Doon

Memories are more than just recalled thoughts that flow through our brains.  The memories also evoke feelings, and can even excite the same senses.  For instance, you can still smell the coffee brewing each morning in your grandparents kitchen.  Something like that.

In 1965,  I was a seven year old city kid from Queens, NYC.  I knew nothing but pavement, subways, buses, crowded streets, cramped apartments, and Cunningham and Central Parks.  You think of the midwest as flyover country.  But if you have eyes, and senses and the openness of a young child,  it is a place, like many others, that can explode your horizons.

It started with my first plane trips;  leaving out of of the iconic TWA terminal at JFK,  then a sleek 707 to Chicago, followed by a wingover turboprop in Ozark Airlines livery.  The Ozark flight was the more interesting of the two.  It operated much like airlines did in the thirties…hop-scotching across the country from one small/big midwestern town to another.  Land. Taxi to a small terminal with people waiting on the tarmac.  Drop off some passengers, pick up some more.  Over and over until it was our time to be dropped off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sioux Falls was the big town.  I had not seen Doon yet, a tiny town in Iowa that was fully self sufficient.  Bank,  grocery, hardware,  luncheonette,  gas station, and of course the standard midwestern town park.  Shady,  with swings and a baseball diamond.

A few miles outside of Doon lay the farm of my second cousins Dot and Ike.  And it was here that my horizons expanded.  I learned to ride a bike here,  I learned to ride a horse here (I was also stepped on by a horse here), I learned to swim here,  and I saw what it took to put food on all of our tables.

We had fun, but we also did chores.  We were not there as laborers but Dot and Ike were solid parents.  They believed that daily chores were important to a child’s upbringing.  And so we put away hay, and cleaned stalls,  and fed the animals.  It was a small farm, only 44 acres as I recall.  but to me it was like a universe.  And when we had free time,  which was most of the time,  we wandered its woods, and its streams and its ponds.

I was too young to make anything out of it other than it was fun and that New York now felted stifling and confining.   And I am only now understanding how it impacted me.  I need space.  I am now an accidental Midwesterner.  I am also at heart a Southerner.  I reject the labels that are put on both places by those with smaller horizons and closed minds.  Over my young years my mother piled on more and more of these type of experiences,  and they always involved space, and they always involved the outdoors.

Post Script:

I travelled there with my Great Aunt and another distance cousin.  I have been reading a history of my family from both geanological and historical records.  I got sent down this path after reading ‘Evangeline’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  We called my great aunt “Vange”.  I always thought it a strange name but that is normal in our family.  Looking at some census records I just saw that her actual name is “Evangeline”.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Dad

I liked the darkness.  The smell of sawdust from the game table.  Blue or magenta glowing lights back-lit a wall of liquor bottles.  Rough women and rougher men. No one wanted to talk to a kid. They had serious drinking to do and the world’s problems to solve. I had to entertain myself.  There was always a TV with a ballgame on if all else failed.

On days with my father,  we went to the Worlds Fair.  We went to the beach.  We went to his job driving a city bus.  But the days always ended the same way;  sitting in a bar where he drank himself stupid before driving me home in that Chevy Bel Air station wagon.

On bonus days,  where I was just being babysat,  I could stay at the home of some woman he was shacking up with.  Once,  staying at one of these places, I was bored and made some friends with the local kids.  Older, they encouraged me to throw a rock at some other boy.  I opened up his forehead.  Everyone split and I remember the kids mother complaining to my father.  The was the last time I saw my father and when I was a little boy I assumed it was because I had been bad and thrown a rock at a boy.

I still have a hat that he bought me from the NY Worlds Fair.  He had my name embroidered on it.  He spelled it wrong.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved