Let's Go to the Country
by Linda Gleason
There is an old saying "you can take the girl out of the country but you canít take the country out of the girl." When it comes to me, no finer saying is true. During my growing up years, I only remember living one place that just didnít seem country, and that was Middleport, Ohio during my second year of school. That was the year we had a huge snow and I was scared to go near a big ditch by our house because they said the snow in it would be over my head. Thatís one time I minded Mom, but I sure remember standing on the sidewalk and staring at that ditch, wanting to try it out. I also had the mumps when we lived there, and Mom caught me high up on stilts that my brothers had made, banging around on the living room floor. She said that if I didnít stay quiet the mumps would go down on me. I didnít understand that adult medical term, so I thought in a childís mind that the more I bounced around the sooner I would get rid of my little fat puffy jaws caused by the mumps.
That was also the year I was riding my bicycle while not holding on to the handlebars on a large hill in Middleport. Suddenly, a large yellow cat ran out of the weeds in front of my wheels. I went over the handlebars, and slid down the road tearing up my knee and elbows. My school teacher just happened along, drove me home, and Mom cleaned my wounds and picked out the gravel. My teacher came to my rescue another time that same year when I stayed after school instead of walking on home, swinging in the school yard. All I remember was swinging higher and higher to reach the sky. The next thing I knew, my teacher was standing over me. I had fallen out, hit my head, and knocked myself out. Rescued again! Another day I was riding a big red wagon down a hill on a sidewalk, with one leg in and one leg out. I was barefoot, and am now wearing the scar on my big toe from the neck of a broken pop bottle.
We moved to Syracuse, Ohio during the first half of my third grade school year, and then on to Letart Falls the second half. Our house in Letart Falls sat on top of the river bank. The boat light in our front yard had to be turned on each night to guide the big boats along the Ohio River. I loved climbing up on a chair to reach that light switch.
Dad and Mom rented from Bill Crow that year to raise big fields of tomatoes, corn, and cabbage. One time, Dad set the Farmall Cub tractorís gears to idle down the cabbage rows real slow, and let me steer it while others walked behind cutting heads of cabbage and throwing them on the wagon. Boy, I felt important! That was also where we lived when I first discovered there was really a God in heaven, because he answered my prayer when I asked Him to make my tooth stop hurting.
We later moved back to Apple Grove, Ohio where I had been born on October 8th 1943 (I was the fifth child; Keith was born later when I was 16 years old, and I loved it when he came along and Mom stopped announcing me as being the baby of the family). They told me that when I was born, I wasnít wrinkled and red like other new born babies. My complexion was beautiful, and they said Grandma Mae Hayman carried me around talking about how pretty I was with rosy cheeks. So much for my bragging Ė Iíll get on with my story.
That big two story house with the old brown shingles was the birthplace of many Hayman babies (if only walls could talk). It belonged to Grandpa George and Grandma Mae Hayman along with all of the farmland. I was so small when Grandma Mae Hayman died that I do not remember her. Dad and Mom, and Uncle Harry and Aunt Vera moved in and out of that house several times over the years. My memories were when I was almost nine years old our yard and garden were very large. A big cedar tree graced my upper bedroom window, and looked like it almost reached the sky. There were many other big trees to climb with family and friends. There was an old basketball rim attached to the side of the house where my brothers and friends played basketball. Our big brown house had a roof high enough to play Annie Over with a rubber ball the size of a baseball or softball. If you donít know how itís played, ask Don or Ted. Don used to ride his first motorcycle up the road above Apple Grove to see some girl by the name of Donna. I wondered who she was, and if he was really seeing her or just riding by her house to be seen. Can you guess who she is?
One day, Ted and I wanted some ice cream so bad that we went down to the road and flagged down the ice cream truck that was making his run up to Charlie Chapmanís store. We actually asked him if he had any free samples. Ask Ted about it if you donít believe me. I donít know if Mom ever found out. Oops, now she knows! I used to walk up the road to the Apple Grove church when I was twelve years old, and it was there I gave myself to the Lord and was saved.
Grandpa George Hayman lived next door and had an old fashioned upright piano. I learned a few chords on it from my aunt. My aunt would sit down at that old piano and make it talk -- boy could she ever play "Mocking Bird Hill"! I begged Mom and Dad so very hard for a piano of my own. I came home from school one evening, and there it was, an old fashioned upright used piano in the back of our old pickup truck. It was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. I leaped up into the truck and started playing it where it was. It didnít come with a bench, so I just stood there and played it with the Ohio River and beautiful hills surrounding it. I felt like the richest girl in the world. After a few lessons, I started playing in church later in life, and have been a church pianist for forty years.
We raised several thousand tomatoes below Grandpa George Haymanís house toward the river. I remember a real bad hailstorm cutting the vines and tomatoes. After a hard rain, I loved pulling off my shoes and going into the field to help. The cool, soft, rich mud squished between your toes. "Folks, now that is country!" My brothers and I also loved to find arrowheads in the sandy soil. Indians used to fight battles along the river many many years ago for their territory.
We used to make trips in the old pickup truck to Tanners Run where Rob and Lil lived, and made a lot of home made ice cream. I loved it when my older sisters, Phyllis and Lil, came home on Sundays with their husbands and kids. Mom always had a big spread of fried chicken, home made noodles, and you know the rest. When the meal was over, I always liked to disappear because I had to use the outdoor toilet. I really hoped the dishes would all be done when I got back, and it would upset me if everyone was still sitting around the table talking. Sometimes my little plan worked.
Grandpa George Hayman had an old fashioned grape arbor. I have always wished I could live one place long enough to have one like it. It was rectangular shaped and real long with four big old posts for the corners. Boards ran across overhead with wire fencing. We used to walk under it and pick the sweetest purple grapes this side of heaven that were hanging everywhere. Grandpa even had a porch swing under it with chains attached to the boards above, and he always managed to occupy it. Ted and I loved to sneak down in the cellar under the house that you entered from an outside door. Grape juice was in old pop bottles with caps they put on with an old fashioned bottle capper. "Talk about good drinking!"
Dad used to plow in the big back field with a team of horses that he had to walk behind, and their names were Bird and Bell. On a hot summer day, Mom would fill up an old quart canning jar with ice cubes and water for me to take out to Dad. This I loved because I would always get to take a ride on one of the horses while Dad was plowing. He was always glad go see me coming with cold water. I can still see him standing under the shade tree, wearing bib overalls and a blue chambray work shirt and straw hat. His sleeves were always rolled up and his shirt soaked with sweat, while he stood there and sipped down every cold drop of water, never sitting down to rest a spell. Then he would lift me up on one of the horses. The horse was so stinky and wet with sweat, and the leather harness would pinch my leg. But, it was a big thrill to ride up and down the plowed rows while Dad drove the team and walked behind. Then he would say "thatís enough." On the walk back, there were always many big sweet juicy blackberries along the hot dusty road. The crows cried out along the roadís edge, and the sky was so blue. "Now thatís country."
That house also holds some old memories of Momís canning season. There was always something I could do to help, even when I didnít want to. Our old back porch was very long, and Mom would line up the dirty jars to be washed, fill the old rinse tub with teakettles of hot water, lay out newspapers on the porch, and then proceed to tell me that my hands were smaller than hers and would fit real good down in the jars. You can guess the rest! We had a fireplace and two coal stoves so many ashes were carried out back near the old outhouse. After the ash pile was stacked real high, my brothers and I would play "King of the Ash Pile." We continually pushed each other off and tried to be the King standing on the very tip top.
This house was where we purchased our very first TV (black and white picture, of course). When Ted and I found out we were all going downtown to buy it, we jumped on the big long stair banister and slid all the way down to the bottom yelling all the way. We all enjoyed the new TV, and Mom popped many big dishpans full of popcorn.
Christmas Eve was always fun when our family all gathered in. Lil used to let us try and guess weeks ahead what our gifts were by telling us how many letters were in the giftís name. One year it was thirteen letters and we never guessed it. It was a popcorn popper. The last Christmas I remember there was when Grandma Stover lived with us and was so sick. She was 84 and had cancer and other health problems. Her favorite Christmas tree was a cedar. A beautiful little cedar was cut from out on the hill, placed in her room, and decorated especially for her. She died just a few days before Christmas. I was only eleven by then, but I felt like I had lost my last friend. I used to love sitting by her big red leather rocking chair Mom gave her, and never tiring of hearing the same stories over and over again. I loved her very much.
Most of the places we lived in the country, Mom always had her chickens. My fondest memory of them was on Fairview Ridge. I was around four or five years old, and it was early spring. Mom ordered baby chicks from the hatchery, parcel post, in cardboard boxes about a yard square and two inches tall. For ventilation, half inch holes were spaced regularly around the side and top. I loved getting down on the ground and peeking through the holes while listening to the noisy peeps. As the chick grew they provided eggs and Sunday dinners for the months ahead. Gathering eggs was so much fun. If a mother hen was sitting on her nest, you didnít touch it. A weasel got into the hen house one night and caused a lot of excitement.
One day I was riding my bicycle (Ted thought it was his bike Ė Ha! Ha!). I rode through some tall weeds along the lane, and a small chick was loose and my bike wheel flattened it. I didnít really understand about death. All I had seen was them lowering my Uncle Dubís casket into the ground when Dad and Mom took me to the funeral. He was killed in the war, and soldiers were all around, and one played "Taps" on a horn. My association with that made me decide to give the chick a military burial. I placed it in a tiny box, dug a hole in the ground, and slowly lowered it down in, as I got on my knees and hummed the music to the "Taps" the soldiers had played A nice mound of dirt and freshly picked daisies placed on the top completed my little task. It was also the year I fell on a pitchfork in the barn and run it in my leg, caught my finger in a car door, and climbed up on a large kitchen cupboard and turned it over on me.
There was another time Mom was going to kill a chicken for dinner. She went to the house to get a kettle of boiling water, and distinctly told me not to touch the hatchet. And, guess what? I watched her go in the house, and I circled that chicken around the yard Ė chicken and feathers were flying everywhere. I downed that old hen on the chopping block and proceeded to cut her head off with a hatchet. Mom appeared just as I sliced part of my thumb. That was a bad country experience!
I now live in the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. While I sit on the front porch, there are no lightning bugs, whippoorwills, the sound of an owl, tree frogs, or crickets. There is no beautiful countryside of plowed fields, or a river flowing past my house to view, or any privacy. There is the sound of noisy vehicles, barking dogs in the night, an occasional emergency siren, and maybe a neighbor talking in the yard. The night sky is not as beautiful with invisible stars because of street lights, house lights, motion lights, dusk to dawn lights, and smog from a nearby power plant. Sometimes when I sit there and see the rows of houses, I just close my eyes and vision my days in the country, running barefoot in the grass, catching lightning bugs, swinging on a tire swing, lying in a warm cozy bed, and knowing all the freedom and security a child can feel under Dadís and Momís roof. I am thankful for the family that God gave me. I am now 57 years old, and have my own children and grandchildren to be thankful for. Also, my church family and some wonderful neighbors. God has given me so much. Thank God I was raised a country girl.