My sons have loved to hear “Daddy Stories” during their lives.Originally I just talked, but they took such delight I recorded some of them when they were barely old enough to be in school. Last year one of my sons, recalling he’d heard them (and forgotten many of them), asked me to write them down as a Christmas gift, “After all,” he told me, “you are getting older.” Thanks Matt! With that observation I also found the old recordings, with him giggling at five years old, and copied them into a downloadable format. For their fun and yours I thought I could write some down and put them on my blog.
It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to
I’ll write what I want to
I’ll write what I want to [sung to “It’s My Party”]
I grew up in a small town in south central Nebraska called Hastings. I have come to think of it as a Norman Rockwell painting done in flatlands and cornstalks. Skies there were huge, thunderstorms violent, stars brilliant. My house was built when I was two. I think it’s one of my first memories, because I remember this odd house with walls I could walk through, undoubtedly the framing going up. It was three blocks south of the new high school, and three blocks west of the museum and planetarium that I loved.
My family was prosperous but not rich. My mother was a beautician in our home with two chairs, and a hair drier, my father owned an auto repair shop with my mom’s brother. Mom and dad were stable and loving. In my entire life I never heard my parents argue. In fact the only pique I recall at all is my father, a rational and scientific man, wanting Hastings to have fluoridated water. Mom didn’t want anything done to it saying, “Good ol’ Hastings water is the best in the world!” They laughed about canceling each other out whenever it was up for a vote.
The Blanket of a Cold Winter Night
When I think of Hastings I often think of my bedroom. On some nights the silence and bitter cold lay on the town like a down comforter, muffling the sounds. I would look out the window on these nights at the power plant chimneys. The more smoke pouring out meant the colder it was, and they told of the wind direction, if there was any wind at all.
Mom and dad didn’t like to waste money heating a sleeping house, and they liked it cold for sleeping anyway. I’d crawl into a cold bed on these nights and lay absolutely motionless waiting for my body heat to warm the several thick blankets. Inch by inch it would slowly spread out, with me following it to spread the warmth inside my cocoon.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, in that absolute stillness, I’d go to that borderland between sleep and wakefulness, where things get blurred. There I’d notice something that was so borderline between the heard and unhearable I wondered what that presence was, a throbbing humming sound. Eventually I’d hear the distant rrrrrrrrrrrrrr-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-rrrr-rrrrrrrrrrrrrr and realize I was hearing the harmonic beats of locomotive engines miles away pulling a long train into town, with the train whistle (really a horn) blowing at those distant train crossings.
As the train approached the rolling rumbling would get louder and louder. The contrast between the utter stillness, and the cold air keeping the sound close to the earth made this seem remarkably loud. At it’s closest approach, half a mile away, the clickety-clack and train wheels zinging seemed to fill the whole space of the town, much like my warmth filled in under my blankets. In a couple minutes it would fade away. I’d wonder what was on it, where it was going, and in this sleep-wake borderland if I’d heard it at all.
River of Air
Climate change and the humidity of irrigation had not yet turned evenings into hot affairs. Hot summer days could often be relieved by cool refreshing evenings. My mom would shut the water off for our air conditioner and open the windows. Crickets would sing for mates, and without the quieting snow I’d hear the more usual sounds of cars going by on busy streets a few blocks away.
On my favorite nights the air took on a new quality. It flowed. It wasn’t gusty, strong, or flighty, but held on to a steadiness, more like a river flowing through the town and through my windows. It was like a moving blanket blowing in smells of freshly cut grass, or flowers. There was a good chance I’d stayed up watching Johnny Carson until KHAS-TV played the Star Spangled Banner and the screen turned to static, or I read Ayn Rand or Issac Asimov listening to KHAS AM radio sign off the air at 11pm on my clock-radio. They would often finish with Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera, but always with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the Lord’s Prayer.
Corn Dogs and Lightening Strikes
One year we went to the State Fair around Labor Day. I remember only two things about it, I had my first ride on a helicopter with my dad, and corn dogs. Corn dogs seemed like such a delicacy! I couldn’t get enough of them. Ten years later their sweet smell and taste would haunt me along with everything else I’d ever found good to eat, instead of spiritual thoughts, as I was going through 84 hours without food in the wilderness, just for the fun of it. I still have the drawing of a corn dog in my journal from the time.
Returning home and opening the door in the deep twilight I was happy to smell that wonderful smell of our house after it had been closed up a while. It was a homecoming smell welcoming us at the end of another vacation or adventure. It meant comfort and security before the next adventure. I flipped on light switches but some weren’t working. Odd, very odd. It seemed the clock wasn’t working either. And then there was ceiling plaster on the floor and when trying to replace a fuse we found the glass surrounding it was pushed out of the socket. It wasn’t until we noticed the smoky marks on the wall next to the TV, and the melted TV cables that it was clear what happened. Our 50 foot tall TV antenna had been hit while we were gone. All in all something like 20 things we affected. We were lucky the house didn’t burn down.
A few days later we bought our first color TV, brought it home, and watched NBC’s Wednesday Night At the Movies, Elephant Walk. When it was over we pulled the plug on the TV, as we usually did, since another thunderstorm was approaching. I lay in bed watching this modest storm blow when suddenly the whole room was filled with a blue light and I heard this zzzzzzzzzzzzzttt sound. A gigantic boom and roll of thunder followed.
My aunt Clara lived with us and she rushed out of her room saying the plaster had blown out of the ceiling again. One of the guy wires was secured to the roof right over her room, apparently providing a path for the charge to blast out the plaster. This time that was the only damage done but it was enough. Mom told us about watching a thunderstorm when she was a young girl. Lightning hit close and she yelled at her brother Andy not to hit her, when in fact she just felt the power of the bolt. Years later I’d have a similar experience being out near boat docks when a crack of lightening went overhead and the toes hanging out of my worn canvas tennis shoes felt the power.
Waking up in Hastings often had a joy too. On cold days a check of how much smoke was coming out of the power plant chimney and how fast the wind was blowing would be followed with hot oat meal, cream, and sugar. On summer days I’d be awakened with the sound of morning doves. Often the smell of laundry drying on the laundry lines in the backyard would waft in the air and maybe I’d hear the milkman’s truck stopping in front of the house. There’s been no better way to get up and I’m filled with gratitude for the experience.