July 20, 2007

The Child in Summer (Sketch #1)

Category: News — Ira @ 5:44 pm

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“…every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder,
You are summer.”
—Nicole Nordeman, Lyrics: “Every Season”

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(RAW FOOTAGE FROM MY NOTES, 1992: Summer in my childhood “….the complete joy of contemplating a long three months of carefree frolicking, fishing, and swimming in the gravel pit. How the summer flew by: haying, the dust and thirst of it, driving the team and wagon for the first time, unloading the loose hay in the enormous loft…. Running barefoot, the soles of our feet as tough as the shoe leather they replaced, through pastures and woods, herding home the cows at milking time…..”)

Several times a week during the summer months, we enjoyed homemade ice cream, swirled to a stiff texture with the hand-cranked freezer packed with ice crushed from the heavy blocks we had stored in thick layers of sawdust in the sunken ice house during the previous winter. And salt. Homemade ice cream will not harden unless the freezer ice is liberally laced with salt. But the real treat for us was “boughten” ice cream, which we had once in a blue moon, and then only if we were good. Every two weeks, on Fridays, the Maple Leaf Brand ice cream truck pulled hopefully into our drive, usually only to be waved away with a “nothing today, thanks.” Once in a great while, Dad would buy a cardboard carton of half a gallon of Vanilla or Maple Walnut flavored ice cream. We would feast on the spot because we had no freezer to keep it hard.

One day in late July, my brothers and I were laboring in the field, setting up shocks with the heavy-headed sheaves of oats that lay sprawled across an endless sea of gold. It was labor-intensive, itchy, brutal work. The sheaves had been spit from the clattering reaper/binder earlier in the day, neatly tied up in bundles and deposited in long irregular rows across the field. The binder was a complicated contraption con-sisting of blade and platform and a confounding array of canvas stretched on rollers. It had a great wooden paddle with five or six slats (not unlike a steamboat paddle) that forced the oat stalks into the teeth of the blade and onto the platform. It always made a great, awful clamor when in operation, the whirl of canvas, the wicked clicking of the blade, the hoarse shouts of the driver (one of my older brothers) urging on his three-horse team. To watch it in operation was to witness the combined rhythm of ancient machine and raw, straining muscle power.

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Probably since long before Cyrus McCormick invented the reaper more than a hundred and fifty years ago, the method of tent-shocking oats and wheat has remained un-changed. First, one takes two sheaves and places them together, slanted toward each other at the top. Placed so the dry south winds can whisper through. Then four more sheaves surround the two, then two more on the outside of the four. Finally, one last sheaf, the head, is taken, the heads of grain on the top fanned out, and laid across the top of the others, facing to the west. To fend off the rain. I have seen such grain shocks endure the most savage rain storms imaginable and dry naturally with a day or two of sunlight and wind.

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We were working in the southwest field of my father’s farm. The time: midafternoon. The day: a Friday, oozing with heat. The woods just to the south blocked what breeze there was. We wiped the sweat from our brows and gulped lukewarm water from our jugs. Row upon row of sheaves stretched before us; the finished shocks kept mute watch behind us like silent monuments to our toil. Then one of my brothers, I think it was Joseph, the oldest, his brain stimulated to new heights by thirst and heat, suddenly declared an epiphany. We could flag down the ice cream truck and buy a box of popsicles. His suggestion was instantly greeted with tremendous enthusiasm and shouts of excitement.

A hasty Council, consisting of my four older brothers and me, surrounded by a thou-sand scattered sheaves, assembled in a knot to discuss the plan and its implications. I was delirious at the thought and all for it, not that my opinion mattered much. After some weighty discussion, the decision was made. Now for the money. Two quarters was all it would take. Somehow they materialized from someone’s pockets. Who would go? The Council decided that, as the smallest and the least useful for the actual field work, I would be the chosen one. I was six or seven years old. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Not only would I savor the rare cold icy joy of delicious popsicles, I would get out of the hard work of shocking oats for the time it took to fetch them.

In solemn ceremony, the Council surrounded me. I was handed the two precious quarters. And given careful instructions.

“Now hurry. He’ll be coming along soon. Make sure you wave him down. So he can see he’s supposed to stop. He’ll stop. Just tell him you want a box of popsicles. You can do it.”

Thus instructed and admonished, clutching the precious quarters, I set off on my little quest across the oats field, a ragged, curly-headed, grimy-faced little boy on a mission. The stubble on the ground crunched beneath my bare feet. I navigated the shortest route through the oats field, stepped carefully through the stickered fence row, scrambled cautiously through a barb-wire fence. Next, a dusty pasture field with cow paths worn and ribboned throughout, the screeching of the killdeers falsely dragging one wing along the ground, faking injury to lead me from their nests of eggs or hidden young. Excited and nervous, I finally reached the dusty graveled road. There I waited in the sun.

The spot I chose to wait was just a few feet west of the crossroads leading north the quarter mile or so to Pathway Publishers, the print shop and offices where my father worked and wrote, and down the small sloping hill just east of our neighbor John’s place. Some concern had been expressed by the Council that my father might just happen to glance out his office window, discern the plot and crush our hopes with a stern wave of his mighty hand. Worse, he might decide, as was his wont at any hour, to leave the office and head for home in his rattletrap topbuggy, right past me. If that happened, he would no doubt be very curious as to why his small son was standing hatless beside the road, clutching two quarters and peering intently toward the west. An investigation would ensue. Questions asked. It would be awkward and would almost surely result in no popsicles for anybody. But the heat of the day was too high and the thirst for relief too deep; the reward would be worth the risk. Deliberately ignoring the north and my father’s frowning office window, I scanned the western horizon of the road. As each cloud of rising dust announced an approaching vehicle, I strained to see if it was the ice cream truck.

A car passed. Another. A pickup. Each time, the dust rose and rolled by in great choking clouds, then settled. Minutes passed. Then I saw it coming, the red pickup with the refrigerated white box on the back with the Maple Leaf logo. Half doubtful that the scheme would actually work, I stepped onto the road and, with all the authority of my seven years, firmly waved my right arm up and down with all the confidence I could muster. Stop. The truck approached. Slowed. Slid smoothly to a halt beside me on the crunching gravel.

The “Ice Cream Man,” as we called him, was a tall thin man with a harelip. He wore a hat and dark blue uniform and talked sideways from his mouth. A worn black leather money pouch with a flap nestled comfortably on his hip, diagonally strapped across his body over the opposite shoulder. He got out of the truck and greeted me cheerfully, as if he stopped for waving little Amish boys every day. So far, so good. A hurried glance in all directions; no cars approached. No buggies either. Good. All I had to do now was forge ahead.

“A box of popsicles, different flavors” I said bravely.

With far more dignity and cheer than was warranted by such a pitiful sale to such a raggedy customer on such a dusty road on such a brutally hot day, he unlatched and opened the freezer door. Great clouds of frost billowed out into the summer heat. He rummaged for a moment, then handed me a box of ten popsicles, assorted flavors. He closed the freezer door with a solid thunk.

“Fifty cents,” he said. I held out a grubby hand and he carefully plucked the quarters from my fingers.

“Thank you,” he said. I repeated the phrase back to him. The transaction was com-plete. The sense of accomplishment from all the trade conducted by powerful men in the gilded halls of commerce in all the far great cities of the world could not have matched the swell of pride and happiness that surged through me as I turned in triumph toward the fields.

Holding tightly onto my now-melting treasure, I raced back to where my brothers waited expectantly and eagerly. I was the smallest, but right now I was the most important. Five of us. Ten popsicles. Two each. Work ceased. We sprawled among the shocks and feasted on icy fruit. We were kings. And my father never knew.
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Of the five books purchased as described in my last blog, I am the most pleasantly surprised by “The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf.” I have read the first three or four stories and almost immediately upon beginning the first one, stopped and said to myself, “This is really, really great stuff.” She writes with taut and total control, but with vivid and flowing description. I see her influence on Thomas Wolfe, who was born in 1900. He must have read her works in his childhood and later. I think they must have known each other. Wolfe is more descriptive, but far, far less controlled. I am delighted to have discovered another friend.

I have a confession. I have just subscribed to the New York Times Review of Books. No, I have not crosssed to the dark side. I depise the NY Times newspaper, but the Review of Books is a separate entity, quite in-depth and very interesting. All right, all right. It’s a bit highbrowed, and lofty too. And definitely liberal (or progressive, or whatever it’s called these days), some articles almost unbearably so. I won’t expect to read any reviews on books by my favorite conservative authors or any reviews written by them. But it’s an outstanding read nonetheless. An artist friend of mine always has several issues strewn about the house when I stop by, and each time I pick one up and become completely engrossed. Last time that happened, about a month ago, I decided to subscribe for myself. My first issue arrived this week and I’m perusing it with great enjoyment.

My friend Allan Stanley stopped by for a cookout Sunday evening. Allan and I go way back; I think I met him in 1989 when I first came to Lancaster County. We struck it off almost immediately after we met and have been close friends ever since. He traditionally stops by Sunday evenings several times a summer, and I cook out. We had a special treat this time, bear sausage. One of my friends recently shot a bear in Canada and gave me several packs of sausage. It pays to have connections. The meat is quite tasty, and just a bit sweet. This batch had a hint of Liverwurst flavor, I thought (and no, I am not a wine critic). Maybe it was from the pork or beef mixed in by the butcher.

Thanks to Ray and Maggie (my sister) Marner for the box of outstanding goodies. Thanks, Sis. The tarts will provide my breakfasts for a month.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JANICE!!!!! Love you. Can we all come to the party?
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(11 Comments) »

  1. Wow, Ira, I do believe this week’s blog is the best yet. Many times I have recalled the poor ice cream man memories. Sometimes we actually bought a box and wrapped it tightly between 2 pillows, a trick we learned from Ale Mandy. And what a treat it was at lunchtime. I have often blest the ice cream man in my mind, because stopping at a poor Amish farmhouse was probably not the thing that made the most money, yet he stopped, and for that reason we will always remember him and he will go down in the Wagler history. I still cringe when I recall how we made him rattle off all the flavors of popcicles he had that day, not unlike niece Sara who has to rattle off at least 20 kinds of pie to each of her customers. Sometimes we still hadn’t decided so we asked him to repeat it, horrors. I remember he had a harelip and he couldn’t talk right. May he rest in peace, rewarded for all his kindness to children everywhere.

    Happy happy birthday to Janice and get well soon to Nathan who is suffering from an insect bite. Love, Rachel

    Comment by rachel — July 20, 2007 @ 11:18 pm

  2. Ah well. The ice cream man was a character, all right. His greeting was a clear ‘Follo Sir’ said with dignity..Older Bro. must have been a serial backroad ice cream buyer, as He & I once earlier spent a whole dollar buying a box of popsicles, and a box of ice cream bars [that’s 10 of each] at 5 cents each. Yes, the 2 of us ate them all in the cornfield. Waglers aren’t known for letting any good thing go to waste. [remember all those good but soft bananas ?? But that’s another story]. Anyway, I recall Mom remarking that us 2 boys did not seem that hungry at supper, an understatment for sure…..

    Wow Janice, dear niece, the big 3-0. Happy B.D to you [on the 24th]. You know, when I turned 30, we’d been married than for 15 mos. Any movement on that front?

    Comment by jess from S.C. — July 21, 2007 @ 12:04 am

  3. Fascinating account on the popsicles there. Just recently I happened to be cruising the Aylmer community with your bro. Titus, and he pointed out the exact spot where it all went down. Well done.

    The New York Times Review of Books is a good thing, I believe. I am considering subscribing to some kind of book review mag. Recommendations?

    Comment by Mervin — July 21, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  4. What a great story!! I loved it – felt like I was right there!! I am not a writer – couldn’t if I tried – but I appreciate when one is! I think I might just go eat some ice cream myself!! ( : MJ

    Comment by Mary June Miller — July 22, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  5. Thanks dear uncle for the happy wishes!

    My small house has 11 people packed into it from 5 different states….floor beds on every square inch of the house, it seems. My neighborhood decorated my house with streamers and over-the-hill signs (they seem to have got my age mixed up), looks quite redneck!! Have decided to leave it til the wind blows it off. Had large gathering last night, and the 30th birthday has been off to a stellar start! Will send pictures later.

    To uncle Jesse: After much pondering, I have decided I am no closer to the marriage market, after carefully going through my past boyfriends. I have also decided I have no regrets for not marrying any of them.

    Ira: You have once again outdone yourself; reading your stories transports me to hot summer days and delightful ice cream treats. For us it was orange sherbert push-ups and Schwans popsicles. I feel the urge to find the Schwans man now!

    P.S. Mom also sent me tarts. I let 5 people have one each and promptly hid the box til every one leaves!

    Comment by Janice — July 22, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  6. Wow, how interesting. What would we do without all those precious childhood memories? Phil says that Homer’s boys were too busy slaving away and there was no time for popsicles!!! If we didn’t do anything worse then buying popsicles and ice cream behind our parents’ backs, we were pretty good kids!!!

    Comment by Phil&Dorinda — July 22, 2007 @ 4:37 pm

  7. Ira,
    I’m wondering if you’ve read “Orlando” by Woolf? I thought it was absolutely captivating, humorous, and above all, quite strange!! Any thoughts?
    Margaret

    Ira’s response: I have not read it. Just checked the book’s titles of short stories and it’s not included. Is it a book-length work? I’ll have to watch for it. I am enjoying the short stories, but only at the rate of about one every two days. That way I can take my time reading it and take my time absorbing it.

    Comment by Margaret — July 23, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

  8. Stephen had yet another popsicle story so I guess you guys ate a lot of pop sicles!!

    Today was our little grandson Johann’s 1st birthday, so he & Janice were almost b.day twins!!

    Comment by wilma wagler — July 23, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  9. Janice turning 30 marks another landmark yearwise! Happy day sis! This post evoked quite a few memories in my own mind of years gone by and another landmark year in Janice’s and my life, the year she turned 11 and I turned 13. It seems our “once every two years” trip to Doddy’s house in Iowa made quite an influence on our young lives and the somehow magical years of 11 and 13 seemed the proper time to make the move to go and actually live with Doddy’s and be Amish :)

    We were recently reliving some of the things that happened on those trips…highlights included:

    *Aunt Rhoda’s cart rides whether with a horse or a cow (Yes, Uncle Marvin, she really had a cow trained to pull a cart–there ARE photos to prove it :)
    Rhoda was also the one who took us on the long anticipated fishing trips to the pond behind the house and gave us many rides on the old faithful horses Traveler & Fry…

    *Spending hours down by the creek playing with the cousins and enjoying the closest thing to air conditioning, until we met a snake in the innertube….

    *The endless stream of company that always seemed to interupt our visits as large vans would pull up unannounced and stay for supper (the one supper I distinctly remember Mommy declaring she had nothing on hand for such a large load when one of the ladies on the load suggested that we could just have “peaches soup” and that it was just to bad the bread hadn’t been able to soak all day..)

    *Enjoying Mommy’s cookies, which I had the chance to taste once again on a visit to her house last year…

    *There is so much more I could ramble on about–what a fun time–Thanks Ira for another great post and a trip down memory lane!

    Sunday, We got to see the Kansas Youth Choir with cousin Sara on it. They did a fabulous job with their singing and time for the children! Everyone who has a chance should see that program.

    Comment by Dorothy — July 23, 2007 @ 11:33 pm

  10. Stephen’s going to have to produce that story. [If there really is one]..Also sister Rhoda, Happy Birthday to you [28th]. Remember clearly the day you were born, and the round table discussions on your name. Pros & Cons of that particular name. We also had a colt born on the farm the same day, we named it ‘Pig’. Guess you got lucky there, we used up our energy naming you. Whatever happened to that horse? Believe I still remember seeing it in Ia. sometime.

    Ira’s response: Yep, we did take that horse to IA, but us younger kids were ashamed of such an uncouth name, so we renamed him “Peg.”

    Comment by jess from S.C. — July 24, 2007 @ 8:32 am

  11. Oh…my…gosh! You sweet, little, curly haired, precious, barn door pants wearing cherub. Sweet, sweet, sweet! There is absolutely nothing as precious as a little child. And mister, I bet you were off the charts. I love this story. Oh, how I love this story.

    I must say, if I, at the tender age of 7, had to request a box of popsicles from a man with a hairlip and sideways way of talking I would have been shaking in my boots.
    Oh, how sweet!

    Comment by Francine — March 28, 2013 @ 12:59 am

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