My outdoor experiences mostly involve work on the farm, when I was a child and an adult. I was put on a tractor to begin farming when I was 13. Before that, from the age of two, my time outside was notable for walking to my Granma’s house nearly half a mile across the pasture.
Starting that walk, I was very careful to give the barbed wire pasture gate, which was open, a wide berth because I already knew by then that barbed wire was treacherous. It could jump up and come at you, scrape your skin or snag your clothes. I’d seen barbed wire do that to my Daddy, I knew it could do that to me.
The most astonishing experience about that first walk was the disappearance of my grandmother’s house. After concentrating on walking around the clumps of grass, that were often as tall as I was, I glanced up – and Granma’s house was Gone! Vanished from the face of the Earth. I was shocked and devastated. Then words came into my mind: “Houses don’t move.”
I had to acknowledge that truth. Houses don’t move. At least not by themselves and not in mere minutes, and not hers which was made of rock. I did not understand why I could not see her house, but since houses don’t move, it must still be there. For some mysterious reason, I simply could not see it. Therefore, I did not panic, nor did I give up walking. I kept on going.
After some more time walking, I looked up to the horizon again and there, there was the top of the chimney and the point of the peak of the roof. Granma’s house truly WAS still there! With renewed confidence, I kept on walking.
Years later, I realized that, with a pond in the middle of the pasture, I had walked down to the pond and that lower elevation cut off my view of the house. It was perfectly understandable, but not to me when two.
The next challenge of that trip was the barnyard, which I had to go through in order to get to the barn to be able to get out of the pasture. At that age, I was not up to crawling through the wires of the barbed wire fence. The barnyard was a challenge because it was full of fresh cow manure. And, I already knew enough not to get any of that on my shoes! It was a supreme challenge to find and step from one bare spot of ground to another, but I did it, or nearly so.
Inside the barn was the challenge of a wooden second of fencing which I had learned a few days earlier, was not stable. I had been climbing on it and, when I reached the top, my weight threw the panel in the other direction. I was almost thrown off. Now, I knew it was treacherous and held on tight. I successfully managed this challenge also.
The next hurdle was getting out of the barn. The door to the outside was secured with a hook which was near the top so no animal could nudge it loose with its nose. Some will try to do that. The only other way out was the cattle chute which was permanently in place for loading cattle into the truck to take them to market. I walked up the chute – and saw the immense distance down to the ground. I was scared. But, I had come such a long way, and overcome so much, and was so close, Granma’s house was now just across the driveway, I could not turn around and go back home. Taking all the courage I could summon up, I threw myself into the air.
The jump was probably about four feet up, but that was much taller than I was. I landed safely on the grass, picked myself up, and ran to the house. When I got to the house, I was stumped. I could not reach the door knob.
Every other time I’d come to Granma’s house, an adult had been with me and had opened the door. I’d never thought of how to open the door. Doors were simply open. This one was not.
I could see that the inside door was open, so I knew Granma was home. She was always home when I was there, I never imagined she might not be home now. I could not open the screen door. It never occurred to me to call out for her to come to the door. I knew if I wanted in, and I did want to go inside, I would have to do it myself.
The door, and house, was ten years old. There was not much wear on the edge, but there was some. I began to pry my little fingers into that tiny worn edge. It took several tries, but I finally managed to open the door! I was victorious! Triumphant!!
I stomped up the four steps from the door into the kitchen and announced my arrival.
“Granma! I’m here!”
“Duane?” My grandmother called from some room inside the house. There was no other person in the family at that time with a little boy voice, but – how could I be there?
“I’m here!” I repeated.
“Is your mother with you?” She hadn’t heard a car. What was going on?
“No.” I didn’t know why she had asked about my mother, I was the one who was here. I was the one who was important. Why did she ask about my mother?
“Let me call your mother and let her know you’re here.” She went and made the phone call.
I didn’t care. I was at Granma’s. I was looking for a cookie. Granma ALWAYS had cookies.
That began my trips to my Granma’s house. I continued going, at random times, even after I had children of my own. By that time, Granma and Granpa were so old that cooking was difficult for Granma, so I would bring my two children, cook breakfast for all of us, clean up, then return home. My aunts would come and prepare other meals.
“Seeing the babies,” Granma said one day as we were leaving. “Makes everything else worthwhile.”
When she was 92, her children moved her and Granpa to a nursing home. He died six months later, she lived five years there, dying two days before her 97 birthday. All she had asked for herself was for her birthday to be acknowledged. That last year she was in a coma, so no party was planned. We buried her on her birthday. Her special day was acknowledged one last time.