Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The sweet smell of manure

My dad was and still is one of the hardest working men I know, although Chris runs a close second (he is ALWAYS doing something). He worked long third shift hours at a local auto plant and would leave the plant for his second job; exercising and taking care of horses at Olin's horse farm before coming home to eat, sleep and prepare to do it all over again.

Since he was always working, sleeping, eating or preparing for one of these...our time with him growing up was limited and like any children we silently followed him with eagle eyes to see what/where he was doing and going and to try to figure out how we could tag along. The few and far between weekend trips where he would wake me up as the sun was just starting to rise is still one of my fondest childhood memories. He'd wake me up with his usual to the point gruffness usually giving a time limit to when 'the train was leaving'. We'd silently walk to his old two door faded brown blazer, with the bumper sticker saying "I build GM, I drive GM" and pull out of the driveway with the worn shocks groaning and squeaking with every bump and sway. I don't recall any specific conversations, but I am sure that I chattered on about anything that would pop into my head and I'm sure that my dad answered with his usual head nods and nose snuffs praying that I would just shut up for once.

It wasn't a long drive to the farm and when we arrived we would pull down the once gravel but mostly dirt driveway to park by the horse barn on the back of the property. You could hear the sound of the horses neighing and pawing at the ground with their hooves anticipating the arrival of food, attention and the chance to escape from their stalls. I'd kick and push my door open, hop out and wait for Dad to gather his riding helmet, goggles and other supplies before wandering off.

The farm was freedom. There weren't many rules. Don't walk behind the horses. Don't overfeed the horses. And most importantly, don't get in dad's way. He would get to work feedind and watering all the horses. Rotating them out of their stalls and into the pasture to roam, onto the exercise tether, riding them around the track or taking them down to the lake for swimming.

While he did all this I would rotate to stay out of his way. There were umpteen cats and a dog to play with and a lean-to with piles of sawdust that were bigger than all of the horses put together. Bales of hay could be stacked and unstacked to make tunnels, forts, make-believe horses and steps to heaven and bath tubs that were plugged up and full of the water. A swing was fastened to one side of the merry-go-round so as the horses exercised in their circle you could ride along with them. Fields with grass as tall as myself were available for running and making 'paths'and there was enough dirt to sufficiently cover my entire body before leaving. Sometimes Olin's granddaughter was there with her dad and I would have someone to play with. We would sneak into Olin's house, filled with antiques and pretend that the cubby holes were space ships.

I can still remember the smells of the farm. The horses. The hay. The feed. The fields. (The poop) The dust. I can hear my dad's voice talking to the horses. The signature, "Aay" that would come from the bottom of his throat if a horse wasn't doing as it should. Which was also the same "Aay" that my both my grandma and grandpa used on us grandkids. And is now the same, "Aay" that I catch myself using on my boys.

At the age of 11 or 12 I learned to drive in Olin's field. While dad and Olin's son were hogbrushing the field, my stepmom gathered old horse blankets to puff me up enough to see over the dashboard of the old blazer. I climbed in, arranged myself and after alot of engine revving, hopping and giggling I finally got the hang of manuevering the clutch and gas pedals to make the truck go. I learned to hold the truck steady on a hill without using the brakes. I learned to shift without giving myself whiplash. I learned to dodge holes in the field. It was one of those unforgettable I-am-the-stuff proud moments.

Times change and as the years went on, Dad no longer needed to work at Olin's farm.

Today, Olin's farm no longer has horses. I'm not even sure if Olin is still alive. I vaguely think I remember my dad talking about his failing health years ago. I don't see horses anymore when I drive by the farm. Instead I see an old advertising sign with mismatched letters pointing to the open field and speaking of approaching community garage sales. The gravel driveway is an overgrown memory with only the missing curb on the road as evidence that it once existed.

It's funny how life changes but also repeats. I see my boys with the same eagerness to follow Chris around and help except instead of horses, it's fixing things. Yesterday, Nuby and Devin were having a discussion about how old they needed to be to go with Daddy to the Rental Corral (they determined it was 5, so Peyton couldn't go). Their favorite place to go is Home Depot. They watch him from across the yard waiting to be called to assist with the same eagle eyes that I remember having myself. I wonder if when they grow up, they'll be whisked back to their childhood and be wrapped in the warmth of happy nostalgia.