The season was early summer of the year 1956. I was about 15 1/2 years old, and had recently received my first driver's license. In those days the State of my residence only required that a new applicant simply show up at the County Seat office, pay a fifty cent fee, and sign on the dotted line to be declared a legal driver.
There was no need for oral or written exams, and certainly no need for a behind-the-wheel test, either. After all, most of us "farm kids" had been driving tractors and pickup trucks around the farm since we were 10 or 12 years old. They probably figured that by the age of 15, most of us were experienced drivers.
I recall several times during that summer when my grandparents and grandma's sister, Katie, would insist that I drive them out into the countryside on Sunday afternoons so they could check on the crops and farms. They didn’t know it, but I had figured out what they really had in mind. They probably thought I needed more experience driving on dusty, bumpy county and township roads graded with loose gravel, and they simply used sight-seeing trips as an excuse.
We would all climb into grandpa’s big mercury and head toward the farm country. I didn't mind, though, because I loved to drive and was a willing chauffeur.
During those outings, I listened while my "passengers" carried on conversations about what they were seeing along the way. In my teen-age mind, I thought those conversations among my aging relatives were rather dumb, repetitive, and often annoying. However, I did learn from them, and actually looked forward to the next trip. As we passed by the many farms and fields, the following was typical of what was said as they peered out through the car windows:
"Just look at Eric Jacobson's oat field! I've never seen so many patches of thistle growing in a field in all my life. That's going to hurt the yield, too. He'll be lucky to get 15 bushels per acre this year."
"Say, isn't that the old Tucker farm? I think Tucker's oldest boy married one of the Johnson girls last year, and then, the boy bought a hog farm over in the next county. Do you remember that?”
“Old man Tucker was a real rounder, you know. Every Saturday night his pickup truck would be parked right smack dab in front of the beer joint. Yep, he would leave the wife and kids at home to do the chores, then, he would head into town to get himself all liquored up. I don’t think he even bothered to put on a clean pair of overalls before he left. Doesn’t that just beat all?”
“I see that Hank Olson has a nice crop of alfalfa about ready for cutting. With the rain we've had, it's sure been a good year for hay. Just look at it...it’s growing like nobody’s business!”
“Oh, look! Did Ralph Henderson build a new granary this year? I don’t remember seeing that before. And, he must have put up one of those new fangled silos, too! Well, he certainly needed them to store corn for feeding that big bunch of yearling Hereford steers he’s fattening up in the barn yard. He’ll get a good price for them this fall.”
Many years have passed by since those days, but great memories from the country road trips remain intact. Sadly, each of the voices that formed those memories became silent over time.
Now, I find that I am a member of the aging relative club, and as such, I understand and appreciate my family from the good old days more than ever before. Oh...how I would love to hear their country road conversations one more time.