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- - Chapter 2: Adult Responsibility (With Some Breaks) - -
By ten years old, no weekends off,
Or Saturday cartoons,
Although I did have cash to spend,
I felt my life in ruins.
I dusted cars in my dad's store,
And cleaned its toilets too,
I fixed truck tires as I got old,
Not much I couldn't do.
A trip to two month summer camp,
I learned to shoot and sail,
At twelve years old, a pioneer,
Canoed explorer's trail.
Near tragedy on my return,
My sister paralyzed,
A late victim of polio,
My conscience brutalized.
Felt guilty leaving her alone,
While I frolicked and played,
Brotherly love had been displaced,
Her protection was waylaid.
The washers, dryers, I repaired,
And freezers with no chill,
Then televisions came along,
Tube testing my new skill.
Assembling new farm implements,
And posting parts on hand,
My driver's license opened doors,
‘Collected bills' firsthand.
On Sundays we would go to church,
To hear the preacher tell,
Because my dad was not with us,
His soul would burn in Hell.
Dad's Channelled Poem-
[‘It's bad news when a preacher comes.
They all want stuff for free.
I have to feed my children too,
I've problems they don't see.']
Three years of summer music camps,
In Junior High reborn,
I played piano in dance bands,
Took lessons on French Horn.
My French Horn teacher laughed out loud
When I walked through the door,
‘Your lips too thick, please stick out tongue, '
Now rolling on the floor!
‘To take your money is a crime, '
The German said to me,
‘You've no high notes, ' ‘I know' I said,
‘Mom loves French Horn you see.'
Most summers were our busy time,
We all worked hard till dusk,
My ‘tail rung through a ringer, ' (1) la, *
The time for ‘smart mouth' (2) brusque.
But then the job that I loved best,
Flat tractor tires in field,
A chance to meet a farmer's girl,
The country's charm revealed.
One summer worked a cattle herd,
Two thousand cows were planned,
By cutting, wind-rowing (3) the grass,
Soon haystacks dotted land.
Dakota winters could be fierce,
The temp forty below,
The stacks were shelter from the wind,
A shield from blinding snow.
We'd use a horse for round-up, la! *
My God that was a thrill,
Except for blisters on your ass,
Or when you took a spill.
I had not ridden horses much,
You're so far from the ground,
The horse not knowing you from spit, (4)
Disdain can be profound! '
There was no time for niceties,
And work to do, ‘C'MON! '
If horse and you somehow part ways,
No choice, you climb back on.
Our ranch was all on ‘Indian Res., ' (5)
By river loop enclosed,
In South Dakota's Lower Brule, (6)
A twelve year lease proposed.
Land acres more that twenty thou.
Covered by native grass,
A chance like this was very rare,
My father could not pass.
The river's edge a solid fence,
No barbed wire to maintain.
The nearest town two hours by road,
Our days were mostly work and sleep,
With meals our only break,
Except for weekend groc'ry trips,
No chance for love's heartache.
Till I discovered farmer's girl,
Who lived half way to town,
Contrived a way to go to church,
When Sunday's call came down.
The church's name not one I knew,
The people all seemed nice,
To escape Sunday's usual fare
Was worth most any price.
Played music we could sing,
The pastor beat foot-pedalled drum,
We made the rafters ring!
I told myself, ‘there's something strange,
The music's gone too long, '
Emotion peaking and yet I
Somehow did not belong.
With music's end the sermon broke,
The world's sure end was near,
Time now to sanctify all sin,
‘Repent now! God's word hear.'
For God's quite mad, this cannot stand,
No doubt that it is prov'n
Those rockets from Canaveral
Are shooting holes in Heav'n.
I was in shock, glued to my seat,
The flock their garments rent,
And I the last one in his seat,
No sin did I lament!
At last not knowing what to do,
I left and went outside,
And knew whatever happened now,
I hadn't found my bride.
August 20, 2014
* When I was in the American Peace Corps in Tanzania, East Africa we had a group of 7
surveying assistants that were always with us in the first year and that we became very
close to. Their conversation was always sprinkled with 'la' and I thought it was kind of
cute. Like they might say to me, 'Why don't we stop in this village for some food, la.'
They used this word kind of like I use the word ‘OK' in casual conversation. 'You've got
food in your teeth, la.' I really enjoyed this idiosyncratic affectation.
(1) 'tail rung through the ringer' - Early washing machines did not have a 'spin cycle.' So
to get the excess water out of your clothing you would ring out the water from each item
of clothing first before hanging it on a clothes line to dry completely in the sun. So the
phrase 'tail rung through the ringer' means that you are all out of energy, and very tired.
The energy has been squeezed out of you by your job like water rung out of newly
(2) 'smart mouth' Someone who likes to talk back to authorities, or who just complains all
(3) 'wind-rowing' - To rake newly cut grass into long rows called 'wind-rows' that could be
more easily picked up and bailed then by yet another machine.
(4) 'not knowing someone from spit' - To have no respect for the person at all.
(5) ‘Indian Res’ – Land that Indian’s were given official title to by the American
government in an attempt to placate and domesticate them.
(6) ‘Lower Brule’ – A huge tract of Indian Land contained in a large meander of the
Missouri River. Although the mouth of this loop is only one mile wide, to get from one side
of the meander by river is over 28 miles. Lower Brule is owned by the Cherokee Indian
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