In preteen years I would instinctively choose to sit in the back seat because there was a sense of independence riding back there alone, with my nose at window level, watching the wild roses in the ditches go by at about 25 mph as we worked our way along six miles of scorea road, going by the place where we picked Juneberries and chokecherries in the coulies and cricks, curving around the section lines down through the pasture hills, eventually coming to the state highway three miles east of our little town.
In grasshopper-ridden summers, my least favorite thing on those drives was the possibility of a grasshopper hopping at “just the right moment” and smack me in the face as he ingressed through the open window as we passed his Montana home. Having a grasshopper smack my face at 25 mph hurt…and if they missed my face, that was worse: then they ended up in the sloping back window area up behind the seat and I had to worry about if they were going to jump on my neck. If my brother was along (usually he was not, because he would be working in the fields) he could do the grasshopper-capture and fling the ugly thing back out the window, but if I was in the back seat alone, there was nothing for it but to sit on the opposite side of the seat from where the grasshopper sat taunting me from the back window, “I’m gonna jump on you and you can’t stop me!” There was no way I was going to take hold of one of those uglies. Still hate grasshoppers.
An occasional treat on a warm summer day was getting to rollerskate on the broad town sidewalks. If Mom had shopping or visiting to do that was going to perhaps use an hour or so (that would mean a grocery store stop for salt and such, and perhaps coffee with a friend), I might have the liberty to skate for awhile on the long sidewalks. Now that was good fun. At the farm I had only the very narrow sidewalk that ran across part of the front of the house, then made a 60 degree left turn to run across the east side; then a jump down off the 8″ step to the narrow sidewalk running another 25 feet away to the short wooden sidewalk that led to the outhouse. There was no place to get up speed or “get into stride.” That sidewalk was about 2 feet wide at the most. The joys of the open road to be found in town were really, really delightful! I could skate those great long town blocks as long as I stayed on the east side so that I wouldn’t be going past the Stockman’s Bar. Such a crass violation in broad daylight would have terminated all town skating privileges henceforth and forever.
There was an added fuzz hindrance in town in the summer from two sources. When thecottonwoods were dropping the cotton in late May or early June, the sidewalks would be filled with drifting dunes of light cotton, swept up into small heaps at every corner and spot where the breeze was slightly hindered. The other fuzzball issue would occur when the one giant St. Bernard in all of eastern Montana (as far as I know) was shedding. Oh, my. That dog’s annual shedding performance could do a number on main street, even if it was a half mile long.
Now I can’t imagine why my mother put a homemade frosted layer cake (no cover) on the seat of the car. Why would anyone do that? But if I were an artist, I could still paint the scene from the vantage point of my own line of sight. She knew I was with her. (Goodness me, sheknew what I was like generally.) She knew she hadn’t gone to town alone. She knew “Sharon is here,” but somehow, in spite of all her firsthand experience with Child #7, between running into the store or down the street, when I returned to the car to get in and go with her to another point, she had placed the beautiful layer cake (destined for someone’s home) right on the seat where I was going to sit.
Why? Why?? “Why, oh, why,” I ask…to this day. I was moving pretty much at top speed and, in one movement, had the door open and was swinging myself into the seat when, as time s-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-w-w-w-s down, I see the cake. I know my trajectory. I know the outcome. I know all these things. And there’s absolutely nothing to be done. Like a magnet. It draws me to itself….
….the handprint that went through all the layers to the pretty plate was quite clear. Didn’t smear around much. It was now a cake with a hand print from top to bottom. It was a well-structured cake that didn’t fall all apart. It just stood there. With a hand-shaped hole from top to bottom.
She had that look on her face that was indeed familiar. I do remember being spanked on occasion. I remember being spanked hard. But I can count those occasions on one hand. This wasn’t one of them. She was a woman of mercy, I tell you.
Another regular stop in town during the summer was the library: way down the south side of the Armory, there was a door propped open. Go through that door (which is also the back entry to the Armory/High School gymnasium) and a couple of steps up to a little alcove that serves as the public library. It was probably no larger than 15 X 25. It had the wonderful musty, dusty smell of old books and was monitored and maintained by asingularly suitable “Marian the Librarian” professional. She never seemed to say anything, just sat there at her desk doing things. She wasn’t unfriendly. Not at all. She had, however, apparently just decided some time earlier in life that “passing the time of day,” even with the parents of children who came in to get books, was not a necessity. Talking was just not an option that she chose to exercise frivolously. Now we’re heading home now and I have an armload of fresh books: The Bobbsey Twins in early years. Then Carolyn Keene and her adventures of junior detective work. A stack of Little House on the Prairie or Nancy Drew would be good for a week’s reading.
Another gratitude I have where my mother is concerned is that she took the time, exerted the effort, did the planning and “got ‘er done” in terms of getting regular piano lessons for me beginning when I was about six years old.
The piano lessons were normally a feature of the summer months into fall, with a hiatus dictated by the winter weather; then resuming and pressing on come spring. My brother also took piano for a time, so some of the piano recitals of those early years featured duets by brother and sister. The recitals were usually held in the home of the piano teacher where everyone would crowd in at the appointed time, filling the chairs lined up along the walls and the guests included the fathers who would have left field or office early enough to be present for the 7pm opening number, dressed in their Sunday best.
At one of the recitals where my brother and I were scheduled to play, the car door slammed on four of my fingers on one hand as we arrived at the teacher’s house. I made one of those “keep on keeping on” decisions fairly quickly. I got a moment’s sympathy. It was acknowledged that the door had slammed on my hand. And beyond that~~well, there really was nothing else to be done, was there? So we played our duet the very best we could.