Archive for October, 2020

Ida Road

When Larry and I landed his ‘n hers engineering jobs in Sherman, Texas, we rented a commodious house a good ways outside the city center.  That habitation spoke to our family in a way that none other has done, before or since.  It deserves a prose poem that features its very name.  At family gatherings any mention of Ida Road is rewarded by smiles all around and a volley of “Remember when’s.”  It was a time for feeling that all things are possible and everything is going to be ok.  Where did such optimism come from? 

Most likely it was the joy we shared as we decided that our shaky little marriage just might work out after all.  As a single mother I had bounced around city centers holding technical positions.  This limited me to scruffy little apartments.  It wasn’t until the marriage that we garnered the clout to rent a real house.  While Larry had been raised a city kid, I had spent summers on my paternal grandparents’ farm and had built a romanticized view of what happens out beyond the suburbs.  Suddenly we could afford a nice house with a yard on a paved road convenient to our town affiliations.

The kids approved, and that helped especially since it provided open space for them to break in the new motorcycles they had scored from Mr. Claus.  After the boxes were all safely dispositioned and the U-Haul checked back in, we began the magnificent exploration.  Texas Rural Route #4, Box 31A sat all by itself among wheat fields.  Its yard was a roomy acre of St. Augustine set off by three strands of barbed-wire fencing.  Across the road were more fields and patches of woods that seemed to belong to a landed estate.  Our nearest neighbor on our side of Ida was a farm that featured a barn, multiple outbuildings and a stately farmhouse.  Our pretty yellow brick ranch style dwelling turned out to be where the farmer had made a place for his son’s family so they could live and share the work.  It must not have gone well, since they were nowhere to be seen, and it was our family that was installed and paying rent, not work, to the farmer.

Unlike the old man’s progeny, we were ecstatic to be living there, even though we had to drive in to city center every morning to TI and J&J.  For us that home site was a center of giggly glee.  Suddenly we could have pets.  Dale’s tabby kitten he named Tigger, and I finally treated myself to a long-wished-for Siamese brown-eared blue-eyed baby, the first of several future seal points, my favorite feline coloration.  Next we bought day-old spring chicks from the feed store and raised a brooder box of them in a lawn shed reinvented as chicken coop.  Nothing makes morning more satisfying than a still-warm egg cracked into a pan of bubbly butter and promised to a slice of toast crisp and ready-to-go as a fully committed adjunct to your day.  The chickens were a great success.  When the time came to harvest cluckers for meat, Larry and I, reverting to industrial engineering protocol, made a batch process out of the effort.  We hung all the fat hens upside down by their trussed together feet on the barbed wire enclosure, one precise foot apart.  Then a snip-at-a-time, we severed heads.  It was efficient but gory—hardly a favored part of playing farmer.  Even worse was scalding corpses and extracting feathers.  Carving the carcasses into serving sized portions was a lot of work and beyond messy.  This was a lesson well learned.  It’s better to buy chicken already dressed for the occasion.  Hosting hens as barter for their lovely eggs is a much better bargain.

We did enjoy the experience and extrapolated Rhode Island Red and Texas Leghorn layers far into our envisioned future.  That assured a contrasting mix of white and brown eggs, the prettiest way to fill a bowl or basket.  Larry determined that we should turn even our garage into a poultry operation and raise quail for the gourmet market.  He was always trying to find some way to get-rich-quick.  An oversized quail incubator established its place in the garage and soon quivered with hundreds of cheepers, scratching, pecking and pooping.  They were naturally adept at those activities, and since they didn’t crow at dawn and sold for more per pound than standard poultry, they seemed a good choice.  He also read somewhere that Japanese quail eggs could be pickled and sold to upscale bars as an elegant accompaniment to cocktail beverages.  They did, however, have to be tended, watered and fed.  Even after the eggs hatched and were brooded to maturation, they had needs.  Larry and I enjoyed executing projects, engaging ideas and coaxing them into becoming real things, but neither of us was good at the quotidian drudgery of keeping on keeping on whatever was required to sustain something out toward some hazily-defined event horizon.  One day as I returned from a trip to New Jersey where I had to supervise the installation of an industrial J&J under-pad machine, the garage was strangely silent.  No cheeps.  I asked Larry where the quail were.  He suggested we discuss it later.  I never did find out what happened.  In 2020, as he lay on his death bed, I had one question of him, and primed Kurt to pose it for me: “Whatever happened to the quail?”  No answer.  He took that information to his grave.

We did better with mammals.  One day, while walking along Ida Road on my morning constitutional, I encountered a juvenile raccoon.  He approached me, stood on hind legs, sniffed my fingertips, liked what he read there, and proceeded to climb up my jeans leg.  He curled into my arms and rode my shoulder right into the house.  Could he have had rabies?  Yes.  He might have, but evidencing no frothing saliva nor fractious disposition, I assumed he was just somebody’s pet raccoon who had lost his way.  He found a happy home on Ida Road.  His favorite place to ride was on top of my head, feet dug into coiffure.  By then we had added Greta, our Great Dane pup, and the dog grew up happily with two feline kittens and a raccoon cub as littermates.  The boys named the coon Bandit in honor of his black mask and feisty disposition.  He ate whatever we did, so no special trips to the pet store were required to buy coon chow.

Our farmer landlord had a pigpen that sat empty.  It occurred to me that if we could borrow his pen we might raise a pork supply.  He agreed on an equitable division of meat, and we undertook a family visit to a local Duroc ranch.  Duroc is the best pork there is.  It is red meat, not grey.  It is also very lean compared to most porkers.  We picked out two piglets, Jack and Jill, and took them home curled up on the back seat of our sedan.  The trip was short and they were exceptionally well-behaved.  They liked the farmer’s pen and scarfed up everything we put into their trough, enjoying what used to go into our garbage disposal and what I suspect used to go into the farmer’s as well, adding only a small complement of hog-chow from Sherman’s Tractor Supply store.  For a while they thrived, but suddenly they stopped eating and lay about disconsolate.  Dale and Lane consulted the farmer who pronounced the pigs lice-ridden.  He provided a bucket of de-lousing powder and the boys headed off to work under Larry’s august supervision.  The pigs emerged from the white cloud, pink instead of red, and the major share of the powder seemed to have coated Dale, Lane, and Larry.  A round of showers resolved the quandary, and the pigs commenced eating, soon morphing into massive, muscled Duroc hogs.  We were proud of our livestock and soon with the turning of the season realized that it was time to move them from pen to larder.  But having named our pets, we could never have eaten them, so the farmer arranged a trade for an identical pair of slaughter-ready Durocs, coincidentally in our same neighborhood, when sending them off for processing.  I don’t know if that switch really happened, but believing it helped us enjoy the bacon, chops and roasts we brought home and stacked into our freezer.

That got us through the winter’s pork chop meals.  For fun we had the dog, the two cats, and the coon.  When the weather turned cold, Bandit discovered the joy of hugging the bullet shaped lamps that lighted the under eave flanks of the house.  They kept his belly warm and toasty no matter how cold the night.  We thought Bandit was with us for the duration, but when spring came he must have decided to become a wild thing and took off to find a cutie coon.

The weirdest critters along Ida Road were the annual tarantula migration.  They materialized every spring dotting the asphalt roadway and daring passing cars to turn them into squiggly black slush.  A similar behavior occurred with wild rabbits.  There seems to be no explanation for the annual bunny-squish.  A professional animal expert might give a scientific explanation, but I prefer to marvel at the mystery. It must have something to do with sex. Nothing else would create such universal insanity.

One of the most rewarding manifestations of the Ida Road experience was the wheat that grew all around and poked right through the fence at us.  Gusting wind set up ripples of waving wheat that caused eyes to mist and throats to tighten celebrating the poetics of beauty.  The boys and I wanted to learn about wheat and how it becomes bread.  With the good farmer’s permission, we snapped off golden heads, gathered them into buckets and carried them in to dry and suffer our efforts to thresh them into wheat berries that might be ground, mixed, kneaded, fermented, baked and eaten.  Our attempts were clumsy but educational.  When asked, Dale will attest that the best bread he ever ate was what we garnered and processed in our Ida Road experimental kitchen.  It’s a beautiful memory.

Eventually, it seemed necessary to buy a home rather than rent forever.  The boys were becoming more self-directed in their school and socializing.  Buying an affordable old house close to work and school seemed like smart economics.  We did it, taking the chickens, coop and all, with us.  Neighbors can be bribed with free eggs to withhold complaint concerning illegal poultry.  It usually works.  Living in our own house in town was another adventure, different but equally pedagogical.  As I count out my days in a Cincinnati elder apartment, I ruminate on the memories of all our many situations that spun a kaleidoscope of fascinations just getting from one day to the next and keeping life engaged with wonder.  Of all these, Ida Road was hands-down our favorite.

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I woke up screaming.  That’s the way it seems to be these nights.  Squatting there on my bed, right in the middle, as if he had a proprietary interest in the location, perched a black wolf.  He sat upright and alert, haunches gathered under his rump, forelegs straight and frontal, nose directing all his attention to me and my unseemly response to his presence.  While he faced me he evidenced little interest in my own actual being-ness.  It wasn’t lost on me that he manifested as black—a luxuriant ebony coat that cloaked him in all the warmth a canid could ever imagine and divulge to the workings of my primate psyche—the same aspect of beauty at play as when I chose to raise purebred black Andalusian horses, eschewing all other equine possibilities.  Black is always most beautiful when it incarnates as living creature.

Wolf sat silent, naught to say—no howl curling in his gut gathering to ply the night air.  He merely captured my gaze and pirouetted in place lifting alternating front paws in a lithe little dance, eloquent in expression.   “I am beauty,” he suggested.  “thanking you for taking note of all that I am and was and might ever have become.”  Then like all waking dreams he absorbed into that overwhelming darkness that makes of reality a soft blanket.

“Larry is dead,” my lips formed the words but let them hang unuttered.  His son and mine, Kurt had been dreading the leave-taking of his sort-of-estranged father for a while.  His last report from bedside Seattle, a sharing from his sister Ruth, described a paternal gathering to depart.  A morphine drip mercifully soothed the transition, but it was sure to come—and soon.  A good son, he had been reaching for his dad every way that such things are possible.  Always Larry vowed to do better, to write, phone, text, all the ways intelligent technology ameliorates saying to beloved persons the things that need to be said—and soon.  But those things failed to morph from promises to completions.  “Whose fault?”  The question ruffled like cirrus clouds riding the air between Cascades and Shenandoas—never asked; never answered.

I pulled covers over head and dived back into sleep, only to surface again after 9:00, teeth clenched, determined to face the day.  Sure enough, iPhone declared that a text from Kurt waited:  “Dad passed away last night,” was the core of a text that spoke from the pit of his grief, that demon who drops in for a friendly visit to suggest that not enough was ever done—and now never can be—and whose fault is that anyway?  “I can’t talk,” Kurt’s letters spell, “just need some time alone.”

Kurt, short for Conrad, is very much an authentic American male.  He shares all the agony of sons who lose fathers and wonder how life will proceed without them being there even a continent away.  Responding to what he must be suffering, I text:

Take solace in your silence.  It is yours alone.  But be consoled by knowing that as long as you walk the fragrant earth, he breathes.  Half of you is him.  Move nobly into your days.  They are gifts from those who braved their own fraught journeys to tear open a path to guide your steps.  This you will do as the noble counselor that you are.  When you wonder if you disappointed him, know that the last question falling from his lips was, “Did he disappoint you?”

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