Tag Archives: rural life

Weathered Barns and Corn Fields

I’ll take you to the city:

We’ll walk around cobbled sidewalks while pretending not to glance into the street level Brownstown apartments. We’ll stroll down busy streets and stare at the bright lights and neon signs. We’ll dress up in nice clothes, like we belong there, then we’ll go out to fancy restaurants and eat sophisticated, delectable food and drink martinis and expensive wine. We’ll visit museums and ride the elevators in skyscraper buildings and buy overpriced cups of coffee. We’ll go listen to the symphony or watch Broadway level theater productions or maybe see an opera.

I’ll take you to the mountains:

We’ll lace up our hiking boots over our thick wool socks and we’ll hike through beautiful wilderness and canoe on rapidly flowing rivers. We’ll swim in lakes and shower under flowing waterfalls. We’ll pitch a tent and sleep with the crickets and the coyotes and the bears, or maybe we’ll sleep underneath the stars if the weather permits. We’ll take photographs of bald eagles and rows of pine trees and epic rock formations. We’ll visit rustic buildings built from hand hewn logs. In the winter we’ll ski down crisp white slopes, or snowshoe through deep snow. We’ll take full breaths of the cleanest, most refreshing air and feel as if we’ve experienced the fountain of youth.

I’ll take you to the tropics:

We’ll stand under palm trees with their thick coconuts ready to be harvested. We’ll sit on sandy beaches and bathe in the warmth of the sun. We’ll let our skin turn from pale white to dark red to an appealing brown. We’ll float in the ocean surf for so long that when we lie in bed we’ll still feel that motion of the moving waves. We’ll eat tropical fruits and drink margaritas in front of a roaring beach bonfire. We’ll wade through the ocean surf in our bare feet with our khaki pants rolled up to our knees like the Kennedy’s. We’ll collect shells and beach glass and bring them home as souvenirs. We’ll watch evening sunsets and morning sunrises and not worry about whether we’re getting enough sleep.

Then when it’s time to come home.

When it’s time to leave the city or the mountains or the tropics.

I’ll take you back to weathered barns and corn fields.

We’ll walk out our door and stare across the dirt road at the latest crop that we’ve been given the honor and privilege to watch grow through another robust, Midwest summer. We’ll drive down a rural road and pull to the side and admire an old abandoned barn, long past its usefulness, with its damaged, weathered wood. We’ll imagine the many amazing lives of people just trying to survive, that have passed through those barn doors. We’ll roll down the car windows on a late summer day and listen to the soothing sound of rustling corn stalks as a warm breeze blows. We’ll hear the tsk, tsk, tsk sound of an irrigation system pumping water as it slowly creeps around a field of crops. We’ll smell the precious smell of manure spread as fertilizer on a growing field.

Because that’s what really soothes my soul.

And that’s where you and I are supposed to be.

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The Monkey Money Collector

It’s county fair week around us.  Ah, yes, the county fair, where idyllic rural farm life meets the crazed mania of the Midway, where you can watch a tractor pull, dance to some bluegrass music and win your kid a giant stuffed animal, where you can dine on delicious but overpriced Italian sausage sandwiches, corn dogs, caramel apples and elephant ears, all delivered fresh from portable trailer restaurants, where you can walk through barns full of horses and cows and cattle and pigs and goats and sheep and rabbits all raised by proud 4-H kids, where you can see giant alligators and other reptiles and where you can “people watch” folks from all walks of life.  It’s the county fair and it’s an all-American tradition.

We have been attending the same county fair for the 16 years that we have lived in our house. We don’t make it every year, but we have most.  Sometimes, like this year we will go twice.  A friend of my daughters was showing her horse in the riding competitions and we spent Sunday afternoon watching her and walking through the barns and looking at the animals. We hope our daughter will be riding in these same competitions next year. Later this week we will go back for an evening and ride the rides and eat cotton candy and elephant ears.

At this particular fair, as people walk the main pathway from the barns over to the midway and back, somewhere in the middle, just past the grandstand, they have typically come upon a large congregation of people standing in a half circle and watching something. Often there are kids in the front row and adults squatting down.  From the back it’s tough to see what is going on, to see what all these spectators are riveted on.  Pushing through, however, one can finally witness the strange event that has drawn this crowd of onlookers.

There, facing the crowd is a tall, gangly and scraggly looking man, dressed in an old tattered suit that has seen better days. The man looks tired as if Fair life has worn him down. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t smile or perform any tricks. He doesn’t speak or show any emotion, he just stands there… for he is not the performer.  In front of this man, on a thin string-like leash is a monkey, dressed as well, in a charming little vest and shorts and a hat with a string around his chin, and he is working this crowd of kids and adults hard. But he is not juggling, he is not opening and eating a banana, he is not riding a unicycle… nothing like that. He is collecting coins from the spectators.  The people in the front row are reaching into their pockets and grabbing coins and holding them towards the monkey who walks up to them and takes the coins and returns them back to the man in the suit.  Parents are handing coins to their children so that they too can experience this monkey taking coins from their hands. One after another after another, coin after coin after coin.  It’s cute and adorable and weird and sick and twisted… and absolutely brilliant!

It’s the Monkey Money Collector…

One year while at the fair, after seeing this Monkey Money Collector do his thing, I succumbed to my urges to participate in this bizarre spectacle and I grabbed a quarter out of my pocket and squatted down with anticipation. There we were, that cute little monkey and me, facing each other amongst this crowd of people. I smiled and held my hand out and the monkey saw the bright, shiny quarter. With a gleam in his eye he came running over to me and with his tiny little monkey hand he grabbed the quarter from me. Then he ran back to his owner and gave him the quarter.  Just like that, with only seconds of time having ticked off the clock, I was 25 cents poorer and the man in the suit was 25 cents richer.  He quickly left me and moved onto the next participant. I don’t quite remember, but I’m pretty sure I then handed coins to my kids who in turn gave them to the monkey.

I have to admit, as amusing as the whole concept is to me of training a monkey to take money from people, I have always felt sorry for this little fellow, as I tend to with any animal that I see out of its normal habitat. In hindsight, I suppose he probably has a good life with the strange, un-emotional man who is his keeper.  I’d venture to guess, as well, that this man and his monkey are not living the high-life somewhere, off of the income earned at the county fairs they worked.  But capitalism works in strange ways and somewhere, deep down inside, I hope that they have a decent life.

As my family and I walked through the fair on Sunday, I didn’t see the Monkey Money Collector and I wondered why they weren’t there.  Maybe they just weren’t working this day, or maybe one of them has passed away… or maybe they have retired to a tropical island somewhere! If they are there when we attend later this week, perhaps I’ll search my pockets for a shiny new quarter.

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My house smiled at me today…

My house smiled at me today. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. We’ve just had her painted, and I know that she feels good when we take care of her. Her old bare and peeling soffits and trim and window frames and siding are tightly sealed up, caulked and primed and painted. Her wooden sections all match once again, the old and the new, the worn and the fresh, all the same cream color, subtly contrasting with her century old brick façade. A shiny new coat of green paint covers both of her outside doors, a splash of color worn like a spring scarf. Her roof is new as of last fall, the upside of an aggressive hail storm that ripped through our area, and resulted in a rash of insurance claims and a windfall of business to the local roofing contractors.

I stood in front of her today and I told her she looked beautiful and she smiled at me. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. She smiled because she now knows and trusts me as her caretaker of the last sixteen years. She smiled because she now knows that I have been willing to put my own blood and sweat and money into keeping her solid and beautiful. She smiled because she knows me now as she has known all of her caretakers before me, likely dozens of men and women and even children who have cared enough about her to keep her structurally strong and vibrant and standing proudly for over 120 years. She smiled at me because I told her she looked beautiful.

I do believe that I am her caretaker. Yes, she is the house that protects us from the elements. Yes, she is the place where my family has made sixteen years worth of incredible memories. Yes, she is the only home my two children have ever known and likely will know until they move out on their own. Yes, she is the place where my family has shared smiles and tears, hugs and fights, ups and downs. Yes, she is the place where we have celebrated the miracle of babies born and mourned the deaths of those who have left us. Yes, she is the place where birthdays and anniversaries and holidays have been celebrated. Yes, she is the place that has made us feel content and warm and safe for sixteen years and hopefully many more decades to come.

Yes, she is all of those things and for that I consider myself immensely blessed. But she is also so much more. She is a piece of history that harkens back to the days before automobiles and electricity and indoor plumbing were prevalent. She is a reminder of where we came from, a time when houses were built on the backs of strong men with a meager assortment of hand tools, yet possessing incredible craftsmanship skills. She is a reminder of a time when rural living and one room schoolhouses and fresh food and hard work reigned supreme. She is our personal museum and I am her caretaker and I take that responsibility seriously.

My house smiled at me today. I didn’t actually see her smile, but I know she did. Someday, she will have a new caretaker, and a new one after that and on and on and on. For now though, I am her caretaker and I will continue to do my part to make sure she is still standing proudly for many more wonderful years to come. If I am lucky, down the road, when my wife and I are old and gray and feeble, we will still be able to stand in front of her and tell her that she looks beautiful. I hope that she smiles at us then as well… and perhaps even says “thank you.”

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