Sometimes we would climb up in the loft of the bank barn and jump off into the golden piles of scratchy hay, or walk around the edge of the pig pen on the concrete wall until someone inevitably fell in. Everyone would laugh while the person inside scrambled in the muck to get back on the wall before they got bit by one of the three terrifyingly mean ass pigs.
Once we told my little brother, who couldn’t have been more than six, that he could go in to the hen house and collect the eggs. He was so excited! He innocently wandered inside, and just as we had planned, the huge rooster came running out, jumped on him, and lodged his claws directly through the front of his jacket. Wayne and I laughed hysterically as little Joey ran around crying with a rooster hanging from his torso. We finally let him out, and he was really mad, but he was OK, just a few bleeding scratches and a little psychological trauma.
One of the most entertaining pastimes however, was the electric fence. This provided countless hours of entertainment, hysterical laughter, and shrieking tears of suffering.
There were two live wires that ran between the intermittently spaced posts, and when the power was on, that sucker threw enough current to deter even the thousand pound cows from coming through. Every now and then, Wayne would somehow manage to find a section of fence that wasn’t working, and he would tell me that the fence was off, and that we could climb through. Of course I didn’t believe him because I had been shocked a million times on that thing, but then I would watch him grab hold and climb through. Sometimes Penny would cut the power off so that we could get through, of if they were moving animals from one section of field to another, so I would believe him, and grab hold to climb through, and be zapped to oblivion as he rolled on the ground laughing at me.
I would get so mad, that I would retaliate on my brother. Sometimes we would just dare each other to try to crawl under or between the wires. “If you do it I’ll let you ride my dirt bike!” or “If you do it I’ll jump off the second story into the hay!” It was the electric limbo, and it was fun until someone got shocked and then no one delivered on the promise. But it didn’t matter; we’d be back at it again the next day.
One time Wayne did actually deliver and let me ride his super mini bike. I strapped on the glittery royal blue helmet and pulled pack on the handle grip like he told me, and as I picked up speed I panicked because I didn’t know how to stop. I pulled back more on the grip, which caused me to fly faster straight ahead, directly into the electric fence. It was the shock of a lifetime, and Wayne raced over to pull me out, although he could barely breathe, doubled over from my apparent comedy performance. I was insanely embarrassed and angry, and I bolted into the house to tell Aunt Penny. Instead of just stroking my hair, telling me it would be OK and punishing Wayne like most adults would do, she would always fix the problem by giving me a way to get back at him, she was fabulously wicked like that.
Another source of amusement on those sweltering summer days was the pond, just as long as you didn’t touch the bottom. We would army crawl under the electric fence into the pasture that was across from the house. The pond was just up and over the hill, and the cows never seemed to care about us one way or another. We would strip down to our underwear, and sort of launch ourselves to a float in order to avoid touching the bottom. It was a slimy and deep grey mud that you would sink into, and it smelled like rotting death. I knew this because Wayne would sneak attack with handfuls of the muck, smacking me between the shoulder blades or on the back of my neck. I screamed and gagged as I bent down and collected repulsive handfuls to throw back at him, until we were both stinking and covered and would dive back in to rinse off, again and again and again.
Another of our all time favorites was cow patty battles. We would each grab a galvanized metal bucket and a wooden spoon and head out into the pasture. There were three kinds of patties, the first being the ones that were completely dried out and hard as rocks that you would throw like a Frisbee. These hurt like hell when they hit you. The second, and best kind, were the ones that were hard as rocks on top, but when you flipped them over they were filled with stinking wet green shit. These were like hubcaps filled with shit that would explode and stick all over you when you were struck. The last kind was the steaming fresh pile, not even a real patty yet. This is where the spoons came in handy. You would scoop a heaping sticky stinking pile, and while shielding yourself, run close enough to the other person to fling it at them. It was disgusting which made it the funniest hit of all.
Here we were, the middle of July, running around the pasture in cut offs and tank tops, carrying buckets of shit, covered in shit, swatting away flies while laughing like maniacs and having the time of our lives. That is, until the time I scored The Direct Hit on Wayne.
He had just gotten me with a wet splat right across my chest. It smelled so horrible, and it had pieces of digested hay sticking out of it, which caused me to dry heave like crazy. As he tilted his head back in a loud and maniacal laugh, I let a fresh load fly, and there was a loud, wet smack as it hit him not only in the side of his face, but directly in his open, laughing mouth. He bent over and gagged and spit violently, then, as he wiped his mouth, lifted his head, and met my eyes, my feet were five paces in front of me before my brain even got the message.
I dropped my bucket and ran as fast as I had ever run in my life, because if he caught me, it was going to be bad, really, really bad. I hopped over the fence like a fucking gazelle and ran down the driveway, screaming, as fast as my legs would carry me. My brain told me the only safety would be to make it into the house. I skipped both steps and leapt onto the porch, and flung open the door, screaming as he grabbed me by the arm.
“STOP RIGHT THERE GODDAMNIT! WHAT THE HELL? YOU ARE BOTH COVERED IN SHIT! STOP YELLING AND TAKE THOSE CLOTHES OFF!” You did not want to mess with Penny when she dropped the hammer on you, no fucking way. As we both yelled over each other with the he-did she-did’s, we stripped to our underwear and threw our clothes into the washing machine. In spite of the wrath of Aunt Penny, I knew the wrath of Wayne was far greater a threat at the moment, and I bolted down the hallway and into the dining room, where he chased me and we began the around-the-table dance. He went left, I went right, he went right, and I went left. He was furious and holding a flip flop in his hand, poised to throw it at my face, and it was going to hurt like fuck. As I shielded my face and ducked back and forth, in a split second he was on me and I ran back into the family room.
With only a loveseat between us, and Penny storming down the hallway, he took aim and with all his might, threw the flip-flop at my face, and as I ducked, it smashed her collection of antique teacups and saucers behind me.
At this exact moment Penny entered the room, already furious, and as she spotted the broken china, Wayne pointed accusingly and said, “Awww you’re in trouble now! Look what Tracy did Mom!” Before I could protest, I got the blame and was sent up to the room I shared with Sonja to spend the rest of the day. As she yelled me up the stairs, Wayne stood behind her, smiling ear to ear and giving me the finger.
But all of this was fun, it was how we spent some of the best weeks of our summers, and they are some of my most treasured memories. Through all of this, Wayne and I were thick as thieves, Joey was too little to really get it half the time and often wound up being the brunt of the joke, or a test subject.
Once on Thanksgiving, all of the grown-ups were inside mingling in the kitchen and keeping warm by the fire while Penny tended to the turkey, and as usual, Sonja, Wayne, Joey and I were all running around and playing outside. There was an old Sycamore tree that had fallen down recently, which equaled Farm Playground. It was still in tact, lying on its side with its huge branches splaying outwards and upwards. We decided that Joey would make a perfect test subject, he was always crying to be included anyway.
This was a nice break for me, because I was in on the joke as opposed to being the subject of it for a change. Often times as kids, we didn’t even really have a clear plan or anything, the mischief just evolved, and when it presented itself in the form of opportunity, whoever was in position took the hit. This is sort of what happened to Joey, sort of.
We were all climbing around on the tree, swinging and climbing on the branches, when we got a hold of one particularly strong, and very flexible large branch. It stuck up pretty high, and in order to grab it, we would have to climb up the trunk, out onto the branch, and then drop down holding on, bouncing and swinging around with the sway of it for a while before you dropped off. What caught our attention was what happened when you dropped off. The branch whipped back up with such force, it looked exactly like a catapult, and that is where Joey came in.
He couldn’t have been more than four or five at the time, but he was a tough little guy, and as I said, he always wanted to be included. In order for us to get the branch low enough for him to grab onto, Sonja and Wayne both climbed out onto it while I grabbed the end and pulled it down so that Joey could grab on. “Hold on tight!” we told him, and just as I let go, Sonja and Wayne jumped off and it was a million times better than we ever could have imagined.
Joey did as he was told, and held on tight. When the branch disposed of him at the top of its extension, he was catapulted up at least 20 feet and launched through the air as we watched him drop down on the other side of the sticker bush that broke his fall and probably saved his life. We ran down the hill, laughing, to make sure he was OK. On the other side of the sticker bush we saw his little blond bowl cut pop up, so we knew that he was alive and it was safe to continue laughing. He was pretty banged up, but we all high fived him and told him how cool it was so that he wouldn’t tell on us or anything. He was a tough little kid and seemed as though he had actually enjoyed it.
When we came into the house, all eyes were immediately on little Joey. His face was covered in bloody scratches, and his clothes were covered in a mixture of hay, mud, and cow shit. He had little burrs stuck all over his hair and coat, and a huge smile on his face.
Sonja was a teenager at this point, and was typically much more interested in her friends, her hair, and nights at the roller rink. I idolized her, and I mean completely and totally 100% idolized her. She was absolutely stunning. She stood a lean six feet, had blonde hair cut into a fashionable 70’s shag and big blue eyes. She had a boyfriend, drawers full of Bonne bell lip balm, which I ate, but only the bubble gum and root beer flavors, wore a retainer at night, and snuck cigarettes out of her bedroom window. These credentials ensured that I would do absolutely anything she told me to do.
Case in point, when I was about seven or eight years old, we all used to take turns sliding down the burnished spiral mahogany handrail. We would climb on backwards and start by the attic on the third floor, slide down, then round one tight bend to the right, come down a little more, round another tight bend to the right, and continue down to the bottom, grabbing tight with our hands and legs before we hit the banister. This landed you in the foyer of what was once the formal entrance, with the family room off to your left, and the living room off to your right.
It was evening, and we were all in our pajamas and the grown-ups were in the family room talking and watching TV. We would run up and down the stairs laughing, taking turns sliding down, trying to see who could go the fastest. That is when Sonja had A Great Idea. She told me that if I went down frontwards, and sat on a super soft blanket to boot, that I would go really, really fast! Of course Sonja! I’ll do anything you say! I failed miserably at attempting to disguise my panicky apprehension, “are you sure I won’t get hurt Sonja?” She assured me I would be just fine, that it was going to be so much fun!
She held the soft blanket in place on the handrail, at the top of the last turn leading down only the last flight of stairs, so I wouldn’t have to make any of the turns. She was so thoughtful! I pulled up my thin summer nightgown and mounted the blanket as if it were the saddle on a horse, and gripped onto the handrail through the blanket for dear life. With a large mischievous smile of anticipation, she let me go.
Terror and thrill jockeyed for position as I flew down the handrail at breakneck speed. Terror took the lead as soon as I realized that gripping the rail through the blanket was as effective as using Vaseline for brake pads. I tried clamping my feet on to the balusters, which sounded like a baseball card in bicycle spokes, but didn’t hinder my speed one bit. Before I knew what hit me, the large, nipple-like banister at the end reached up and punched me right in my pubic bone, thus launching me into flight, across the foyer, grounded only by the collision of my head with the front door.
I cried, the kids laughed, the grown-ups scolded. Par for the course, rinse, repeat.
In spite of all this, Sonja was the definition of cool. When she wasn’t out with her friends or her boyfriend, Gene, I followed her around like a lost puppy. I’d sit in her room on her four poster canopy bed with the lavender flowered white comforter while she would get ready and listen to records, like Heart’s Dog and Butterfly. She would let me look through her closet and I would get lost in the coolness I saw hanging there. There was the pink leather jacket that her Mom had gotten her for her birthday, it had been white when she bought it, but she had it dyed and got herself one to match. God how I wished I could be in the pink leather jacket club, too.
Designer jeans, the sheer, button up tops with the threads of silver striped through them that were so popular back then, boots and high leather clogs, denim jackets, everything I wished I had, and I wanted to be exactly like her. I would sit in front of the mirror at her vanity looking through her jewelry, trying on lip-gloss and sometimes she would curl my hair or put makeup on me. I loved those moments.
One summer, Sonja was on the swim team, so Penny would round us all up and take us to the Swim Club, where there were real, chlorinated pools that you didn’t have to crawl under an electric fence to get to and didn’t smell like cow shit.
I was about eight at the time, and I was really into gymnastics. Wayne and I played Marco-Polo in the deep end while Sonja hung out farther away with the cool kids. When she would come over to where we were all situated by the diving boards, I was all, “watch me Sonja! I can do a cartwheel off of the diving board!” She would watch me, and clap as I came out of the water, telling me what a good job I did! She loved me! She thought I was so cool!
That is when Sonja had another Great Idea. “Tracy, that was so good! I bet you could do one off of the high dive, no problem! That would be so cool! I’ll stay here and watch you!”
If Sonja wanted to watch me do a cartwheel off of the high dive, then I was going to deliver! My audience, Aunt Penny, Wayne, Joey and Sonja all sat on the lounge chairs on the side of the pool, directly beside the diving boards. I had all of the attention!
White ponytails sticking to my back, I climbed up the ladder smiling ear to ear. I had jumped off the high dive a few times before, so this was going to be no big deal. When I got to the top and stood on the edge looking down I was suddenly filled with panic, and wide-eyed looked over to my fan club on the side. They were all waving, and Sonja was standing on the side of the pool, “Go ahead Tracy! You can do it!”
This is how much power she had over me, because I was able to swallow that fear, back up, and then propel myself into a cartwheel right off the edge. What happened next, has been told, a minimum of 400 times, by my Aunt.
“Hahahaha, little Tracy looked so terrified up there, and we were all watching her, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t do a cartwheel right off the end! Hahahahaha. Oh honey, you flipped over and hit that water with your arms and legs sticking out in a complete belly flop! Hahahahahaha. The smack was SO LOUD that the entire pool got silent and all eyes fixed on the deep end. Hahahaha. We ran to the edge to see if you were OK because you took a long time to come up! Hahaha! When you finally surfaced and grabbed onto the ladder to climb out, you were beet red on the front and you had gotten the wind knocked out of you pretty bad, hahahaha, and you shot your cousin the meanest, most hateful look I have ever seen, and then you marched over to your lounge chair with the towel draped over it, and crawled UNDERNEATH and stayed there for about an hour. Hahaha. Sonja tried to apologize a dozen times but you wouldn’t even look at her for days! Hahahaha!”
I think that was the only time I was ever really, truly mad at her. I probably ate like six of her favorite Bonne Bell’s to get back at her.
Another big embarrassing bummer, was that I was that kid, the chronic bed wetter, and I would share her bed with her. Before I arrived, they always had to put the humiliating plastic fitted sheet on under the regular fitted sheet. I’m sure Sonja was psyched about sharing a bed with her little bedwetting cousin, and rolling around on the crunching plastic.
I blame Wayne for my bedwetting however. He had told me the elaborate and detailed story, included pictures he had drawn as proof, of the Martians that came out of the toilet and bit your ass at night. He had me convinced for years, and I would shamefully piss the bed with my super cool cousin in it, rather than walk down the dark stairs to have my ass bitten by the Martians.
Those days were filled with adventure from start to finish, jam-packed with mischief, laughter and exploration. After supper, we would go back outside to savor the fading tangerine and raspberry streaked sky, and in the coolness of the evening, we ran barefoot, collecting fireflies in old mason jars.
On those summer nights, once we were freshly showered, we would crawl into our beds under the cool, crisp sheets, utterly exhausted. As my still dampened head hit the pillow, the sweet honeysuckle laced breeze whispered through the window, blowing tickly strands of hair onto my sun-kissed cheeks. Events of the day would skip through my mind, and mingle with the promise of tomorrow. The soft symphony of crickets and cicadas were the last sounds I heard as I drifted into a bottomless sleep.