May 20th…“WHEN COUSINS CAME OVER, WHAT KIND OF GAMES DID YOU PLAY AND WHAT TYPE OF ACTIVITIES DID YOUR FAMILIES ENJOY TOGETHER?”
Uncle Gene careened that blue Bel Air beauty into the north entrance of our farm’s U-shaped driveway. Aunt Beverly and their three daughters waved at me as the gravel beneath their tires gave off a happy sound of their arrival at our home for a day of fun and visiting. Even as a kid, I mused upon the thought that our uncle must have had some magic invention that could keep that car so sparkling clean even after driving over the gravel roads that led to our homeplace.
It wasn’t much longer before excitement built up once again as Uncle Del’s handsome 1959 Buick Electra rolled around to the back of our home and came to a standstill as his three sons poured out of their family coach for fun and games at Uncle Russell’s farm near our sweet hometown of Kiester, Minnesota. Our guest list for that joyous day was topped off by the gentle arrival of a beige 1956 Pontiac Star Chief that found its place among the other metal chariots and, upon opening of their doors, revealed our dearest maternal grandparents of Clarence and Amanda Sletten. It was a given that, when we and our cousins, plus 120 acres of farmland were put together, well, anything wunnerful could happen, and it usually DID!! Families living relatively close, in those days, had many happy benefits; and that was the case with my mother’s brother and sister and their families coming to visit often and with much enjoyment by all. Mom’s other brother, and his family, lived up in northern Minnesota near the town of Mahnomen, so it just wasn’t conducive to have them drive clear across the State for only a day visit.
There were times when our clans would gather together to collectively accomplish a common task AND, eventually, to enjoy playtime. Such was the case when our father, Russell, would plant two rows of sweet corn on the outside edge of his field corn (that he fed to our livestock). I’m guessing that those two delicious rows of tasty corn ran for almost an eighth of a mile, or more, in length. On that certain occasion, the families gathered at our farm and we’d all follow Dad as he drove our 1950 Ford pickup truck out to the cornfield. Those two rows of corn were right alongside a smooth field of alfalfa, so Dad could drive the truck right next to our rows of corn to be harvested. Dad installed high boards on the truck box so that we could fill that truck sky-high with delicious golden sweet corn. Everyone pitched in as we’d rip the ears off the stalks and toss the ears of corn gently into the truck bed. Move the truck, pick some corn, move the truck and pick some more corn. Soon, there was a mountain, so to speak, of yummy corn filling up that Ford.
Now we all headed back to the farm yard and parked the pickup under the refreshing coolness of our giant shade trees. As a clan, we shucked off the husks of the sweet corn and then cut the corn off the cobs to put into freezer boxes for all the families to take home to grace their dinner tables in the coming Winter months. The whole process was made almost delightful by the brisk prairie winds that whisked past us all, cooling our brows from this worthwhile endeavor.
Now, it was playtime!!! Under the sun-sheltering canopy of those same trees, my guy cousins and I would set up our own play farms in the fine, soft soil that had been pulverized by our feet dragging under the airplane tire swing that hung from long ropes tied to branches above us.
When I say airplane tire swing, that’s exactly what it was. Our dad’s brother lived nearby and flew a Cessna Piper Cub aircraft that had some over-sized tires. When those tires had worn down, he gave a set to our father and he created this awesome swing for us all to enjoy. With assisting boosts from behind, we boys flew the spectrum from one flying arch of that swing to the other. Sometimes we thought we’d tangle ourselves in the branches above by the wildness of each swinging movement.
On those happy days of family, we kids enjoyed playing a game we called, “Annie I Over”. Half the cousins on one side of our farm house and half on the other. The ball got thrown up and over the house to see if someone on the opposing team could catch it before it hit the ground. If they did, they’d race around to the side of the house where it was tossed to chase and tag the thrower to bring them over to their team. I’ll bet that dear old baseball must’ve closed his eyes and held on to his stitches as we’d fling that poor sucker wayyyyy over the house top and down to the team on the other side. I’m sure there are many ways to play this game, but we had a LOT of fun blowing off our youthful energy that way. With seemingly boundless exuberance, we cousins exploded from one childhood adventure to another and as the sun began to fade into late afternoon, we’d just shift gears for another type of playtime……after dark.
With dusk approaching, the sunset had bid us all goodnight, but rather than have the fun come to an end, the darkness just brought another chapter of further fun for us kiddos.
All of a sudden, a tiny light bulb flew past our eyes, blinking on and off. Then another, and another. For a second or two, we cousins thought, “Heyyyy, what’s going on!!???” Then it dawned on us……….they were FIREFLIES!! Excitedly, we all scurried into the house to ask my mother, Clarice, for some glass canning jars so each of us could have our own sparkling bug light show “under glass”. Fire Flies preferred the tall grasses that grew in the wide, shallow ditches of the gravel road that meandered past our farm. In those grasses lived thousands of glittering Fire Flies (also known as “Lightning Bugs”). We’d all capture a jar-full of those lil’ blinky bugs and then have our group sit down on the cooling grasses of the now dark front yard to watch those bright little dancers inside put on a sparking show for us. Crickets chirped their song to us in the Summer moonlight while we’d ooogle in awe at the “living light show” inside those cylindrical “glass stages”.
Being of a Norwegian heritage family, there was always coffee brewing for the adults. So, like a perfume to our olfactories, the aroma of evening coffee and cake floated out the front door of our farm home and signaled us kids that there was still time for at least one more game…………HIDE AND SEEK…….in the dark!! One of the cousins would put their head to the corner of an outside doorway and begin the “hide count”. With gazelle intensity, my powerful young legs launched my body across our expansive lawn and towards the gravel road that paralleled our farm property. I remember racing down into the shallow ditch with such speed that upon reaching the almost vertical upgrade to the gravel road surface, my momentum caused my little boy body to go airborne with legs still churning as I’d land down upon the gravel road and then leap into the tall-grassed ditch on the other side. With the “hide count” completed, the “IT” cousin cried out, “READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!!!”.
Now on my belly and hidden in the tall grasses under the cloak of darkness, only the Fire Flies knew where I was as they’d blink “hello” to me with their built-in light bulb bodies. Like a cat watching her mousy prey, I could see and hear the “IT” cousin hunting and chasing the others as they’d squeal and were now trying their darndest to make it to “homebase” and safety without being caught. When the “IT” cousin had moved far enough away from “homebase”, I’d spring up from my belly position in the grass to make my move. Using the darkness as my friend, to cover me with its shadows, my legs flew me like the wind itself as I made a mad dash for “homebase” and was one of the winners who would not have to be the next “IT” person.
Here in adulthood, I may not be the “brightest bulb in the box of life”, but I can tell you that memories of childhood days are some of the most glowing enjoyments for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.