Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Childhood Memories Of Those Summer Visits To See Grandma and Grandpa in Cheboygan, MI

(Uncle Benny and I at his home in Cheboygan, MI home in 2002)

There’s a deep little secret that I share with a lot of my cousins that we all know will never happen. If you could survey us one by one – we all wish that we could relive those great big family get-togethers that we use to share as kids at Grandma and Grandpa Enos’ place in Cheboygan. I’m not saying that we couldn't all get together in Cheboygan – it’s just that it would never be the same and we’d all be disappointed when today’s realities didn’t live up to all of our memories of yesterday.

My Mom was one of ten children that grew up in a big farm house in Cheboygan, Michigan and it was at that farmhouse where the family all got together pretty much every summer when we were kids. The long car trips that many of the grand children had to endure to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s place was more than rewarded once we got there. I can remember the cows, the chickens, pigs and all of the fun that my cousins and I would have jumping in the hay that was stored in the barn.

Being from the city – I thought it was so damn cool that my Grandparents had an old fashion (working) gasoline pump in their drive-way. I know that they used the pump to fuel their trucks and tractors, but it was just one of those objects that you could gloat about to your friends when you went back to school in September. I’m sure that none of my childhood school chums had grandparents that had a gasoline pump in their drive-way, but mine did.

I have so many childhood memories from all of those family get-togethers in Cheboygan. I always wanted to be the first person inside the house to see Grandma and Grandpa after the long drive north. Grandma and Grandpa would usually be waiting at the kitchen table for everyone to arrive and they looked as excited to see us as we were to see them. Grandma would greet you with a big hug, grab both sides of your face and then smother you with kisses. And you didn't think anything of it when Grandma would say something like “boy, have you gotten big” or a “we’ve got to put a little meat on these bones”, because that was what a Grandma usually said, or so we thought.

Being a little kid from the city – you can just imagine how intoxicating it was to take in all of the sights and sounds of a working farm. If we were lucky – Uncle Benny or Uncle Victor – would give us a ride on the tractor and let us put our hands on the wheel and steer the tractor for a short bit. We would be so damn excited by our little farm adventures that we couldn’t wait until we got back to the farmhouse to tell our parents – who we could usually find chatting with Grandma and Grandpa at the big table in the kitchen or preparing for one of those huge family meals.

And let’s talk about those dinners – all of the adults gathered around that huge table in the kitchen and kids they got to eat on the steps that went upstairs to the bedrooms. There was always plenty to eat and most of the time – it was all homemade – from breads and rolls to the cookies that were made and then cooled on the counter top behind where Grandma’s place at the table.

I can remember that there was always a small bottle of saccharine tablets close by Grandma for her to sweeten her coffee or tea and all of the kids were told they were Grandma’s and we were warned not to touch them. Grandpa usually sat to the left of Grandma at the table and it was not unusual in the morning to see Grandpa holding someone’s white porcelain cup up and turning it all around as he read that person’s fortune in the tea leaves. I can’t tell you if he was accurate in any of the predictions that he read – but nonetheless anyone who had a cup of tea usually wanted Grandpa to read what the tea leaves had to say.

One of the things that I always wanted to do when I was a kid was to milk a cow. Every time that we visited Cheboygan, I would ask Uncle Benny if he would let me do it and he would usually tell me that I could when I was old enough. I was so use to hearing no every time that I asked him, you can imagine my surprise when Uncle Benny finally said yes...I couldn't believe what I heard! I was finally going to milk a cow (or so I thought).

I could not have been more that four or five years-old when Uncle Benny “arranged” for me to milk a cow for the first time. At the far end of the barn, where they had all of the cows lined up for milking, Uncle Benny had put a small baby calf inside a small corner stall with a wooden fence around it.

With my Dad standing next to him, Uncle Benny asked me, “Well, here it is…you ready to milk a cow now?” When I told him that I was – he lifted me up and put me inside of the corner stall with that young calf (which in the eyes of a kid might as well have been a full size cow). Even though I was four- or five-years old, I was smart enough to know that something was wrong because I couldn't find the teats to grab onto and milk. When I pointed that out to Uncle Benny – he told me to pump this – and he pointed to the calf’s tail. Grabbing the calf’s tail, I “milked” the cow’s tail like one would pump an old fashion pump for water and it had Uncle Benny laughing so hard he fell down and broke the wooden fence that kept the calf and me inside this small stall.

I think out of all of my aunts and uncles – Uncle Benny was a larger than life character that kids were naturally attracted to. I don’t think that I could have ever asked Uncle Victor to let me milk a cow – Uncle Benny seemed like to go-to-guy for something like that – always the hard worker but he had that dash of playfulness to him. He would come in the house after milking the cows and add maybe five or six teaspoons of sugar into a big glass of the milk that he brought in with him – nobody said anything to him about it -- that’s just the way Uncle Benny enjoyed his milk.

Along with being a farmer – my Grandpa was also a bee keeper. He may have had something like six or seven bee (and maybe more) hives set up off to the side of the farm house. I can remember watching Grandpa bringing these big honey cones into the kitchen filled with honey and then extracting the honey from the honey cones so everyone could have fresh honey on their toast or in their tea in the morning.

I was probably more afraid of the bees than I was any of the animals…only because bees sting. And it was because they sting that Grandpa’s bees went on to play a part in another legendary story of something that happened at Grandma and Grandpa’s farm in Cheboygan.

For as long as I could remember – my Grandparents had indoor plumbing – but they always maintained the outhouse that was not too far from the hen house. The only reason they kept the outhouse was because they knew that sooner or later nature would be calling when they’re out working in the fields or in the barn and it was easily to “take care of business” in the outhouse than to run all the way back to the house. My Uncle Victor had one of those days – he had to go – but he knew that there was no way in hell that he was going to make it to the house – so, off he went into the outhouse. This wasn’t one of those “stand-up” functions – this was one of those “Sears Roebuck” catalog moments that you wanted to sit down and let loose of all that there was to offer. So, he walked into the outhouse, dropped his trouser to the ground and sat on the seat and let it rip. When he let it rip – there just happened to be some bees there in the outhouse that proceeded to sting his butt cheeks with reckless abandon. I’m sure that the pain that the bees inflicted some hurt on his ass – but you got to admit that just the thought someone going into an outhouse to take an innocent dump and comes out with a stung ass is pretty funny.

I’m only scratching the surface when it comes to talking all of those family reunions that we use to have each summer at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Cheboygan. They hold a special place in my heart and in the hearts of all of my cousins – for we were young and innocent and there was no better place to share those experiences than on a farm in Cheboygan with our parents, Grandparents, and the people that we loved. It would be nice if we could bring back those days just one more time – but the truth be told – we’ll never be able to relive them again.

(Grandma and Grandpa Enos outside of the farmhouse in Cheboygan, MI)

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