Mark’s sister Patti invited Mark, Bryan and I for a ride up north with her and her husband Luz to see the beautiful fall colors they had seen the previous day. The sun was shining brightly and I felt the need to get outside, so we accepted gratefully. As we rode along the country roads in the small towns of Ferry, Hart and Shelby we saw some spectacular color-filled landscapes among the rolling hills. We drove on many of the roads that took me back to my childhood and made me think of my dad and mom and their rich family ties to those small towns.
First, we rode past the old Ferry School where my Aunt Norma was the principal. Well, she was more than the principal, actually. I was once told that after snow storms she would plow the school’s parking lot before school. Aunt Norma was a very independent and hard-working woman with a big heart. I was told she and Uncle Ernol bought our family Christmas presents when my parents couldn’t afford them. Then we rode through Hart where my mom was born and raised on the Kraus Dairy Farm. Shelby, where my dad grew up, was our next destination. I wanted to ride by my Grandma Beckman’s house where we spent most of our Sunday afternoons visiting with her but hoping some of our Beckman cousins would show up to play with us. Every Sunday my family would pile into our station wagon with a baby on my mom’s lap and no one buckled in and head to grandma’s house. In the evening during the Christmas season on our drives home we would have a competition by splitting up into two teams, each team getting a side of the road where we would count Christmas trees and the team that counted the most Christmas trees won. After a while we would start fighting as to who had the most trees and my mom would yell at us and then shut our game down. My dad, who was driving, would try to divert our attention from fighting by singing to us. He would sing “Under the Shade of the Old Apple Tree” and “Johnny and Frankie Were Lovers”. I’m not sure if the last song was appropriate for kids but we sure loved it when he sang to us.
My Aunt Sis and Uncle Lee lived next door to my grandma so Aunt Sis could offer more support to her because she lived alone. Aunt Sis was the only girl in my dad’s family and loved the outdoors like her brothers. She could hunt and fish as well as they could. After my grandma died, Aunt Sis and Uncle Lee built a house by a river and I had the privilege of fishing with them or, should I say, watching them fish. They had a great system. Uncle Lee would stand upstream and Aunt Sis would stand downstream waiting for Uncle Lee’s cue that a fish was heading her way. She would get her net ready and before we knew it Aunt Sis would catch a nice big salmon. She cleaned it, cut it up and it was ready to eat. I know this type of fishing is illegal but it sure was fun to watch. Hopefully it’s safe to talk about since it happened more than 35 years ago.
After we drove past Auntie Sis’ house we drove through the Beckman’s gravel pit which I visited a lot as a kid. My dad was always so proud of his brothers and the Beckman Brothers Sand and Gravel business they built, so every chance he got to visit his brothers at work was thrilling for him. As we rode on the dusty roads through the gravel pit I thought about the times my dad would tie a rope to the back of our station wagon and the other end of the rope to a sled and pull a couple of kids at a time until everyone got a turn. I suppose this was another illegal and dangerous thing we did but it was so much fun.
The day was filled with fall beauty and wonderful childhood memories.