Emma Gets Stripped
When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s, and then later as a teenager in the 1970’s, having three farms to play on was fantastic. Across the road, in the pasture at Unc Gene's farm, buried in a pine-grove near the brook, was an old one room shack that Cuz Genie-bub and I converted into a camp, which we built onto, creating a modest two room oasis. It featured a main room with an old potbellied wood stove in the corner, a few old ratty chairs, a scarred table and chair set, and shelves for magazines, cookware, and other assorted camp gear. The original shack became the bedroom and had two sets of bunk beds built in on each end. This camp became our hangout, a place where the adults didn’t visit, and where we would congregate with our school chums for parties and general mischief.
Connecting to Unc Gene’s farm was the sheep farm, known in our family as “The Other Farm”. It offered acres of fields for the sheep and cattle to graze with lots of room for horse riding and snowmobiling, the brook for fishing, and miles of tote roads in the woods for hunting and playing with the ’49 Willys jeep.
However, it was Pup’s farm and the surrounding land that was my playpen when I was little. Behind the three-story chicken house was a patch of woods of about 25 acres with a tote road that led to the backfields. The ten acre backfields were sandwiched between another 65 acre woodlot on the east, and a 100 acre commercial gravel pit and woodlot to the west. On this approximate 200 acres of playground were farm ponds for swimming, a creek to splash around in, a swamp that was a bit eerie but fun to explore, old apple orchards that still produced apples for a quick snack, a couple of long-since-used old falling down houses and out buildings for makeshift camps, a maze of old tote roads to explore and sneak about on, an old dump to dig in, and countless huge pine trees for climbing and building tree houses. That gravel pit, which was a little boy's dream come true sandbox, was a favorite place for all the neighborhood kids. The pit offered a series of gravel and sand banks, some as high as 100 feet, for climbing and sliding. In the lower section of the pit were a couple of crystal clear ponds for swimming in the summer and for ice skating in the winter. Many cold late afternoons and early evenings the neighborhood kids would congregate to ice skate and play the game of “cock the rooster” with a roaring bonfire on the edge of the pond. Many nights our parents were forced to drive to the pit and threaten us with eternal grounding if we didn’t come home and do our homework and get ready for bed.
Our neighborhood consisted of approximately 30 of us kids (mostly all relatives) within an 8-10 year age difference, so the older ones looked after the younger ones. We ran the woods, fields, and the gravel pit of the neighborhood.
Or at least we thought we did.
With such a large and diverse tract of land on which to play, and such a willing group of kids to play with, we developed a game called “Monster” which was part tag and part hide and go seek. The game was played over the entire neighborhood, incorporating our yards as well as the woods, fields, tote roads, and gravel pit. There was the “it” team, which typically consisted of five or six people who were responsible for finding, tagging, and then dragging the others back to “gue”. Gue was a designated spot or area, typically a large tree on Mamie and Pup’s lawn, where all those caught would have to stay in contact with either the tree or the hand of another caught person touching the tree. Usually the “it” team had at least two guards whose job was to keep the “caught people” caught, and not allow a free person to tag them and set them free. The hunters on the “it” team had to catch every last free person and drag them to gue before the game was over. Once every free person was caught and dragged to gue, then new sides would be determined and the game would start all over again.
These games became epic and could last for weeks at a time. Each evening we would pick up where we left off the night before.
Listen, 200 acres of woods, fields, gravel pit, backyards, sheds, garages, trees to climb, ravines, hollows, tote roads, barns, and shacks to hide in, is a lot of ground to cover if you were one of the hunters.
Especially after it was dark. It was a blast.
Of course, just before we would start a game of Monster, the older kids would tell some
rousing ghost stories of bloody murders in the surrounding woods and fields to the younger kids, and as a result, they typically didn’t dare wander off too far.
Made ‘em easy to catch.
Hell, just let out a bloodcurdling scream, and all the young kids would come running as fast as they could, with wide eyes and thoughts of murder on their minds, to the safety of gue.
All is fair in love and war...and the game of Monster.
Another favorite game was “Army” or “War”. Those 200 acres of woods, fields and gravel pit could have been used as a Hollywood set for a movie about war. It was perfect. We army men would cavort through the woods, fields and the gravel pit, crawling on our bellies in the sand, diving behind a boulder for cover, slogging through the swamp, ducking behind a tree; all the while shooting at the evil Nazi's with our guns, or throwing hand grenades (rocks) at their embankments. We became quite adept at sound effects too, from the staccato rata-tat-tat of the sub machine gun, to the kapow of the grenades blowing up. I had my genuine replica toy sub machine gun and army combat helmet just like Vic Morrow’s on the TV show Combat, so I got to be Sergeant Saunders and lead the other kids in our attacks to kill the Nazi’s, and skulked around behind enemy lines.
We possessed very fertile imaginations.
One particular day when I was about seven years old, I happened to be all by myself. Pup and Unc Stub were over to The Other Farm with Unc Gene and Cuz Genie. All the neighborhood kids were busy with other things, so I found myself in the situation where I had to entertain myself. With that “fertile imagination”, that was no problem.
I decided that I was a lone army infantryman lost behind enemy lines. Only I could save the free world from the evil clutches of Nazism, if... I had “what it takes”. So, I skulked and lurked about, ran through the gravel pit, ducked behind boulders, crawled on my belly in the sand, hid behind trees and killed thousands, maybe even millions, of Nazi’s. I blew up bridges that were critical to the Fatherland’s war effort, and even took out a few of Nazi Germany’s larger petrol storage facilities. From there, I had to make my escape. With hundreds.....no....thousands....maybe even millions...of enraged German soldiers after me, I ran through the woods. Along the way I set traps and threw grenades back at my pursuers in the attempt to slow them down, while I searched for a way to get back to the front line and to the safety of the American troops. Working my way through the woods and fields and then more woods, staying just minutes ahead of these million-odd Nazi's, I finally popped out of the woods right behind Pup’s chicken house.
There, sitting beside the chicken house, sunning herself... was Emma.
A fantastic and daring idea came to me. Yes, I had an epiphany. Emma was my means of
escape from behind enemy lines.
Emma, by the way, was Pup’s old ’49 Dodge wooden-bodied dump truck, used for hauling hay, manure, firewood, garden produce, and the many other purposes of a farm truck. For those of you that thought that the title of this story meant something entirely different...shame on you. I was a 7 year old kid for crying out loud.
Anyway, back to the story. I ran to Emma, climbed in, “fired her up”, and started driving like a madman through enemy lines, shooting out the window at Nazi’s along the way, ducking their return fire, swerving to miss the grenades launched at me, watching a few explode just in front of me. Whew!...that one was a close call. As I approached the front line I knew I’d have to ditch the truck, as it was a Nazi truck. I didn’t want my own troops blowing me to Kingdom Come. So, I jumped out of the truck intending to run the last few feet to freedom and safety... under heavy fire, of course....when I had a second epiphany.
I needed to disable this enemy truck.
Yes, the free world was counting on me. We couldn’t have those evil Germans using this truck to kill American soldiers. So, I pulled up the two folding winged flaps of the hood, and proceeded to grab every wire I could see and rip it out of the engine compartment. Pretty soon there was a pile of spark plug wires, the coil wire, and every other wire on the engine littered all over the ground around poor ol' Emma. She wasn’t going anywhere soon.
Well, your little 7 year old hero escaped the clutches of the evil Nazi’s....barely...and returned to a hero’s welcome to the American troops on the other side of enemy lines, and the world was saved.
Later that day I was sitting at Mamie’s table listening to the really cool transistor radio I had received from Dad and Mom for my birthday, and chowing down a few of Mamie’s incredible molasses cookies, when Pup came home from working on the Other Farm. He mentioned that he would like me to go to work with him the following day, as there was a lot of baled hay that needed to be hauled to the barn and put in the mow.
“Sure Pup, I’ll be ready to go first thing.”
He said, “Good, we’ll fire up Emma and head over around 7:00 am.”
I took Pup out to Emma and showed him the piles of wires strewed about the front of the truck. I was miserable. Pup looked over the scene of Emma’s death, and asked me what happened. I explained, as best I could, the need to disable Emma as the free world was counting on me.
“Pup, it was those damn Germans that caused this,” I reasoned.
Pup looked at me with that ever present twinkle in his eyes, and reached over and patted me
on the head, and said, “You’re a good boy, Mitch.”
About that time, Dad came home from work, noticed his son and his father standing beside Emma and pulled in the dooryard. He got out of his truck and sauntered up to Emma. He looked at the carnage of wires and then he looked at me. “That look” came across his face.
He did not pat me on the head or tell me what a good boy I was.
After a proper butt kicking and the loss of my precious transistor radio for a month, I was made to help with the resurrection of Emma. In fact, I held the drop cord light, as it took Dad and Pup several hours into the evening to put the ol' girl back together and get her running again.
I considered calling Dad a Nazi, but figured that would not be in my best interest.
I do recall that Pup and Unc Gene got a pretty good chuckle out of my little war fantasy the next day. I heard them telling the story to other older family members who shook their heads and rolled their eyes as I ran in front of Emma in the hay field. It was my job to make sure the bales of hay slid correctly into the contraption hooked on the side of the truck, which would then grab the bale with two pronged arms and lift it up and over the side of the wooden rack body. Then Unc Stub would grab it and stack it in Emma’s body, all the while teasing me about the Germans.
“Is that a harmless bale of hay, Mitch?...or a German? Better shoot it first, just in case.”
I guess I had it coming.
Although my elders typically encouraged my imagination, I came to realize from “the stripping of Emma”, the subsequent punishment from Dad, and the teasing from the Unc’s and Pup, that one needs to separate the reality of a necessary piece of farm equipment from the fantasy of saving the world from the Nazi’s.
Several years later, when I was about 15, I inherited a ‘55 Dodge Coronet from my sister and used it as a field bomb, driving it around the farm. I was replacing the spark plugs and wires one day in front of the chicken house, when Unc Stub walked by and queried,
“Saving the world from those nasty Nazi’s again, Mitch?”
Some lessons in life just keep on giving.....