My good friend, spend some time with me while I tell you of a place that was and is, of a farm of 160 acres that borders the Ray/Quincy Road, primary and paved, and Paul Road, secondary and unpaved. The Ray/Quincy road begins at the old North Road to Clear Lake, and extends due north for about 20 miles to the small town of Quincy. Along this stretch of rural road you will pass through several small farming villages, none incorporated, the largest of which, California Corners, used to boast of a general store and a small gas station. Both are gone now and the 10 or so houses which comprise the village cluster without purpose around a small white wooden-framed church which is fronted by a largish and well maintained cemetery, the inhabitants of which far outnumber the aging congregation. They wait patiently for the remaining living to join them and it is probable that 100 years hence those cold graves will be the only marker for California Corners. Speaking of cemeteries, further up the road, just south of Quincy, there lies another cemetery which fronts an abandoned church. It is worthy of mention only for the very permanent wrought iron sign which marks out the entry, quite prominently reading “CEMETARY.”
Were we closer, much closer, I would steal you for an hour for a walk on my grandparent’s farm, the farm which borders on the Ray/Quincy Road and Paul Road. The house is deserted now as are the outbuildings and the barnyard. The fields lay fallow and the fence rows neglected. The owners, past and present, would not mind our short visit as we walked the fields for a time, back to the woods and the back pasture, and I could tell you of Nemo, a collie mix who for years brought the cows in for milking, twice a day. Nemo appeared at my grandparent’s door one night in the tow of a neighboring farmer who had heard that my grandfather was in search of a good dog. He was fully grown and probably around a year old, the farmer was vague on that point but he made certain to tell my grandfather that the dog loved fried potatoes. One could swear that Nemo cocked his head at this with an expression that read “that’s what you think old man.” Nemo never ate my grandmother’s fried potatoes, an anomaly they commented on occasionally, and she soon tired of giving him any leftovers that included that item.
Nemo was a clever animal and it didn’t take him long to learn the ritual of bringing in the cows. “Go get the cows, Nemo,” my grandfather would say, and the dog would head off down the lane at a run. Ignoring the herd at large, he went directly for the lead cow, nipping at her heels and barking, urging her on the walk to the barn. While she was visibly irritated by the dog’s urging, she started out nonetheless, the other cows dutifully lined up behind her, none would have dared precede her, and they began the slow walk to the barn, lining up at the door to the milking parlor and finally taking their places in their appointed stalls. I would tell you what happened one day, shortly after a new lead cow had chased her predecessor to the end of the line, how she decided that she had had enough of Nemo’s nonsense and challenged him. Head down, she charged the barking dog and just grazed him with her horns, sending him tumbling through the tall grass. He was unhurt but it was enough. From that point forward, the cows came only to my grandfather’s twice a day call “come boss, come boss, come boss” a call which echoed from the woods at the back of the pasture. And they would come. Nemo would shy when they came into the barnyard and would glare at me, embarrassed that I had witnessed his defeat. I don’t think he ever forgave me that witness. If you wanted, we could stand at the fence and give the same call, “come boss, come boss, come boss.” Who knows, even Nemo might pay us a visit.
It being a good day for a walk, I would show you, on our return, the tree, large then and larger now, where the cows would gather and rest in its shade from the noon day sun; the noise of grinding molars as they chewed their cud a counterpoint to the chorus of insects singing in the fence rows. The tree coincidentally stands at the highest point on the farm and from it you can get a good perspective of the land and its buildings. Continuing down the lane, the first building we come to is the barn. It is a large building with a white-washed cut rock foundation and walls delineating the first floor which was topped by a wood superstructure, the barn proper, supported by large rough-cut oak beams held together by large wooden pegs. An earthen ramp leads to large double doors on the second level and a hay wagon with its fresh load of baled hay could be driven into the barn; handy for unloading it if the weather was iffy or the sun too hot.
The hay mow in the barn is empty, of course, but I could describe to you how I built forts out of the bales of hay and whence I retired to read my books on a quiet summer’s day. Tiring of that, below was a workbench with tools that I was allowed to use as well as a ready stock of old Price Albert tobacco cans (“Hello, do you have Prince Albert in a can?” “Yes, yes we do.” “Well let him out before he suffocates.”), not the large cans, but the smaller flat ones that fit handily into the back pocket of overalls, the size easily lending itself to sprinkling tobacco onto rolling paper for cigarettes or filling one’s pipe. With some scrap wood and a little imagination, these cans could be made into a number of toys, some more successful in their inception than others.
Just up from the barn, the house stands at the corner of the aforementioned roads. A four-square house, it hasn’t changed much, although it seems smaller than I remembered and a back screened-in porch has been closed in. I never understood why a subsequent owner closed in that back porch. It was an ideal place to sit in the heat of a summer’s day. The house is fronted by an elaborate covered porch and a formal entrance. Neither the porch nor the door was ever used although early family pictures were taken with the porch as a backdrop; family members of various ages and sizes arranging themselves on the steps, children always in front. One would think that these family portrait sessions were approached through the front door. Not so. Since the front door was blocked by my grandfather’s chair, everyone approached these sessions from the back door. A one-story addition ran along the back of the house and was divided into a mud room, a laundry/storage area and the above screened-in porch. The downstairs proper was divided into kitchen, dining room, living room and my grandparent’s bedroom. That bedroom, which could be closed off from the living room by large sliding-glass pocket doors, probably was intended for another use as the only bathroom was on the second floor at the top of the stairs. There were three bedrooms up there as well, one of which was closed off and never used. I came to understand why. It was haunted. Standing on the cistern platform off the back door, I could point out the chicken coop and pig barn, an equipment shed and a garage as well as the overgrown area that once was a garden, a garden whose produce supplied vegetables for two families for most of the year. Tucked behind the garage is the outhouse, a two holer which was used by all but company up to the time the farm was sold. This same arrangement concerning out houses pertained as well to my aunt’s farm a mile down the road. We would pass by it to get to my grandparents farm.
But what am I saying. I am not even certain that such a walk is possible now. The farm has stood empty for several years, a fact that does not bode well for its future. It likely will be bought by an Amish family. The Amish have bought a number of other farms in the area in recent years. While the Amish are good farmers, they care nothing about grass or shrubbery or upkeep in general and the neighboring farms they have taken over are looking decidedly seedy as white paint flakes off of houses and the red barns fade and lawns disappear into green memory. I doubt that they would take kindly to a request for such a walk as this.