crunchy part young man? We got some good ones in this week, you want any tomater? ” It was a store where a young poor boy could buy single .22 shells out of an already open box, because lots of young boys didn’t have much money. Adults picked up free matches when they bought their cigarettes. Man I was hungry for thin pickle loaf with two kinds of cheese, no vegetables, and miracle whip on thick sliced home-made sourdough bread. That sounded rich right about now. “I’ll drink the pop right here, cause I need my nickel bottle deposit back to buy five .22 shells.”
A couple more minutes and I turned off onto the gravel road to “our” place. Finally off that darn busy paved road, and on to one where you waved at everybody you met, if you met anybody at all. I drove past a few silent “weekender” cabins, waved at the one permanent resident I saw out in his yard, and then turned off and parked in the driveway to our house trailer. I got out and inventoried the boats and campers parked in various nooks around the circle drive, and did all of the other perfunctory tasks to ready the place for me and my brother, who was to arrive later. I stripped off my “city clothes” and put on my jeans, cotton tee shirt, boots, canvas jacket, and orange hunting cap. I was dressed right for the job at hand now.
|The old truck resting at Cedar Rock Squirrel Ranch|
I was all by myself 120 miles from my house, on 40 acres that belong to my family adjacent to thousands that belong to the government. I felt completely surrounded by familiarity and completely at home. It was way past time to eat, but I had brought no food, and was feeling too lazy to open something in the cupboard and prepare it. Besides, it’s a cold lonely Friday and no one is likely to be at most of the popular local fishing spots.
I drove to the area just below Truman Reservoir dam and found it mostly vacant, but not as inviting as I had anticipated. They were letting a lot of water through the dam, and it was windy, making the water choppy and putting a cold damper on my plans to fish in a lazy way.
|Another day enoying the drive away from the city|