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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Finding a Vocation in a Cornfield



That summer on the Doc Hunt place, Richard and I were getting big enough to start helping with some of the farm work.  Richard, being nearly two years older, was still a little bit bigger than me, but not by much.  I was growing and catching him fast.  As an adult I would pass him in height and weight.
Richard was developing into a small edition of our father.  He was dark-haired like Dad and we boys all had the Frieze blue eyes.  Richard had a quick, keen mind and, even in those days, he was forever figuring out how to make things come out to his advantage.  He was always and forever trying to take advantage of me—too often succeeding.
I did not start out as if I were going to be very tall.  I was a chubby-faced little fellow with blond hair that tinged with red to a sort of copper as I got older.  I probably looked like a typical Dutch boy, thanks to my Blankenship ancestors. [Later life Richard traced the family history and discovered that the Blankenships were actually from England—descended from a knight no less.]
Both Richard and I had pretty fair tempers, but his was more slow-fused than mine.  When he got mad it would burn inwardly for a bit before he acted.  Not me.  Boy, when something got my dander up I would literally explode.  Of course that meant that oft times I would go off half cocked.
Most of the time I was far more happy-go-lucky than my older brother.  I did not have the devious streak Richard sometimes displayed and, consequently, got taken advantage of regularly.  I tended to take things and people at face value without looking for hidden motives.  I’d have to reckon that I was more than a little na├»ve.
Like normal brothers, Richard and I grew up fighting fairly frequently—both verbally and physically.  It helped develop some pretty tough muscles—not to speak of vocabulary (not necessarily the kind Mother would approve of!).  We also developed a closeness that made us defend each other, too.  We might be fighting as if we were determined to kill on another, but if someone else interfered we would turn on him and fight side by side.
At times we cooperated fairly well.  I remember when we first started plowing corn with a walking cultivator there on the Doc Hunt place.  Neither of us were big enough to handle the team and control the cultivator handles at the same time.  Dad, however, found a way that we could help.  He took an old metal farm implement seat and nailed it to the tongue of the cultivator at the base.  One of us would sit up there and drive the mules while the other walked behind and held the cultivator handles.
Type of mule drawn cultivator used in the 1920s & '30s

It was a pretty good system except that Richard was forever maneuvering to make it my turn at the handles when we were plowing the cross rows.  No matter how carefully Dad handled the trip wire for the corn planter, the cross rows were seldom nice and straight.  Maneuvering those cultivator handles so as not to plow up some corn sure put muscles into my arms and shoulders.  I suspect that was one reason that it was not too long before I could hold my own in a tussle with Richard—except when he and Rex ganged up on me.
Another chore we got acquainted with that year was replanting corn.  Replanting was the spring bane of every farm boy’s life.  The problem was that quite frequently when the corn came up there would be missing hills.  Since we wanted a full field, the missing hills had to be replanted by hand while the corn plants were small.
It was a deadly monotonous chore.  The equipment was a hoe and a pocketful of corn.  The replanter had to walk every row.  Where there was a missing corn plant you made a hold with the hoe, dropped in two or three grains of corn, and covered them up.  It got to be so mechanical that you could replant corn and think of other things at the time time—such as how you’d rather be fishing or swimming in the creek.  Quite often during those long sessions in a hot cornfield I would think about things I had read.  I was always an avid reader—anything I could get my hands on, but mostly pulp magazines with stories about cowboys and about the flying aces during the World War (later to be called World War I).
I remember one very hot day when I was out in the middle of the cornfield in my blue bib overalls, raggedy straw hat, bare feet, with my hoe.  An airplane came from the direction of Kansas City and flew right overhead.  You did not often see an airplane in those days and especially at fairly low altitude so, of course, I leaned on my hoe to watch.
It was a biplane with bright yellow wings and dark green fuselage.  I pulled off my straw hat and waved it.  By golly, the pilot saw me, waved back, and rocked the wings from side to side.  I was entranced and knew then and there that I had to fly someday—little dreaming that I would spend my entire life in and around airplanes.
WWI French Spad
I never have put much stock in astrology, but I was born on March 3rd which makes me a Pisces.  There may be something to it because, supposedly, Pisces are great daydreamers.  I used to dream up some pretty good fantasies while I plodded the hot, dusty cornfield rows, replanting corn.  I could literally leave those Ozark hills in my imagination.
Instead of faded blue overalls, bare feet, and a battered old straw hat, I would suddenly be wearing leather boots, coat, helmet and goggles, and with a white scarf fluttering in slipstream while I flew a Spad [French fighter plan of WWI] in a dogfight with a red Fokker triplane over the shot-up fields of France.  Other times I was dressed in black with silver ornaments on my wide-brimmed sombrero while, riding a coal-black stallion, I chased Mexican bandits.  The whole time that hoe would keep up its rhythm—click, plup, swish—click, plup, swish—wherever there was a green corn shoot missing.
My father enjoyed building model airplanes even as an adult.  You would think he got enough helping to design and sell the real thing.  Together we built a bi-plane model that he insisted we paint the colors of the one he’d seen that day in the cornfield. Additionally, my whole life my father loved Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic strip.  I believe that he thought he and Snoopy had something in common.