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Three score and ten or more

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


My grandma and Grandpa Johnson lived in Pocatello, Idaho, on Lander Street, 1226 East Lander, I believe. Some of the things I say here may be vague, but I am now writing about memories that shift in and out, and deal with the time when I was very young. My Grandpa Johnson is one of those memories. I don't really remember him very well except that, to a little boy, he seemed very tall, (his picture is at the right) and I seem to remember white hair and that he bounced me on his foot and sang (Swedish spelling not guaranteed) LUNKEN EFTER VATEN, LUNKEN EFTER VATEN, HOOOCHIE HOOCHIE, LUNKEN TA HEM, LUNKEN TA HEM, SKOOTAVESTET, SKOOTAVESTET. My father also played this game with me and his translation was "Run after water, run after water, draw it up (from the well) draw it up. Run home again, run home again, Jump up the steps, Jump up the steps."
The most significant memory of my Grandpa Johnson is that his death was the first memory I have of the reality of death. I don't remember how old I was, but I vividly remember going to his funeral, seeing the flowers, and seeing my father cry, and being shocked that a father would cry (No one who knows me would ever be shocked by tears. I run like a leaky faucet.) I really think that I was so young that the memory of bouncing on his foot may have been told to me, and made real by the fact that my dad did that same thing to me.
I have another memory or series of memories, that follows up on Grandpa's death. Grandpa was buried in Lund, Idaho where he had homesteaded upon arrival in the U.S., and, following his burial we established a tradition of going to Lund almost every memorial day (or Decoration Day, as we called it) to decorate Grandpa's grave. I'm sure that for my dad, this was a solemn occasion, but for me, it was one of the holidays I always really loved. We drove to Lund up (or down--southwesterly) on Highway 30 north cutting off somewhere near McCammon to go through Lava Hot Springs. We went through Lava, up a cutoff and over what was called The Fish Creek Divide, down the divide to Lund. The trip was always exciting. I'm not sure what kind of car we had at first, but it seems to me that it was black and had fuzzy upholstery. When I was about six years old, my dad bought a NEW car. A green, 1941 Plymouth four door sedan that was OUR car for many years until I finally killed it coming home from my first college football game my freshman year in college.
Anyway, back to the trip, Maybe I’ll fill you in on the death of the Plymouth later on another occasion. The basic pattern of the trip was always the same, at least in my memories. Mom picked, what seemed to me to be, VAST quantities of Peonies from her flower garden (once in a great while she bought them from a second cousin who came up from Utah every year with a truck load of Peonies that he sold in Pocatello), packed a lunch which usually included fried chicken, sandwiches, along with lemonade which was carried in an old greenish grey gallon thermos which was still in the family after I married and moved away. The flowers were put in the back seat of the car in a vase. I remember it being on the floor, but I also remember flowers being up on the car seat between Doug, my brother who was three years older than I, and myself, wrapped in moistened newspaper. I suspect they were put there to keep Doug and me separated, since we fought a lot on trips. As we drove to Lava, we sang songs together (somewhere, I will write down all the Lyrics of the songs, not that they are that unusual, but many of them stick in my mind like glue, and somehow they are an important part of me. Among the favorite songs were THE OLD APPLE TREE IN THE ORCHARD, A SPANISH CAVALIER, old Stephen Foster tunes, and World War I camp songs like TENTING TONIGHT ON THE OLD CAMP GROUND, along with rounds like ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT, and FRERE JACQUE. (I really loved to sing with my dad.) Once in a great while we would get away with 99 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, but Mom didn't like that, so I always felt delightfully wicked when they let us sing it for a while. I have a vague memory that we counted telephone poles, though I can't think why one would do that, and that we sometimes played the Alphabet Game, looking at signs, but that may just be a transfer, because that was a game that I always played with MY children when WE traveled.
Not long after we left McCammon, the main exercise was looking for the "L" that was up on the mountain over Lava Hot Springs. Somehow we always thought that the major part of the trip was over when we saw the "L". It was a beautiful drive, through valleys and small canyons crossing the Portneuf river several times. I always got a special thrill when I saw horses out in the fields, and I think that, once or twice, we saw a deer.
We stopped at Lava Hot Springs to have lunch in the park near the "Natatorium" or big hot spring swimming pools at Lava. I think that once or twice we may have gone swimming while we were there after the children got older, but most of our swimming at Lava was on special trips there, not on the "Decoration Day" trips. We did always get to "feed the fish". There were enormous trout in the Portneuf there at Lava, and they congregated under the bridge between the parking lot and the pools. Everyone would throw small pieces of bread in the river and the fish would almost make the water seem to boil as they fed. It was an enormous thrill to see, what seemed to be, a yard long rainbow trout smash through the water to snatch "your" piece of bread away from all his brothers. Occasionally a smaller one would jump clear out of the water, shaking his tail in scorn at those more timid ones. I don't think any picnic ever tasted better than those "Decoration Day" picnics at Lava. (Actually they weren't on Decoration Day. Memorial Day was on Monday, and we usually left for Lund on the Saturday before.)
After the picnic we would pack up the blanket that had been spread on the ground, put everything in the car, and the hair on the back of my neck would begin to bristle, thinking about the Fish Creek Divide.
The road out of Lava was bordered by outcropping of Lava rock and small cliffs with great clusters of small aspen and chokecherries along the banks of the Portneuf and the creeks that were tributary to the river. It was quite a long uphill drive out of Lava, and my favorite part was when Dad would begin to put the car in second gear and the old car would sing out its frustration at the uphill grades. It was really quite a long drive from Lava Hot Springs to the top of the divide, and I suspect that if the road still exists it has probably been widened and all the excitement has been engineered out of it, but it was exciting to me even on the first trip (when, it seems to me, that I was in the front seat, between Mom and Dad, and Doug was in the back, by himself.) I probably had complained about car sickness. I occasionally did get car-sick riding in the back, which had the advantage that I could occasionally get up in front, or I could get away with hanging my head out the window--for air).
It may be a trick of memory that remembers the road over the divide as a very narrow gravel road, but the view of the valley from the top of the divide was breathtaking, and we always stopped the car to look at it. You could see the wide flat plain down below, covered with winter wheat and other crops. Three distinct towns could be seen from there, Lund, another little village the size of Lund, the name of which I can't remember, and, off in the distance, the clump of trees that identified Soda Springs. The ride down from the crest was the peak of the whole trip. Switch backs back and forth with the road so narrow that Dad never went around a curve without honking the horn, in case another car was coming up. I looked down the steeps at the side of the road, knowing in my heart that the wheels of the car were really hanging out in space and that momentarily we were all going to slip off sidewards and careen, bouncing and crashing down the cliffs to our collective doom. I always reached the bottom of the divide with the distinct feeling that I hadn't breathed since we left the crest.
The events in Lund stick in my memory less significantly than the trip. I think there was less of a pattern but some things were more or less universal.
We stayed at the home of my great-uncle Arthur Peterson, who had many acres that he farmed primarily in winter wheat. When I was little there was a horse that I sometimes got to ride, chickens to chase (and eggs to hunt), all the things that you think about when you think about going to "the farm". I remember how broken hearted I was when the year arrived that we arrived at the farm to find the horse gone, the chickens gone, all the things that we think of as "farm things" were missing. When I asked Uncle Arthur where they were, he said that the kids had moved away and didn't need the horse, and that winter, after the grain had been planted he and Aunt--I THINK it was Aunt Ida, but I am not sure--had decided to go the Caribbean for a couple of weeks, and then couldn't find anyone to take care of the horses, chickens, etc., so he had sold the "whole kit and kaboodle". All he was going to worry about from now on was wheat.
He had to plow a fallow field, so he took us out to look, and he got in a great big yellow Caterpillar tractor, with disk harrows that appeared to go out thirty feet to each side, and four or five units deep. He completely worked a field that must have been forty acres in size in just about twenty minutes. It was really impressive, but it didn't take the place of the horse.
The other memories that really stick from the visits to Lund were the visit to the graveyard, which was a small country graveyard, haphazardly cared for, and I remember at least once when Dad borrowed a push lawn mower and a rake from uncle Arthur and we went out and mowed and raked around the Grandpa’s grave which had a small, white stone, as I remember. I seem to remember something about the family getting together and replacing the first stone, though it may have been changed since that time. At any rate we always made the area look nice, and then Mom would arrange the flowers in two or three groups, with different names on them. Sometimes Grandma Johnson would come with us, sometimes she was already in Lund when we got there (Uncle Arthur was her brother, so she stayed with him as well) but she came out to the graveyard with us, and when she came early, she had already gone out to the grave and put flowers there. I remember some really intense discussions between her and Mom about just which flowers would go where, and what colors went side by side, and together they picked and picked for what seemed to me to be an awfully long time to make sure everything was just right.
We usually made a trip to the town of Soda Springs where there was a naturally carbonated spring from which the town took its name. I think the actual name of the spring was "Hooper Spring" or something like that, and Dad usually referred to the spring itself as "Beer Springs" because, he said, that's what everybody called it when he was little. We would each get a glass of the water and say something about how neat it tasted (which it didn't). At least once, my mother took some Hires root beer base which came in a little round bottle, mixed it with some sugar and poured the Soda Water over it. It was better that way, but not great, it seemed to go a little flat when it was flavored.
One of my favorite things about the Memorial Day trips was that dad would take us around and point out landmarks of when he was a boy there in the valley. He told us about school, and pointed out where the little school was that only went to the eighth grade, and that he had gone through the eighth grade two or three times, not because he flunked, but because there wasn’t a high school, and there wasn't much else for a thirteen or fourteen year old boy to do when the snow got deep, and there weren't so many chores on the farm. When we got older he told us about the teacher that took all the older boys out behind the school in this valley of Mormon immigrants, and taught them how to smoke cigarettes. Another story was of a time when he and another boy contracted to break some horses--I don't remember whether they were wild horses that had been caught and brought in or whether they were just young, but, according to the story, he was riding a horse that was bucking, and got thrown up over the neck of the horse. When he was seating himself back in the saddle the pommel of the saddle got caught in the buttons on the fly of his jeans, and he was caught. He couldn't get all the way back down on the saddle, and couldn't get off so the horse just bucked until the buttons broke and he was finally thrown off. He said that his "belly-- and other parts" were so bruised that he couldn't finish the job that day, and couldn't even walk the next day, but he finally got finished with the job and got paid.
There were lots of other stories, but I can't remember them, which really irritates me, and is one of the reasons I am writing this. My children may be bored with these stories, but they will have them to refer to.
Somehow, the trips home don't stick with me as vividly as the trips going TO Lund. Maybe we went home by a different route, or maybe Fish Creek wasn't as scary going up as going down, but I honestly can't remember the trips home. There is a strong possibility that after two or three days in a strange town, with lots to do, picnics and graveyards, chickens and horses, that a young boy was plopped in the back seat and slept all the way home.


At 9:57 AM, Blogger Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

It sure is amazing remembering back of our memories of childhood. It seemed life was so much simplier and happy. The road trips from my memory included a picnic basket too...with food for all of us to eat along the way. My Mom always carried a shovel in the truck. Occasionally we would stop and with so many woods on the 2 lane highway...she would dig up a dogwood tree or something she loved...and it would go home later and be planted. (smiling)

Thanks for sharing your memories....I enjoyed reading it.

P.S. We would play the same games in the car as you mentioned and sing songs. (smiling)

At 4:08 PM, Blogger jgf said...

What a great memory. Thank you for sharing.

We would play the alphabet game--using signs to complete the alphabet before the other. The favorite annoying song--99 Miles to the Border. I think that is why my dad got a camper!

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

What wonderful memories. They will mean a great deal to your children and grandchildren (who are very lucky to have you).

It's funny: your remembering being surprised by your father's tears reminded me of when I was young and one of my parents' friends died. I remember my mom hanging up the phone and crying, and I was absolutely shocked because I'd never seen her cry (I was about 10). My mom was never the teary type (as *I* am). I thought she was made of steel until that moment.

At 4:23 AM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Back in September 2000, I took leave and visited my parents in Michigan. One of my primary goals of that trip was to "interview" my dad. I bought a taperecorder, a pack of tapes, a big mic, and set it all up in the livingroom. For 5 days, we sat, drank coffee in the morning, and talked, drank other "things" in the afternoon and evening, and talked, and then we did it all again the next day, and the next. It was an amazing time for me. My pops loved every second and so did I. I started him talking about his earliest memories in the 1930s, right up through the time he got married. My father is still with us, but when God takes him, NOW we have his most important memories on memorex, and transcripted as well into an illustrated book. One of the best things I ever did, especially since he doesn't have your ability to write descriptively. Next time I get back to the States it's Mom's turn!

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Davo said...

Your memories are valuable. Nice to see them on record.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Thank you for a most enjoybale read, Richard.

Merry Christmas.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

I'm glad y'all enjoyed it.


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