From the ages of about 9 to 12 I used to go with my mother to visit my Great Aunt Louise at her cabin in Brainard, Minnesota. I loved Aunt Louise and looked forward to seeing her in the summer.
By the time I hit 12, two major things had changed my summer vacation plans…one being my hormones and the other being Aunt Louise’s marriage to Dan, a local farmer, so we spent part of the time at the cabin and the other at Dan’s farm which, city boy me, found charming for all sorts of odd reasons.
I liked the cows and I bought into the haircut with a bowl on my head, and I loved the hay bailer, even more so because I got to use a bailing hook to snag the bails. That bailing hook made me feel like a real roughneck because it took strength to grab those bails and haul them up on the wagon. If I could do that, I must be a tough guy, eh?
There was only one part of the farm that I just couldn’t deal with and all my good intentions at helping out Uncle Dan were no match for the reality of the silo. The silo was a repository for organic waste such as corn cobs and then, over time, it turned to compost and an effective fertilizer. What I was not prepared for was the odor.
It was stifling and the fact that we had to get inside the silo with pitch forks meant that you had to suck up that hideous methane smell the entire time you were working and stepping out of the silo to fresh air was like coming up, gasping for a breath, after an all-to-deep underwater dive.
Eventually, standing knee deep in what amounted to nature’s crap, I totally begged off the project and told Uncle Dan that I just couldn’t take it anymore and he, being sympathetic to my uncalloused urban life, let me off the hook.
Most people don’t consider the simple luxury of ‘air’ but spend some time standing in a silo and you will!
Of course, now, what to do? Aunt Louise was doing some ‘canning’ in the kitchen and Dan was braving the silo and I had squat for entertainment but things would soon get a whole lot better down on the farm.
Sitting in the front yard, contemplating the mystery of grass, my newly minted 12-year-old hormones couldn’t believe their crazy good luck when two neighboring farm girls rode up on their horses, looking like a pair of Elizabeth Taylor’s in National Velvet.
We exchanged queries about where they lived and where I came from and how old we were (they were the same age) and so on, until we agreed to hang out for the afternoon and scout out some of the nooks and crannies of Dan’s farm. Specifically, we fooled around in the barn hayloft, flinging ourselves down the mountains of hay bails and generally burning up excess energy, stopping occasionally to talk about what it was like living on a farm.
They were cute girls and, on this day, it was clear that this beat the shit out of hanging with my buddies back home. As I regaled them with my bailing hook adventures, hoping to score some ‘impress’ points, one of the girls asked if I’d like to ride her horse and so, faced with the cowboy imperative, I said, “Sure, I’ll take a spin”, spoken like I’d just finished a 13 city rodeo tour.
Naturally, as false bravado will do to a person, I was in trouble because I hadn’t a clue on how to handle a horse. The closest I’d been to anything resembling a horse was one of those Shetland pony rides that go ploddingly slow in a circle while a handler holds the reigns and the only way you could hurt yourself on one of those things would be to hurl yourself headfirst into a passing fence post.
This was not a Shetland pony and I was going to have to fake the whole thing because my new hormones expected a lot out of me and you don’t want to blow a chance to impress girls, especially on one of the first times out.
I’d seen enough Roy Rogers serials to know my first move was a foot in the stirrups but after that it got a little confusing because the horse took about 3 steps forward and threw my balance off. I didn’t recall Trigger pulling that stunt on Roy so I took another shot at it and, sure enough, the stunt horse took another 3 steps and I couldn’t get over the saddle and fell on my rear.
This was not going well but the girls seemed determined to help get me on the horse and so the prettiest one held the reigns while I launched myself into the saddle. O.K., it was seriously humiliating that she did that and my inner Roy Rogers had to have Dale Evans hold the horse still for him, but at least I was in the saddle and ready to ride.
She quickly handed me the reigns and the horse bolted like he’d been shot from one of those circus cannons and I was barely, and I mean barely, hanging on to the saddle horn (I’d already dropped the reigns) as the beast headed for a low lying branch of a tree in a clear effort to dump my sorry ass off of his back. Saving him the trouble I jumped off the saddle about 2 seconds before I would have been forcibly removed and rolled about 15 feet.
Well, the girls were hysterical, laughing so hard they could barely make it over to see if I was alright and when they finally got there it was obvious from the looks on their faces that they knew the outcome of my ride even before I’d said, “yes”. The joke was on Mr. Bigshot and it had a punchline to remember.
Later that night when I was thinking about the time I’d spent with the girls and my inglorious ending, I had one of those childhood epiphanies that, if you’re paying attention, can help prepare you for the next phase of your life and my stream of consciousness went a little like this:
‘I really like girls…sometimes girls are tricky…I really liked those girls…my butt hurts…I liked those girls…I wonder why they…I like girls…this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought…why do I like these girls?…I like girls.’