Thursday, May 26, 2011

Going to the farm

My grandparents had a wonderful old farm in the small town of White Lake, South Dakota.

And this is where our family of eight spent all of our summer vacations.

The annual trips to the farm were all the vacation my parents could afford. But I wouldn’t have known, or appreciated, anything about that. Or even cared. 

The anticipation of a trip to the farm to see Grandma and Grandpa trumped a Grand Canyon, Black Hills, or even a Disneyland tour, as some of our friends were doing over their summer vacation.

All of us crammed into whatever vehicle Dad drove that year, squished together in the back seat. One of the younger kids would even ride in the window area above the back seat. No seat belts to hinder our climbing around each other and changing places.

Then my Dad started buying Rambler station wagons, and we enjoyed the luxurious space. To pass the time, we would sing songs along the way and stop for picnic lunches in a local park.

Before Interstate 90 was built, our route took us through many small Minnesota towns, like Pipestone, Marshall and Worthington. It was an eight-to-ten hour drive then, depending more on our level of cooperation than the speed of the car.

In our very early years, a pink plastic potty was used for our nature calls, Dad simply stopping the car along the road. Later, because we were older or there were more of us, we stopped at gas stations or, if we were lucky, restaurants.

The Red Rooster Café was the only place I remember stopping to eat where we had to pay. It had a sign on the wall that intrigued us through the years: 

Seville, der dago,
Tousan buses inaro.
Nojo, demis trux,
Summit cowsin, summit dux.
As we grew older yet, I taught my younger siblings how to sing in rounds. We sang Himmel und Erde, in German. And a Jewish round. And rounds I learned at Camp Fire Girls' camp.  I'm sure it drove our parents crazy, but at least when we were singing, we weren’t arguing and bickering.

We'd pass the Welcome to South Dakota sign; then the sign for White Lake; and finally, the quiet gravel road leading to the farm.

Past the mailbox, up the long driveway, we'd see the farm with its pump for fresh water, a blue speckled tin can hanging on a hook at its side, outside the back kitchen door.

No matter the time of day or night that we arrived, Grandpa and Grandma always met us at the back door and were excited to see us. Six children certainly brought chaos to their otherwise quiet and orderly home. But if they minded the disruption, we never knew it.

The farmhouse always smelled the same: a mixture of yeast from Grandma's baking, fried chicken, Old Spice aftershave, and, if the screen door was open, a hint of manure.

The unique smell of South Dakota air, the expanse of sky with bright stars not seen in the city, the chirping of crickets breaking the silence of night, and the wide open fields, were really wonders that were new, then again familiar, with each visit.

We wouldn't have wanted our summer vacation to be anywhere else.