Tag Archives: bath

White Pine Trees and Moms

What do White Pine Trees and Moms have to do with each other?  In honor of Mother’s Day coming up, I’d like to share a story I wrote a couple of years ago that will answer that question.

White Pines are beautiful trees! These aren’t Austrian Pines that you usually find along highways and everywhere in-between. While White Pines are also common, they are much more pleasing to the eye than Austrian Pines are. White Pines are used for construction, cabinetry, natural medicinal purposes and even Christmas trees.

So I got this White Pine sapling in kindergarten–my very own tree. I found myself looking forward to many years of watching it grow in front of my eyes. As I said before, it even went with us when we moved. Shortly after the tree was replanted, however, something peculiar began to occur. This took a while to notice, but the White Pine began to take on an odd growth pattern.

Enter Major.

Apparently, once settled upon our new property, Major felt it was his duty, his mission–nay, his life’s purpose bequeathed to him by God Himself–to hike his leg and pee on the north side of that tree. He was committed. He was focused. He wasn’t letting anyone or anything detract him from what he was called to do with his life in this new place. And he saw it through to his dying day.

As a result, we noticed as the tree grew that the north side of it was developing a significant stunting in its growth. I really thought during those first few years that I was going to have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. As it matured, though, it really began to fill out. Except for the north side of it.

To this day, you can drive by the old house in Bath and see a beautiful twenty-five foot White Pine tree in the front yard.  Still with a significantly stunted upper portion on its north side, the permanent marks of a dedicated and unrelenting Flat-Coated Retriever. I think Major wanted to leave a mark, something that would endure long after he was gone. And he did just that–literally.

Keep in mind that this is the same dog who bullied a couple of young kids in the winter and gave them ball-less head gear to wear. He would take his beloved “Babe” (the female) on romantic romps in the gravel pit next door and bring her back absolutely exhausted.  (Black fur on hot days in a gravel pit…..nice.)  He even took her on a nature walk, with us in tow, and frolicked on ahead of us with his sweetheart.  They no sooner disappeared and he brought her back absolutely covered with ground bees. All I remember at that point is Mom yelling at us to turn around and run the other way. Good advice, except that dogs run faster than humans do.

So my brother and I are beatin’ feet down the trail back to the car. We look behind us only to see a dog with yellow dots all over it trotting along behind us. I don’t remember if it was Major or Babe, but the distinct memory of seeing a black dog with a smile on its face–it’s tail almost wagging as it trots along after us–has never left me (seeing that smile….it had to be Major). Thing is, I don’t remember any dogs covered with bees catching up to my brother and I. Which means that Mom probably did what moms are known to do: She put herself in the line of fire for her kids. I do seem to remember that she had been stung a few times. Thanks, Mom.

But, regardless, he was a good dog (for the most part). And his “mark” on his life spent with us lives on….

Rats In The Basement

At one point in our house in Bath, we had rats in the basement.  (Did your skin just crawl?  I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about it.)  As you probably know already, there are lots of memories I’ve already shared with you about that place.  But this is a new one that came to mind recently.

The basement of that house was unfinished.  The foundation was there, of course, along with a cement floor.  But the internal walls that kept the dirt at bay under the house only rose high enough to keep it there.  (This was an old house that had been added onto over the years and the basement showed this gradual increase in space.)  It actually provided for a wonderfully cool basement in the summer.

We didn’t give it much thought at the time, but apparently there was a family of rats next door in the neighbor’s barn.  They very rudely saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate our cool basement with the unfinished walls and make it their new home.  Unfinished walls made for excellent hiding places, so they took to it pretty quick.

I was the discoverer of these new tenants when I went down into the basement one day.  As I turned on the light in the main section of it, I saw the flick of a very large tail of something very large itself.  I could see that some behemoth of a creature on top of one of the unfinished walls had literally turned tail and scampered back into the shadows.  I immediately reported this incident to the powers-that-be (namely my Dad).  Then I waited anxiously to see what justice would be meted to these vile and uninvited guests.

It didn’t take my Dad long to come up with a plan.  He borrowed a “live trap” from his brother and set it up in the basement at night.  He then proceeded to catch these rats one by one and dispose of them each morning.  The first rat he caught was absolutely huge!  Then each one got smaller and smaller (I think there was a total of four).  How did he get rid of them?, I wondered.  Well, shortly after this all began, I noticed that a fifty-five gallon rain barrel had appeared outside on the back porch.  And it was filled to the brim with water.  Upon asking my Dad about this, I found out what was happening to the rats.

I could picture this scenario unfolding in my head:  My Dad goes down into the basement and sees that his nefarious efforts to catch a rat have been successful.  With suspenseful music playing in the background, he and the rat look at each other.  The rats shifty eyes lock with my Dad’s as they size each other up.  Dad picks up the trap and the music increases in intensity as he begins the rat’s walk of death.  The rat tries to throw itself into the sides of the trap to break free, but to no avail.  It then lashes out at the handle of the trap to bite Dad’s hand, but that doesn’t work either.  It screeches out in exasperation as Dad exits the back of the house to where the barrel of water is.  The rat sees that its end is near and cowers in a corner of the trap.  Dad sets the trap down and takes the top of the barrel off, exposing the water inside.  The music reaches a climax as he picks the trap up, opens the door and…..

I’ll spare you those details.  Dad drowned every one of those rats.  I hate animal cruelty, but when it comes to rats….well, let’s just say that I would have given that rat the same steely gaze that my Dad probably did.  After this, we all continued to live in Bath happily ever after.  Until we moved, that is.

A Blade Too Long

I have been mowing lawns for a very long time now.  Of course, that started with our own lawn sometime in middle school.  Eventually that also included my grandparent’s lawn.  They lived a mile away from us in the small town of Bath (the very same Bath that I have previously mentioned in other stories).  I started mowing Grandma & Grandpa’s lawn sometime around my eighth-grade year with their Lawnboy mower.  That is when I discovered the degree to which I detest and abhor Lawnboy mowers.  You only need one part of your anatomy to be able to determine whether someone is using a Lawnboy or not:  your ears.  A Lawnboy engine will sound like it’s hovering just above the point of dying out and then kick itself up to purr like a moped, all within a five second time frame.  Over and over and over again.  I still shake my head in amazement.

Mrs. Garland was an elderly lady who lived across the street from my grandparents.  She liked the way I mowed their lawn, so she had me mow hers as well–with her riding lawn mower.  I was pretty confident in my abilities to handle her riding mower until I got it too close to the top of a small and extremely steep hill behind her house.  As I realized I was too close to the edge, gravity took the mower, blades still fully engaged, and myself, my foot mashing up and down on the brake pedal to no avail, for a three-second hair-raising ride to the bottom of the hill.  This, of course, left a nice wide swath of cut-up weeds and dirt behind me all the way down the hill.  The mower died at that point, which caused my heart to leap from my throat (where it had been for the ride down the hill) up into my left cheek.  I ran across the street and got Grandpa, who thankfully got everything fixed up and running again in no time (as Grandpas are supposed to do).

In spite of that incident, word still got out about my mowing prowess and I began mowing for another elderly lady about ten minutes away from home.  She had everything I needed to mow her yard and it was all electric.  All of it.  Including the mower.  Ever used one of those?  This was a decent one–on the small side-with a handle that could be moved to either side of the mower so that the mower didn’t even need to be turned around to mow the next row of grass.  But I found myself developing a certain sense of paranoia the more I mowed her yard.  If you use an electric mower, you need to always know where the electrical cord is that the mower is plugged into or you’ll have your own fireworks show and an imprint of the mower handle seared into your hands as the lawnmower runs over it.  More than once, it seemed like that cord picked itself up and moved closer to the blades of that mower!  (“Whaa??  Where did you come from?  Gittonouttahere!”).  I more and more found myself looking over my shoulder with a growing sense of uneasiness to see if that cord I had just passed that was ten feet away was now only five.  I only mowed one summer there.  Maybe that’s why.

I’ll share the culmination of my mowing experiences the next time we meet up!  Until then….

The Bus RV

Cindy’s Dad had an interesting idea one time that we all got to enjoy the benefit of for quite a few years.  (When this guy thought of an idea to get something done, you usually paid attention to it.  This is the same guy who helped my Dad equip the back of our van with that bench and table that turned into a bed.)  For a number of years, he was the township supervisor for Bath (the town that I have mentioned in earlier stories where I grew up).  It may have been during this period of time, but regardless, he got the news that a school district was getting rid of a school bus that was in decent condition.  His idea?  To have a number of families go in together on the purchase of this bus and make it into an RV of sorts that all of those families could use whenever they wanted to.  I have no idea how many families went in on it, but ours was one of them (I believe quite a few others from my parents’ Euchre Club that they were a part of went in on this bus-turned-RV as well).  Thus began an interesting process to watch this RV take shape…..

It was somewhere around my sophomore/junior year of high school when this project began.  It took at least most of the summer that year to do it, but I remember quite a few trips over to Cindy’s house to help work on this thing.  I remember being old enough to actually do the help of an adult, but only two things stand out in my mind about that phase of the project:  tearing out the green bus seats (which I totally enjoyed doing–there’s something about knowing I sat in seats like that as an obedient little kid that made me want to take all my aggression out on them as a teenager) and painting over the yellow color on the outside of the bus (again, pent-up aggression that probably came from waiting at the bus stop and seeing that yellow-colored beast coming down the road towards me to take me someplace that I didn’t want to go to be with a bunch of kids I didn’t want to be with….wait, this sounds too much like Calvin & Hobbes).

So when it was all finally finished, it really was a sharp-looking RV!  Some of the seats towards the front of the bus had been reupholstered and repositioned for bench seating at tables (like back-to-back restaurant booths) with the capability of the tables being lowered to the benches to become beds for sleeping.  I’m fairly certain that there was a small kitchenette of some sort towards the back, with storage for luggage, camping gear and food stuff on the opposite side of the kitchenette.  I don’t remember it having a toilet, so as much as us teenagers would have liked to give it a nickname like “The Rolling Turd”, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Quite a few of these families that went in on the bus-turned-RV were all part of an annual trip to a fantastic German/Austrian-based town called Frankenmuth in Michigan, which they did every first weekend of December.  They took the newly-constructed RV every year for that trip, and I remember joining them in the RV for the first time my first Christmas out of high school (and I seem to remember that that may have even been the last time the RV was taken for that trip).

My last memory of that RV is when our family went with Cindy’s family in the RV down to Cedar Point in Ohio and stayed in the campground that’s right there on the funpark grounds.  It makes a world of difference staying there on the grounds vs. a hotel somewhere close by!  You can stay in the park right up to closing time and not have to drive anywhere–just walk back to your campsite.  Then you can get up in the morning and enjoy some breakfast and still have time to be one of the first through the gates when they open.  If you get an opportunity to do something like that, take advantage of it!

Funny thing about that trip, though, is the fact that my Dad never got on any rides.  He never did like that kind of thing.  I can remember plenty of times at the county fairs where he just walked around and watched us kids have all the fun.  I believe he did the same thing at Cedar Point.  In fact, he may have just stayed back at the campsite and took it upon himself to be the official fire-stoker.  Of course, Cindy’s Dad would have gladly joined him in shouldering that responsibility and probably did.

That’s a good memory to end the RV with…..

Chicken Little

Remember that house in Bath that I told you about?  After we moved there, my parents apparently thought it was a great idea to have our own chickens.  Fresh eggs and fresh meat when they got old enough and big enough.  Ok.  But then my brother and I found ourselves unwillingly and unwittingly elected and appointed as assistants to some pretty disgusting stuff.

Let’s start with the obvious.  To a couple of kids who had lived their extensively long and productive six and eight years in a city suburb, moving out to the country where we were able to have chickens was a new adventure!  What glorious and unknown excitement awaited us?  That excitement was to start in an old chicken coop that was on our property (probably the reason for the sudden realization on my parents’ part that we could have chickens of our own now….yay).  It was pretty big for its age.  My Dad put in the two-by-fours and chicken wire needed inside the old chicken coop to keep the chickens where we wanted them to stay, along with homemade roosting and nesting places to give it a homey, lived-in appearance.  They fell right in and made it very homey by pooping all over and making a distinctly odorous mess for my brother and I to clean up.  Oh, the fun!  Especially on hot and humid days when we had to help clean it all out.  Sure, the manure on the garden made for absolutely huge vegetables, but that smell….makes me feel like gagging just thinking about it.

There were a couple of roosters that hated my brother and I–mostly my brother.  When these two roosters were alive, we were the ones sent in to the hornet’s nest of a chicken coop to get the eggs each morning.  You could cut the stress level in that little building with a dull axe.  So we did!  It only took my brother coming back from the chicken coop in tears, talon marks on his arms or legs (or both), for my parents to see that we had a hierarchy issue and that one or both of these feathered bullies was going to be put in his place.

Thus commenced one of quite a few festivals over the years at our place.  People came from miles around to witness the execution of such a fowl and evil creature.  Bets were made for the distance covered by a headless feathered body running around the yard and fresh donuts from one of many concession stands were devoured as people told jokes and laughed at the court jesters goofing around on the gallows that were built next to the chicken coop.

All fell silent as the chicken–a black bag over its head–was led out of the chicken coop on a wagon slowly drawn by two pigs.  It knew its time had come, yet nary a tear escaped either eye of this merciless beast as it looked cruelly about at the bystanders–especially the children.  Little six- and eight-year-olds cowered behind their mothers as the chicken was led to the chopping block on the gallows.  My Dad, wearing a black hood with eye slits in it, stood at the ready with his dull axe in his hands (this rooster deserved no mercy).  Then, as its head was placed between the two nails on the chopping block and its neck was drawn tight–it was just like him try to pull something like this–he looked up at my Dad with great big puppy-dog eyes, just as sad as could be!  Which on a chicken looks pretty weird and grotesque, so my Dad promptly ended its life then and there.  After just a second or two of shocked silence, the crowd whooped and hollered, a “wave” broke out at one end of the crowd and  swelled to the other side as the school band belted out Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” song.  A parade commenced and the first “Miss Beheaded Queen of Bath” was named.  The Superintendent of Bath officially named it “Exoneration Day” for the whole community–even so far as to establish a “no school” policy for that day so that all children could celebrate their freedom from feathered tyranny.

Say, are you familiar with Dr. Seuss’s book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”?  Vaguely familiar to me.  Yeah, none of the above really happened.  Well, no, there was a nasty rooster (or two).  And we did have us a beheading one morning shortly after my brother showed the cruelty of at least one of those idiot birds.  But the rejoicing that day was rather subdued, shared only between my brother and I.


The Gravel Truck

It’s hot out here, isn’t it?!  Reminds me of how some of the summers could be where I grew up….

Remember that gravel pit that I told you about?  The one right next to our house on Drumheller Road?  Yes, the one with the barn fire.  You got it.  Over the years that we lived there, some summers would see visitors to the gravel pit:  those big double-hauling gravel semi-trucks.  We could always count on some point in mid-summer as being the infestation time (“You know, Myrtle, if them thar metal monsters is gonna show their ugly carcasses around these here parts, now’s the time they’s agonna shows up.”)  We would watch them pass by in a cloud of dust and pull into the gravel pit next to us.  They would disappear back into the gravel pit, the sound of metal banging against metal as the gravel trailers hit every pothole in the gravel pit drive.  I-69 eventually cut off the back corner of our property and a good portion of that gravel pit when it went in, so at that point these trucks went a mile further down our road to another smaller gravel pit.  And that’s where these memories really kick in.

Let me remind you that Drumheller was a dirt road, as straight as it was long.  It was an old road, built on logs in some places, which meant that usually from mid-summer on it got dry, dusty and as bumpy as a washboard, especially a mile or so down towards the fire department (which is the direction these trucks would come from).  This usually meant that we could hear these gravel semi-trucks long before we saw them.  Those trailers would bang so loud that we could hear them almost a mile away–and to a kid, it sounded like a huge monster coming for you!  (Remember as a kid watching that Sesame Street episode about “Go/Stop” where you hear someone say “Go” and watch something in the center of the TV screen that is really small and quiet get bigger and louder as it’s coming towards you and you realize in the center is a guy on a motorcycle with a bunch of other things making noise and they’re all coming right at you getting bigger and louder until you can almost see the whites of the eyes of the guy on the motorcycle until finally someone yells “STOP” and they all freeze just before they come out of the TV screen and into your living room and all you can see is the guy on the motorcycle and how close he came to getting you ??  Yeah, I know, that one always scared me too.  Still does.)

Being summer, we’d usually be playing outside in forts or on bikes or something to do with ninjas and spies and soldiers and stuff like that.  Suddenly, one of us would shush everyone else…and then we all heard it…..the distant banging of a gravel semi heading towards us, it’s metal jaws limbering up for the tasty meal it was anticipating!  We’d run down to the end of the driveway and look down the road towards the fire department.  There was a small hill in that same direction where the road descended about 1/4 mile from our house, so all we would see is the cloud of dust being raised and hear the horrendous noise the gravel trailers would make as the trucks flew over the washboard-like dirt road down there.    Seeing and hearing that, it was certain what was coming!  We’d scurry into our fort across the street (which was nothing more than a small grove of bushes on the top of a small hillside) or up into a tree we climbed at the end of our driveway.  Or sometimes we just ran for all we were worth out into our big side yard and would dive behind one of any number of big pine trees that were out there.  We’d flatten ourselves against the ground, our surroundings becoming our camouflage–or becoming as one with the branches of the tree we were in–seemingly invisible to the huge metal monster that was bearing down upon us.

If we felt particularly daring and audacious , we’d wait at the end of the driveway until we saw the front of the truck appear at the top of the hill as it came hurtling and banging towards us.   Then, pumped with adrenaline and about ready to poop our pants,  we’d run to our hiding place before the semi would pass our property.  And always–always–we would be left in a huge dust cloud that descended upon everything around us.  (If the wind was just right, my Mom would find layers of dust in the house, no matter how much she cleaned.)  Coughing and squinting through the dust, we’d look triumphantly down the road, confident that the evil truck driver had not seen the boys that were so strategically hidden around him as he passed by.  With our ninja-like senses and reflexes heightened, we would wait for the return of the metal monster known as The Gravel Truck.  Those were the days!


The Banana Seat 2.0

You remember my telling you that we lived on a dirt road when we were in Bath? I’m pretty sure I mentioned that before….so…..we lived on a dirt road when we were in Bath. It was Drumheller Road. We had a big side yard on our property that was between our driveway and the gravel pit that was next door from an earlier story. At the end of our side yard and across Drumheller was another dirt road that ended on our road. This was Watson Road, and it ended in a very steep hill as it came up to Drumheller. Add to that the fact that our driveway also had a nice steep slope to the last 15 feet of it as it met the road, and you’ve got another “potent and high-risk” situation brewing.

Between my brother and I, one of us would be stationed at the end of the driveway (henceforth known as The Spotter) to warn the Evil Knieval wanna-be of any oncoming traffic–although I can remember more than once having no spotter to do this. The other brother (forthwith referred to as The Speed Freak) would race down the stone driveway, gathering momentum as the tires bit into the stones. The Speed Freak would tear down the sloping end of the driveway onto Drumheller, the bike’s tires spitting gravel up into the air as he turned left towards Watson Hill (this stretch of Drumheller had a slight downward slope of its own, so….brewing….it’s brewing). Then The Speed Freak would turn right onto Watson Road and commence a careening ride of trying to maintain control of a bike screaming over dirt and gravel as it keeps a more or less straight trajectory down Watson Road, The Speed Freak’s feet and pedals a dizzying blur as he gets as much speed as possible down the hill. Then, breathless and covered in sweat, bug guts (we weren’t wearing helmets) and tears of exhilaration, The Speed Freak would come to a complete stop.

Enter the “I-want-to-be-like-Calvin’s-bike” bike with the really cool banana seat.

There I am, in the starting blocks, listening to the announcer as he introduces the next racer. My engine is revved–I’m ready for takeoff. The “Christmas Tree” hasn’t lit up yet. Suddenly, there it is! Yellow, yellow, yellow, GREEN! I’m tearin’ it up, trying to get some air between the bike tires and the stone driveway before I’ve even hit Drumheller Road. I’ve got flames coming off my back tire as I fly past The Spotter onto Drumheller. As I turn onto Watson Hill, I’m barely keeping the bike on the ground as the tires begin to melt. It’s screaming down the road, gravel shooting out and ricocheting off the trees. Suddenly, it happens. The bike decides to steer for a huge piece of gravel that wasn’t even in my way. As it hits it, the really cool banana seat lets The Twins know that it’s there and that it doesn’t like twins. I bring my bike to a screeching halt, horizontal tear paths on my face (these are not tears of exhilaration). By the way, it’s extremely difficult to bring a bike to a stop while looking through tears–and my eyes were filled with them. I look down at The Twins to make sure they’re ok and what do I see? The long pointed end of the really cool banana seat–the accomplice to the “I-want-to-be-like-Calvin’s-bike” bike that committed this heinous act against innocent parties involved.

The really sad climax to this story is the fact that not only did I not learn the first time of what this bike’s evil intentions were, but I even tried many times going down Watson Hill no-handed (no racing, just riding). Who’s bright idea was it to put a metal bar right under the seat between the seat and the handlebars on a boys bike?? The bike knew that as well. So did the really cool banana seat. And so did The Twins. More than once. In extreme peril. And all I could do was try to bring the bike to a complete stop while trying to see through tear-filled eyes.

…..sigh…..The price of exhilaration.

The Gravel Pit Fire

I trust you wore your thermal socks, ’cause it’s cold out here!  We’re really going to talk about some hot stuff today then….

I have had a love of firetrucks since I was a kid.  I can remember sitting at the kitchen table in my Gramma & Grampa’s house playing cards with the family.  They lived a block off the main four corners of Bath.  (This town was so small that it didn’t even have a traffic light at the busiest part of town).  Suddenly we’d hear sirens.  I’d whip my head around to look out the big picture window in the family room and see the flashing lights of a volunteer fireman’s vehicle whizz by.  Then everyone would see me whizz by in a flurry of pumping feet, hands and cards flying everywhere as I raced out the front door to the edge of the yard to watch some real pros in action.

Bath had one of the best full-time volunteer fire departments in the state at the time–at one point, they were even known to have the fastest response time in the county.  And it just so happened that the fire department was a mere mile up the road from our house!  Our road cut between the two main roads of Bath Township like an “H”, so sometimes the fire department used our road as a shortcut of sorts to get to the other side of the township.  Which meant that quite often I was met with big red firetrucks flying down our road with lights and siren that could be heard a mile away…so all I had to do was bring the popcorn, a drink and a chair out onto the front stoop of the house to see it all pass right in front of me.

Remember that gravel pit I mentioned that Major and Babe would frequent?  It was right next door to our property with a handful of abandoned buildings at the front end of it.  One of those buildings was a huge old barn that sat about 50 yards from the road.  One Sunday afternoon in August, we sat in our living room watching T.V.  All of a sudden, we heard sirens and they were getting louder.  This only meant one thing:  HERE COME FIRETRUCKS!!  So, like the kids at the beginning of “A Christmas Story” when they’re looking at all the new toys in the huge glass storefront, I glued my face to the big front picture window in our livingroom and waited for the show to begin.

They went by our house all right….three or four or maybe even five different firetrucks and the like.  And then the sirens stopped.  “Why are the sirens stopping?”, I asked myself.  “They usually fade in the distance as the trucks move on down the road.  This can only mean one thing:  something is happening very close and I want to know what!”  So I flew out the door and ran down to the end of the driveway.  What I saw almost made me pee my pants:  all the firetrucks were along the side of the road right in front of the gravel pit….and smoke was billowing over the treetops of our side yard from something burning in the front where all the old buildings were!

I ran back in, told everyone what was happening, and then proceeded to sprint down the road to where all of the action was.  It was the big barn and it was absolutely engulfed in flames!  In fact, the heat was so intense from it that we had to stand behind a firetruck that was parked on the far side of the road and peek around the truck to catch ten-second glimpses of everything that was happening.  (Remember, the barn sat a good 50 yards from the road, so add to that the 20-30 feet further that we were standing from the fire and you’ll get a good idea of the size of this blaze).

We eventually made it back to the house after all the excitement died down.  Apparently, a farming neighbor that was just down from us had permission to store his hay in the old barn.  But he stored some wet hay in it, which meant that it was just a matter of time before spontaneous combustion occurred.

The fire department basically treated the barn fire as a “controlled burn”, which means that all they could really do is control how the barn burned to the ground.  This meant that for the next four days everything in, on and around us smelled like smoke–even with the windows shut.  For a while there, it almost seemed pointless to even do laundry or take a shower.  It got a little better each day–but then Friday hit.

The pile of ash where the barn used to be was still smoldering when Friday came.  Add to that the fact that the wind kicked up and you can see what’s coming next.  My brother was the first to get home and realized right away that the smell of smoke had gotten stronger.  He walked over to the front of the gravel pit only to see that a grass fire had started and was working its way towards our property!  Just as he was seeing this, a car was driving by.  He flagged it down and said, “Hey, you think you could….”, and the guy driving the car finished his sentence for him by saying, “….Yeah, I’m on it!”.  He sped up the road towards the fire department and the ever faithful Bath Township Fire Department came once again to the Cooley household’s rescue.

Everything returned to normal after that–even the smell of our clothes. But that wonderful memory is forever etched into my brain!  Even the recollection that with a fire that size, no one thought to bring any marshmallows.

The Runaway Horse

It’s cold out here today!  I see you’ve got an extra layer on.  Good idea.  Well, let’s talk of warmer things.

That house we moved into where Major left his “mark” was located in the country, about a mile outside of a small town called Bath.  (If you get the chance, Bath has an intriguing background that is well worth checking into.  It is the location of the first recorded school disaster in U.S. history, and it also has the unique claim to hosting “bathtub races” down the Main Street hill in the downtown area every August.)

It was an old house that we lived in with some interesting history attached to it, not the least being that the garden area had once been a Native Indian burial ground.  There was an old granary right next to the house with a huge barn that was just as old.  The previous owners of our home made the granary into a nice living space and eventually sold it to some people who started to board horses in the old barn.  One of the horses that was boarded there belonged to a woman who let me ride it for a 4H class that I thought would be fun to be a part of.  This horse was a good 15 years old at the time, with a bowed back from a previous heavy owner and a very stubborn personality, which means that there was no changing its ways for a teenage boy who wasn’t all that knowledgeable about working with horses.

We lived on a dirt road that had an old railroad bed 1/4 mile down the road.  Sometimes I’d go down the railroad bed and take the horse out onto a highway that was going in behind our property.  That was an amazing experience!  To get out on that wide open area and let a horse take off in a full gallop underneath you down the dirt shoulder of a completely empty highway was exhilarating.  What made it even more so was the advice from the 4H teacher to not have my feet in the stirrups.  Apparently you become less dependent on the stirrups and more dependent on actually riding the horse, which also means that you have no control over your butt slamming into the saddle as you’re galloping along.  This led to this being a much less invigorating experience.  I didn’t do that but maybe twice.

So one summer evening, I decided it was time to get this horse out for a ride and work with it on some things.  I rode it down the road just passed that old railroad bed and was working on making the horse stand still until I used the reins to “tell” it to move.  Being the ever faithful and obedient student, my feet were out of the stirrups as I was doing this.  To say this horse was stubborn is an understatement.  I would pull up on those reins–the sign the horse is supposed to recognize as meaning “stop moving and stay still” (he knew this, old and cranky as he was)–and just as I would think he’s obeying me, he would take a small, teeny step forward.   He was definitely playing reindeer games.  So I tried it again….and again…..and again….until we had worked ourselves too close to a steep hill in the road.  This meant that we were going to turn around and go back to our starting point to do this again until he obeyed me.  Which also meant that we were going to be turning back toward the comforts of home.

Have I mentioned that this horse was stubborn?  He knew where “home” was and was always intent on getting there (I think he loved to eat and he loved the ladies–two very significant things in a male horse’s life).  So, when he felt even the hint of the rein pressure on his neck to turn that direction, he went from 0 to 60 faster than any race car you’ve heard of.  He covered the 1/4 mile distance from home in what would have won any horse race, all the while slamming my butt into the saddle like his own version of spanking me for daring to even think of making him do anything he didn’t feel like doing.  Keep in mind that my feet were out of the stirrups this whole time (thanks again, 4H teacher), which gave me the feeling of Disney’s Ichabod Crane being chased down the road by the Headless Horseman, knees bouncing up by my ears as my butt came down into the saddle, white-knuckling the saddle horn all the way back to the barn.

It just so happened that instead of choosing any other way to get up the driveway to the pasture gate on the far side of the barn, this horse decided it was a much better plan to take me up the driveway between a pickup truck and a tree.  There was just enough space between the truck and the tree for us to pass, with a tree branch that stuck straight out about where my throat would be, effectively de-saddling me at chin level, which was undoubtedly part of this horse’s nefarious plan.  It was just like in the movies:  you see the man on the horse, an expression of shock at  the realization of what is coming his way, with just enough time to duck down as he and his horse break the sound barrier as they pass under the tree branch, mere inches from the truck and the tree trunk.

This is the part that truly amazes me!   That horse remained at a full gallop right up to the last 10 feet of grass before we reached the pasture fence.  Within that 10 feet, he went from a full gallop to a complete stand-still.  The laws of inertia dictate that, especially with my feet out of the stirrups, I should have remained at galloping speed as I sailed through the air over the fence and into the paddock.  But I didn’t!  When he stopped the way he did, I remember feeling a pressure on my shoulders, keeping me pinned down in the saddle until he came to a stop.  You may think differently, but I know the guardian angel that the Bible tells me I have as a follower of Jesus was keeping me in that saddle!

Know what I did next?  You’d be proud of me.  After I started breathing again and checked my pants for any signs of staining, I turned that horse around and took him back out onto the road to finish what I had started. We didn’t go very far, but just enough to make him do what he was supposed to do (I suppose he finally figured that this quiet teenage boy who didn’t know much about horses wasn’t going to be the push-over he was thinking I was).  I don’t remember if I rode after that, but that was an experience that I will never forget!