In spite of all the work I had to do when I was a little girl, I still had plenty of time to play. The best fun of all was building forts with Bonita and Tommy. Together we were a great team of invention, independence, and perseverance.
The best forts were in the hayloft. It was against the rules to play around in the barn, and against the rules for boys to be up in the loft without Dad around, but me and Bonita sneaked anyways, and we let Tommy come up there and help us. The bales of hay and straw were just like giant bricks for building. I saw how Grandpa built things with bricks: one solid layer on the bottom, then stack the next layer, overlapping the cracks in the first layer. That was kinda like the way we stacked the bale at baling time, only at baling time, everything was flat, and with forts, we built walls up high, with tunnels connecting everything. Hay bales made the best walls ’cause they were heavy; we used straw for the roof. The roof was hard to make: the walls had to be just the right distance apart, too far apart and the top bales fell through, too close, and we got just a hallway, no room at all. Tom got inside the room and balanced the bales, while me and Bonita adjusted the walls. When I got into building like that, I forgot all about how hot is was up there and how heavy those bales of hay were and how much everything up there made me sneeze and itch. Well, to be honest, I sneezed and itched almost all the time, anyways; that’s why Mom sewed pockets in every single thing she made me, ’cause I didn’t go anywhere without Kleenex. That hay and straw smelled so good and green and musty all at the same time. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I saw streams of sunshine coming through the cracks in the barn walls, just like beams from heaven when the Holy Spirit came down and said “This is My Beloved Son,” only no voice and only barn pigeons, and lots of bits of dust riding on the sunbeams.
We worked for days together like that, ’cause we could only do so much before somebody was hollering for us, to come for supper, or trying to find out what was taking so long, or just because. Sometimes, I got a hay-hook out, and pretended I was a mountain climber, grabbing the side of the hay-mountain with the hook and pulling myself up. Once I missed and the hook went straight into my knee. Holy mackerel, that hurt like the dickens and the next day even more. I had a heck of a time walking for a couple of days, which made me miss a special 4-H field trip where I could have seen how artificial insemination worked. That’s what Dr. Friese did with the teacup of hot water and vial when he came over and I had to stay in the house. Dad didn’t know I knew, but I figured it all out by reading the calendar he had out in the barn: first the cows rub their heads together, then they play piggy-back, and then next thing you know, there’s Dr. Friese asking for a teacup of hot water.
Bonita and I found a box full of pulleys and ropes lying around in the tool shed, just idle, so we strung them up all around the hayloft and flew around like Tarzan through the jungle, only we had a seat made of rope to sit on. Wheee! That was super fun just gliding all over the place, fast as lightning. We got one rope rigged to go straight to the ladder down the hatch to the manger, and one time Bonita slipped off and went right down the chute. I laughed so hard I almost wet my pants. She was just fine on account of all the soft hay and straw down there, but it sure looked hilarious. That set of ropes and pulleys was so keen, I just had to tell Dad what good inventors me and Bonita were. I knew he was going to be so darned proud of me.
He wasn’t. He clamped his teeth together so tight little ripples went up his jaws and disappeared behind his ears.
“You could slip down in this loop, and strangle.” Dad widened out the rope loop stuck his neck in; his eyes bulged way out and his tongue hung loose against his cheek, like they would on a strangled man. I was thinking my armpits would probably get in the way and the rope would tangle all around my arms first. “But Dad,” I said.
“But nothing.” he said back, which means something like ‘Don’t talk back’ or ‘Shut up’ in Dad talk. Anyways Dad was always thinking about how kids can get hurt and telling me not to do fun stuff. “Take all these ropes down. Right now,” he said.
I must have looked as sad as I felt, ’cause right then, he came up with another idea. He showed me how to slip a small piece of baling twine through the pulley and hang there by my hands. That way if I slipped, I fell free of the pulley and just fell down on some hay, kinda the same way Bonita fell through the hatch into the manger. That was even more like Tarzan of the Jungle.
Years later, long after I was grown, Mom told me that Dad had a horrible experience with rope in the hayloft. One of his German shepherd dogs was in heat, so he tied her up in the loft, so no male dogs could get near her. That dog was so anxious to get a mate, she broke right through the wall of the barn, and hanged herself. Dad saw her just hanging there when he went out to do chores in the morning. I bet when he saw his little girls whirring around on rope having a grand old-time, he could see a tragedy in the making. It’s a tough thing for parents to have enough experience to expect danger, and to have enough courage to let their children stretch their imaginations, muscles, and minds. A really tough thing. Wheeee!!