toddler child walking by rural sandy road in early springtime

If you went past the little bridge, the chunk rock road went through the woods and to Mr. Tom and Mrs. Flossie’s house. They were the ones that owned the little rent house.  But the woods were dark and scary.  And I would never go past the little bridge by myself.

But the road was downhill and sunny the other way. And that way went to my grandmother and granddad’s house.  It was too far to see from the little rent house.  But I knew it was down there.  There was a rock fence on one side of the little road, and an old wire fence grownup in bushes on the other side.

I liked walking down the little road and exploring. I could hear sounds in the bushes and look to see what was making them.  One place the wire fence went over a big flat rock, and I could see in the field on the other side.  I remember watching a rabbit in that field, maybe the first time I saw a rabbit up close.

Sometimes I would walk all the way down to my grandmother’s house. It really scared my mom when I did that.  She was watching my younger brother and a baby sister, too.  There wasn’t stuff to fence kids in like now.  My mom says she would spank me when I walked off like that and spanked me harder every time.  But I kept going.

I don’t think I meant to disobey my mom and go to my grandmother house.  I think I just explored till I couldn’t see up the road to our little rent house any more, and I could see down the road to my grandmother’s house.

But one day because it scared her so much, my mom made my dad spank me. My dad was pretty big (he is still pretty big, but I think he must have shrunk some from how big I remember him being when I was little).  I still winch when I remember (not from when I was four, but from when I was older) how he looked when he took hold of my arm, and stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth, and reached way back with his long arm and his big hand.

My mom said my dad didn’t spank me hard at all. He spanked me really easy.  But I never went down the road to my grandmother’s again. My mom says she still don’t understand why I didn’t stop when she spanked me really hard, but I stopped when my dad spanked me easy just once.

I heard someone say that you can’t change your behavior until you change your perspective on the world.  So I guess my dad changed my perspective on the world.

Until a few years ago, I didn’t know why I took off alone down the chunk rock road. And I didn’t connect it to other things I did when I was growing up.

When I was a little older I saw a corner post of my granddad’s garden fence beginning to fall. It was a pretty new fence my granddad built with big corner posts.  Not far from that post was a gully that turned near that post.  When it rained the turn kept getting bigger till it was at the post, and the post was pulling out of the ground.  I got big flat rocks and stacked them on their edge all along the turn in the gully so that when the water hit one rock it pushed it against the next one and they all kind of pushed the post back in place.  I never told anybody I did that till now.  Nobody probably noticed it.  Except my granddad would have noticed it; and he would have guessed I did it.  It makes me feel good now, years after he died, that it was like a secret between us.  I get teary now thinking that he would have been proud of me for doing that, but he didn’t need to tell me.

After my dad built a new house, there was a gully at the bottom of the hill behind the house. One day I saw at the upper end of the gully there was a tall dead tree with dead vines all the way to the top.  It was ugly, and I thought the view would be really pretty if that tree was gone.  So one day when nobody else was there, I got a chain saw.

Lots of times I had helped my dad and granddad cut down trees and cut them up for firewood. But I had never used the chainsaw myself and thought I needed to wait for somebody to teach me how to use it.  Once I asked my granddad when he was going to teach me how to use a chain saw.  But he said in a “the discussion is over” kind of way that he wasn’t.

(Decades later in a safety class with a professional lumberjack, I realized my dad and granddad didn’t know the right way to use a chain saw either; and we’re all lucky to still be alive.  Once a big tree my dad cut fell on me.  The big limbs missed me, and I just got a bunch of knots on my head.  Once a tree I cut kicked back over 20 feet and almost crushed me.  And my granddad once cut through his upper arm so you could see his bone.)

I decided nobody was going to teach me, so I needed to figure it out myself. I figured how to cut that tree so it would fall straight in the gully and disappear.  That’s what happened.  The view was as pretty as I had pictured it.  When I saw my mom in the backyard a few weeks later, I asked if the view up the hill looked different.  She said she couldn’t tell any difference.  I asked if she remembered an old dead tree above the gully.  She didn’t remember a dead tree.  I was a little disappointed, but it didn’t matter that much.

I never said anything else to anybody about that tree till now. When I go to my mom and dad’s now, I still sometimes look out at the view behind the house and feel proud knowing I made the view better cutting that tree.  I know it would have fallen by itself years ago, but I made the world a little better for a little while.

Though nobody ever told me to, every summer I would get my granddad’s little tractor and spend several days mowing pastures to stop the brush and weeds and make the grass get thicker for the cows to eat. I nearly killed myself a bunch of times taking that little tractor into some small, dangerous spot just so I would know I mowed it.

Other times I noticed rocks (they come up from the ground when it freezes) were cluttering a field and thinning the grass, so I hooked the trailer to the little tractor and hauled off rocks.  I never told anybody or knew if anybody knew I did it.

Sometimes it seemed the little tractor was my best friend, because we did so much stuff, just the two of us. It had more problems than any tractor I ever saw.  It broke my dad’s arm when he was turning ground and the steering wheel kicked really hard.  That was when he was building the house, and he had to lay the concrete blocks for the basement with one hand.  But I would get mad if anybody other than family said anything bad about that tractor.   One time I snapped angrily at one of my granddad’s friends when he said to some others that the steering on that tractor was bad—the only time I ever remember talking back to one of granddad’s friends.  I told him that tractor steered good.

The farm was the place I could be myself, and not worry about other kids laughing at me because I acted different. I knew I acted different, but I didn’t know why.  I know some people still think I’m a little weird, and it still bothers me sometimes. It’s easier now that I know why I walked off down the road, and I know there are some good things about me being a little weird.

But I also know now that part of the reason I wasn’t like everybody else was that everybody else wasn’t like everybody else either. Only a few kids were wearing the shoes that everybody was wearing, sometimes nobody was.

Thankfully, that’s one of the things that still hasn’t changed.   Thankfully, there are still only a few people doing what everybody is doing.  Thankfully, some people still walk off by themselves down the road.