Afternoons Of An American Country Boy

Happy 4th by Westbye
Happy 4th, a photo by Westbye on Flickr.

The eleven mile stretch between my grandparent’s farm and the town of Gardiner, Maine had several farms that featured their name on the barn. There was the MAPLE TREE FARM, which had a plank sign above the barn doors. Then there was the Chip Off The Block Farm, which was a red barn with the name and an Amish seeing-eye design painted on. But my favorite was the LENTY TO DO FARM. I never thought about what it meant to have Lenty to Do, or what it took to accomplish Lenty, and it certainly never occurred to me that perhaps a “P” had fallen off somewhere. It was the LENTY TO DO FARM, and that was that. No questions, nothing to see here.

As my grandpa whipped us past these farms in the Oldsmobile, I always wished we had a finger bar mower, just like the one on the tractor, attached to the passenger side. Grandpa would attach the mower to the tractor, lower it so its gruesome, pulsing teeth spread out six feet from the tractor and a foot above the ground, and drive out into the fields to mow the hay. I always pictured the mower on the car, destroying everything in its path: mailboxes, telephone poles, all the detritus of the sidewalk decapitated and laying in a swath of rural destruction at the hands of the Rocket Delta 88.

A trip to Gardiner meant a haircut for grandpa and getting toys at Wilson’s Department Store for my brother, grandmother and me. We would park next to the Kennebec River and walk up the stairs of the Arcade to Water St. The Arcade was narrow and rickety, and always smelled of musty river water, greasy paper plates with pizza slices in some form of forgotten decomposition and occasionally urine.

The toy section was upstairs at Wilson’s, and it was a magical world of Hot Wheels cars, car and airplane model kits, Diff’rent Strokes and Dukes of Hazzard coloring books and my favorite: Topps Baseball Sticker Albums with shiny stickers. And of course whiffle balls and bats for games on the lawn of the farm.

After doing our trading, as grandma would call it, grandpa got behind the wheel of the Olds and floored it home.

Some grandfathers sit on the porch and tell grandiose fishing stories. Some grandfathers play Bingo at the VA and volunteer for bean suppers. My grandfather drove like a maniac. Yelling at everything and nothing, dropping cigar ashes, eating…driving never deterred him from any of the above. Why so crazy? Temperament and more lax traffic enforcement, I guess. Why the hurry? Probably to make it home in time for the start of Another World. We always seemed to make it just in time.

I would sit in the back of the Delta 88, driving my new Hot Wheels across the bench seat, breathing in that wonderful cigar smoke, and plotting the destruction of rural Maine by hay mower as we pushed 60 in a 35. Anything that existed within six feet of the road was a goddamn goner. I probably would have spared the LENTY TO DO FARM, though. Whatever Lenty was, I didn’t want to have it to do.

  1. I was disappointed there wasn’t another Intersections piece.
    Then I read this.
    Now I’m all better.

    Loved it!

  2. Just like Guapo I was wanting another Intersections piece….until I read this one. I read the entire story with a huge smile which grew even wider during the last paragraph. Oh yeah, and I loved your description of the smell of the arcade!

  3. Interesting trivia napkin: Paul Simon indirectly wrote about Gardiner. Edward Arlington Robinson grew up in Gardiner, and re-named it Tilbury Town, which was the home of factory owner Richard Cory.

  4. Wonderful story Brian. It’s funny how you talk about having that mower on the side of the car…I had similar thoughts as a kid (maybe we all did?) and as I got older I wondered if those thoughts of destroying things was an early sign of some sort of psychotic ailment… 🙂

  5. I’m probably way out of the loop, but a blog page called The Fluster Magazine “like” one of my blogs, so I checked them out. They have short story competitions where you select a photograph from their flicker pool and write about it. Sound familiar? If you haven’t checked them out, you might want to. Here’s the address;

      • Absolutely! I don’t always take the time, but I think your writing is wonderful and you are remarkably talented!

  6. Slam. Dunk. This memory? The pacing? The descriptions? Wowzers.

    Because of the way you’ve written this glimpse into your childhood I want to visit the Lenty To Do farm rightthisminute!

    And meet your grandparents! And play with Hot Wheels! And smell cigar smoke!

    I think this piece is my favorite one of the moment. Reallyreallyreally like the balance between the quality of the writing and the narrative.

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