Did you know? I spent most of my growing-up years in a tiny town about 18 miles east of Edmond, OK. For a large part of that time, we lived outside of town on about 20 acres of land.
Two houses about a football field length apart, separated by a hog pen, a chicken coop, and the "Skunk Shed"(a skunk sprayed in there once, the scent lingered for years). My dad's brother's family lived in one house: my Uncle Kenneth, Aunt Dona, and cousins Diane and Paul. My family lived in the other.
Time spent in one house was the same as time spent in another-in and out, summer and winter, with the nearest (non-family) neighbor about a half-mile away.
A small creek (or "crick", as we called it) ran behind the houses-just right for splashing hot, dusty feet on a hot, dusty day. It was small enough to straddle at certain points, and we would stand as still as statues, dangling our fingers in the water in hopes that a curious crawdad would poke its head out so that we could grab it and chase each other around with it.
I loved this summertime activity, until a water moccasin swam up between where my feet were planted, just as casual as you please.
I screamed. I almost walked on the water. I know I jumped three feet in the air.
We had to watch out for those cottonmouths and copperheads, but mostly we ran tame, riding our bikes up and down the hardtop road, playing touch football, barefoot, in the chicken yard with the neighbor boys. About half of our acreage was wooded, so we would explore the dark, verdant woods, carrying sack lunches because we had found a huge flat-top red rock that came to be known as "Picnic Rock". When you stood on top of the rock, you could see halfway into town. We would climb trees and sit quietly (as quietly as kids can, anyway), waiting to see the rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional armadillo. We were adventurers, big game hunters, explorers.
My aunt Dona is the type that knows how to can veggies, make preserves & jams, and homemade ice-cream. I loved the summertime, so I could help crank out the ice cream.
Uncle Kenneth taught me to drive the little tractor--as the eldest of the children, it was my God-given right to be in the driver's seat.
I would drive the little tractor over the wood-slat bridge that spanned our little creek, heading toward the acre or so of vegetable garden, where we would plant the seeds or pick the fruits of our labors, depending on the season.
Corn, okra, peas, carrots, onions, snap beans, tomatoes...yum. Hard work, but well worth it (or so I think now--I can't imagine that I thought that when I was 10 or 12 or even 14 years old).
Oh, Uncle Kenneth, the character. He was born on April 1 and always said that he was an April Fool and a Monkey's Uncle (the monkey being me, of course). I remember one time I went into his house and he asked me if I wanted a pop. Well, of course I did!
So he came back into the living room with a little whiffle-ball bat and smacked me (lightly!) on the legs and butt, whilst I was giggling madly and screaming, "NO! Not THAT kind of pop!"
Then he said how about a cold pop, and my little girl brain couldn't find any trick with that question, so I said yes once again.
Uncle Kenneth took the bat, held it in front of the window unit air conditioner, and then came back with an evil grin and said, "Well, YOU'RE the one who asked for a cold pop!"
I know, it's silly. But to a little girl it was great fun.
One year we had a big tall stand of grass that covered a couple-three acres, so Uncle Kenneth drove the little tractor over and made us a maze. The grass was taller than we children were, so it was great fun (and so mysterious! and a little scary!) to hide out in the maze, to try to find each other, or just have a quiet, peaceful moment of 'thinking time'.
Uncle Kenneth was also the resident "Tick-puller". Back then getting ticks in your head was a common occurence, and Uncle Kenneth would light up his cigarette and get it close my head and inhale, making the tick back out with the heat. Then Aunt Dona would dab it with alcohol, and then we would all have a look at the tick, say "EEEW, GROSS!" a few times, and then send the tick off with a royal flush of the toilet.
Oh stop it, ticks weren't as big a worry back then, and you stuck with what worked for the removal. :)
Nowadays my cousin Diane has a daughter a couple of years younger than my own daughter, and Uncle Kenneth and Aunt Dona would take both girls for a few days, a week, whatever, during the summers. They would do chores, and play little-girl games, and follow Uncle Kenneth around asking all sorts of questions about all sorts of things.
My daughter always had an utter blast, and so did her cousin.
Those were certainly the days.
That's where I learned the value of hard work, how to be responsible, how to stand on my own feet.
Between my family and Uncle Kenneth and his family, we kids all learned those lessons.
My Uncle Kenneth died at 5 o'clock this morning.
Oh dear God, I miss him so.