This morning, I was
thinking about when I was a kid, about the farm across the river from
ours, and about the folks who lived there.
Things were a lot
different in my recollection than they are now. The old-timers of the
Ozarks had only a slightly different concept of land ownership than the
Native Americans did; that is, land's only value was what you could
produce on it. Owning six or eight hundred acres didn't mean that you
were wealthy. I recall that the son of the man that owned the largest
single piece of property in the state of Missouri (over 16,000 acres at
the time) was one of my classmates. In retrospect, I can see that the
family must have been fairly comfortable, but not the sort of thing
you'd expect now. They didn't stand out in a small Ozark community in
the early '50's.
The farm I was thinking about wasn't all that large, about six hundred
acres, mostly in woods, but there was enough open meadow to make a
meager living from a few head of beef and dairy cattle.
From our house, you
could see the house and barn about a mile across the S. Jacks Fork
valley. You could see that, and some of the fields, and if it was a
clear and quiet morning, you might hear Goldie yodeling as she tended
her milk cows.
I used to think that this was fantastic; that a human could make such
sounds, and that they would carry so far. Gene Autry used to yodel
quite a bit in those days, but that was on the radio. Who knew if his
voice would carry that far in the open air?
Anyway, I was remembering those folks across the valley, practically the
only neighbors I knew until I was six or seven. They were Bill and
This was during a period when much of my life’s knowledge and experience
came directly from Donald Duck. Nobody in Duckburg was what you’d call
“normal”, not if “normal” meant being like Dick and Jane’s parents.
Dick and Jane were such out-of-it, goody-two-shoes losers, compared to
(The truth is, I
hated Dick and Jane and their whole insipid family with a hatred as pure
as white-hot molten steel. In Dick and Jane's world, everybody was
always smiling - these days you'd assume they were stoned - and their
idea of big yucks was when stupid Fluff would fall into the sewing
basket, or something equally banal. I still hate them;
But I digress.)
Bill and Goldie fit right into my world-view, because they were so much
like cartoon characters. Bill was a short fat little man, about the
size of Santa, to my mind. Like a cartoon character, he always wore the
same clothes: a battered old fedora that looked like he’d been born in
it, bib overalls with a red or blue bandanna hanging out of one back
pocket, and work shoes that usually had open wounds on the sides.
During the winter, or for a trip to town, he might get all dolled-up by
adding a blue chambray work shirt and socks. He always had a crooked
pipe which he was always relighting or refilling with Prince Albert
tobacco, source of as pungent a smoke as civilized man has ever known.
Somehow, he managed to always have
the stubble of beard.
When my father would
take me to Bill and Goldie’s I knew that I had to at least feign an
interest in whatever the men were doing, otherwise I might wind up
spending time with Goldie.
She was a nice enough old lady, I guess, but unlike Bill and most all
the other neighborhood cartoon characters, Goldie made it clear that she
was very real due to her tendency to hug small children to her bosom.
This in itself was a traumatic experience as Goldie’s bosom was vast and
all-encompassing, and frankly not as inviting as the reader might at
once suppose. For if I once found myself plunged into its musky depths
where neither light nor oxygen could penetrate, I was stuck there for as
long as she wanted to express her pleasure with me. It was her way of
congratulating me for being six.
All of the women in
my immediate family smelled faintly of soap and flowers and cookies,
whereas Goldie’s being was saturated with cottonseed meal and dust and
Goldie also wore the same thing every day: a dress made from feed sacks.
This wasn’t raw burlap, but a light cotton material with a small flower
(The feed companies
had learned that they could improve sales by offering something for the
well as the
livestock. It was the free software bundle of its day.)
While I was still reeling from my near-death experience, Goldie would
set me down at the kitchen table, which usually held the dishes from at
least one earlier meal, as well as a large yellow tom-cat who seemed to
make it his bed.
There, she would
serve me much-too-sweet Kool-Aid and an equally over-sweetened
You know how cartoon characters are always doing something completely
incredible? Impossible feats are just a part of their daily lives.
That’s what I always think of when I try to imagine how someone could
put so much sugar in something that a six-year-old would have trouble
getting it down.
I regret that so
much of my life has become real over the last few decades - the cartoon
was great while it lasted.