Posts Tagged ‘indiana’

The Milk House

July 30, 2018

 

The stones are crawling from their mortar
to settle like old farmers in the clay 

Their fields have sprouted puffball houses
Red flags ripen in the orchard

 

First published in Tellus.

 

Family Photo from Bernie Smetzer

Family Photo from Bernie Smetzer

The Old Farmer

July 27, 2018

 

He was lying like a twig in the hay
the old farmer
Dad and I raised him, each on a side
and carried him to his kitchen door 

There, at the top of the steps, we danced
trying to enter the narrow passage
His legs going separate ways
waved apart before us 

The speechless anger in his eyes
was all that age had left
of the dignity of living on his land

 

First published in Cottonwood.

 

Remains of a Farm Wagon Behind Our House. Photo by Mike Smetzer

Remains of a Farm Wagon Behind Our House. Photo by Mike Smetzer

How Old Elbert Got Born

June 13, 2018

 

Old Elbert was born on his parents’ farm in a hilly part of Indiana called The Porter County Wilderness. The way it happened marked him for life.

Back when Elbert was born, the farms in The Wilderness didn’t have phone service. That meant Elbert’s dad had to go for the doctor in person. Carl’s Ford wouldn’t start so he drove a Waterloo Boy tractor with steel wheels through a snowstorm until he reached Lester Goode’s farmhouse. The Goodes lived on the edge of The Wilderness. And they had the last phone on the line from town.

Telephone poles hadn’t made it that far yet. The wire was just stapled to the trees. Sometimes the phone worked. As luck would have it, it didn’t matter. Doc Yeager was already there drinking George Dickel and playing Texas hold ’em with the township trustees.

The doctor was smiling over his winnings when he looked up and through the kitchen to see Carl coming in from the mudroom on the other side.

“Bullshit!” he said, “At least cows have a calving season.”

“You’re a doctor,” Lester Goode reminded him. “You gotta go.”

The doctor scowled and went to put on his great coat in the mudroom.

“If she’s dropping twins, Carl, it will be twice the price.”

One of the trustees smiled to the rest as Doc Yeager’s coat passed by outside the window. “Guess his luck ran out, boys, but, you know, I’m feeling that much luckier.”

The men went to the window and watched Doc Yeager drive off in his Studebaker, with Carl putt-putting behind through the snow.

They all sat back down and poured a round. “Your deal, Lester. Nice to have more room at the table.”

When Doc Yeager got to Carl’s farm, he pulled his bag out from behind the seat and discovered he didn’t have any forceps with him to pull Elbert out. Then he remembered leaving them in the kitchen after he’d pulled a baked potato out of the oven.

“More bother,” he grumbled. Carl hadn’t made it home yet on the Waterloo Boy, so Doc went out to Carl’s shed and helped himself to a posthole digger. It seemed a good bet. “If it can grab a slug of dirt and pull it out,” Doc reasoned, “it should work for Carl and Agnes’s baby.”

By the time Carl got home, Doc Yeager had the post hole digger warming up by the stove.

“You gonna pull my baby out with that!?” Carl asked.

“Either that or we can tie a rope to it and pull it out with the tractor.”

Agnes wasn’t pleased. Neither was Elbert, I guess, because he sure didn’t want to come out. But Doc Yeager stuck to his plan and grabbed Elbert’s head with the post hole digger. Doc was a snapping turtle once he latched onto a baby’s head. You could have shot the doc dead and his hands would still have held on, pulling.

Now Agnes’ brother had been a sailor on the Great Lakes and she screamed every oath she’d ever heard him use. Carl cussed out the doctor for forgetting his forceps and the high price of his fee. And the doctor cussed baby Elbert for his stubborn stupidity. After the baby was born they painted his room purple ’cause that was the color of the language he heard when he came out.

By the time Doc won his tug of war, Elbert’s head was shaped like a post. That was a hard way to get born, but it did make him the most interesting-looking kid in the county. Elbert was an only child. Agnes never wanted another. Carl was pissed off, too. Doc had bent the blades on his digger. He took the cost of a replacement out of the doctor’s fee.

Elbert’s thinking never seemed right. People looked at Elbert’s head, listened to him talk, and walked off muttering “dumb as a post.” Once he got a wrong idea into his head, you couldn’t bust it out with a jackhammer.

Elbert bought the 1948 edition of the Chicago Tribune that mistakenly announced Thomas Dewey’s win over Harry Truman. And he kept it. Throughout the rest of the Truman years, he insisted at some point during every conversation he had that Dewey was our real president and Truman was just a pretender. He kept on about it until Eisenhower was elected in 1952. Elbert liked Ike. The rest of county liked not hearing about Dewey.

People never blamed Doc Yeager for Elbert’s thinking. Not when they looked at the rest of Elbert’s family. Elbert’s lineage was like a line of poplar posts going back into prehistory. Not a good white oak post in the lot. Like my dad used to say, “A punky post may break left or it may break right, but it never stands plumb.”

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

Mike's Family Home in "The Wilderness." Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Mike’s Family Home in “The Wilderness” in Autumn. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

 

Back View in Winter. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Back View in Winter. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Sunday Morning: A Winter Poem

January 28, 2018

 

Outside the drizzle finds oak rags
        solemn on their limbs,
and sets against the radio hymns
        its own rough-measured drops.

 The toaster pops its little plume
        that lingers as I drip and stop
the honey spout, sweet almost-lips
        I circle with my finger.

 

First published in Mostly Maine.

 

Woods road on the Valparaiso Moraine in Indiana, photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

Woods road behind my parents’ house on the Valparaiso Moraine in Indiana. The marsh is seen below and the back woods beyond. Photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer.

Rattlesnakes Are Scary but Fair

June 8, 2017

 

A soft-spoken older guy stopped me in the store and I thought asked me if we had potty. I figured he had been watching his grandkids a lot lately. So I pointed him toward the restrooms in the front corner of the store. “No,” he says, “P-a-t-e.” Oh. Pâté. I hadn’t thought about pâté in years.

When I was a kid in Indiana, my family liked to eat at a place called Strongbow Turkey Inn. No question about freshness. They had the turkeys wandering around in a fenced yard right behind the restaurant. It was a great place for a full turkey dinner. One of the things they served with that dinner was a pâté made from turkey liver. I liked it.

Years later when I was living in Kansas, I worked with a woman I’ll call Betsy Parker. Betsy had moved up to Kansas from Arkansas. She was a settled, inconspicuous woman. Our co-workers hardly noticed her. Her one claim to fame was that she was a third cousin to Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde. She said the older members of her family still talked about meeting Bonnie and Clyde. Said they were a pair of hissing rattlers you knew you had to walk around. Nothing like quiet Betsy.

Betsy had a girlfriend from Boston that liked to make fun of Betsy and her family for eating squirrels. Wow, I can still remember the aroma of my mama’s browned and baked squirrels. Good eating. Well, Betsy invited her friend’s family over one time for a beef pot roast dinner. And for an appetizer she served them pâté. She said they thought it was great. It wasn’t until later she told them she made the pâté out of squirrel brains.

Worth remembering. Copperheads don’t rattle before they strike.

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

You want a garden here? - photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer

You want a Garden here? – photo by Vera Lisa Smetzer