“MEMORIES FROM THE FARM” (THE ORIGINAL TEXT TO MOM AND DAD)
It's been fifteen or twenty years now, but wherever you begin, it's not going to happen again. It will never be the same for us. And I have a feeling it will never be the same for my people and my generation. So I write this not so much as to have it stand as a monument to those days, but to force myself to remember them, to cherish them. I think something beautiful has passed and I doubt if it will ever be the same again.
I remember you could go out the back door of the farmhouse, north across the yard and through the gate in the fence beside the chicken house, then through the windbreak which used to be empty ground and into the pasture. The grove of trees beyond the windbreak isn't there anymore, for that matter most of it is gone now. Things you don't figure will ever be gone. Then you realize what has happened. But they were funny trees, funny bark. They had long black pods with smooth shiny seeds. We called it "the coffee bean tree." You went through the grove, and then there was only buffalo grass, thick, and it smelled good. Then you walked a quarter of a mile up the gradual slope to the bare spot on the low hill. You were tired by now and a little thirsty. So you sat down to rest and looked back ...
It was to my mind the prettiest view in the entire valley, summer or winter. The people in town kept their airplanes up here on the hill during the '51 flood. The valley was almost totally covered with Smokey Hill muddy river water then. But now you could see the green fields, dark green alfalfa down by the highway, corn that hadn't tasseled out yet next to it, and in nearby fields, the wheat beginning to turn. You could hear the trucks coming along old U.S. Highway 40 almost before you saw them. Hear the hum of the tires. And you knew a lot of the cars that went by, farmers down the road, the M.D. everyone thought was uppity and not really a farmer, whose farm had the pretty white rail fence facing the road and thoroughbreds behind the fence. The farm across the highway was pretty, completely flat and good soil. Beyond it the railroad tracks. The trains that came through there! They caused more than one fire at harvest time that was before the diesels. You heard them at night, with a cool east-southeast breeze and the wail of that whistle. Good dreams.
To the southwest of the hill was the gradual slope in the pasture, then the farmhouse, farm buildings and barnyard, a bit south from that yet was the farm across the highway with the Leckron's dairy on it, beyond that the outline of the city hospital, and the good buddy's place and town. I used to cut across the fields on Sunday afternoons to the Kippenbergers for ball games and talk and home grown popcorn. Later on I rode a bike on the highway up the hill and by the hospital. You could make out the buildings on the edge of town pretty well, but most clear were the grain elevator and the alfalfa mill.
So the view was nice, as nice as any around in the central Kansas flatlands. But looking down that hill gave me the feeling you hear about, thinking this is mine. Even if it wasn't, it felt good to know my Daddy owned it. You could look down and see the windbreak with the cedars, walnut and other trees that were all planted from scratch and watered with carried buckets of water by my Dad. Along with them the low chicken house with the tin roof, the two-story granary to its right, then the silo and corral. Beyond the silo was the great old barn with the old-fashioned loft and all that goes with it. The water tank for the livestock and the hog house were on the other side of the barn. But the house was best, a two-story frame with an attic and basement. Asbestos on the sides when the hundred year old boards began to go, but with the great front porch where you could sit on a summer evening and watch the activity down the road and hear the trains coming.
At the top of the hill there were two lone trees and what we called the dump. That was where we took the unburnable trash, old fence wire, about anything we didn't need up ended up there. It made the best place for a rabbit to hide, and consequently we headed there first when hunting cottontails or jack rabbits. From the two trees, practically the only ones in the entire north 80 which was all pasture, you could see to the north, the county road marking the north end of the section and the 80. At least what used to be the north 80. In the late 1950s the government took twenty acres in the name of progress to build the interstate. It's a nice interstate, but the view, the farm and especially the water drainage down into our pasture and pond have never been the same since. It was great fun watching all the big earthmoving equipment, the caterpillars and graders when they were building it. And I learned a lot about eminent domain. And progress.
The east part of the north 80, the part being developed now by my restless seventy-seven year old Dad, was rough pasture. It used to have a good stand of brome and was baled more than once but now it has gone to weeds. That is where Dad is selling the lots, where he built the barn to board the horses for the kids in town, where he started another windbreak, where the kids from town park at night and dump their beer cans, where they open the gate and let the horses out in a cold January so a seventy-seven year old man and his wife and his son home from college can freeze their butts off chasing the horses back in during subzero weather. So they wouldn't get out on the interstate and be run over by a progressive truck.
But the best part, the part that's left, lies in between the east 80 and the top of the hill with the dump and rabbits. We call it the pond. It isn't really a pond since there isn't any water in it most of the time, not since the highway came through. But once it was the best of all possible ponds with huge umbrella shaped shade trees, many birds about, lots of water, enough for my Dad to stock some small bass and channel cats, and huge mosquitoes. But mainly it was trees. Trees planted by the hands of my father and watered by hand with buckets and barrels of water he brought one by one from the well about one hundred yards away. All kinds of trees, trees I don't even know the name of. But mainly black walnut trees. For walnut fudge of course, and to feed the squirrels.
The pond was a player for awhile in local history, especially when you hear about swimming, overnight camping out and later on some notorious beer blasts. I had the entire freshman football team out for a bon fire with hot dogs and a fair amount of Coors donated by my brother Jim from the pool hall. The pond was one of my favorite places to go. When I was a little guy, it was inhabited by Iriquois Indians and later on by other types of varmits and sidewinders. They didn't last long when challenged by the 22single-shot.
To the south of the pond, all the way back down to old Highway 40 was the plowed land where most of the work took place. I covered most of it myself on a little Ford tractor, not by my own will, but covered it just the same. I can remember what was planted where, how it did, how it was rotated, where the muddy spots were during the plowing, where the rocky spot up on the hill was. I had favorite fields, generally the ones near the highway so I could see friends go by on their way into town. I remember the planes and police the day of the great Enterprise bank robbery. More local history.
At the end of the circle I'm trying to make was the lane leading from the old highway up to the house, barnyard and corral. The lane had an alfalfa field on one side and another small field in brome grass to the west.