I can’t really go back any further than 1966-67 but my earliest recollection starts on a little 5 acre farm on the outskirts of a little rural farming town in southeast Kansas. At the time the population of Girard, Ks. was around 3000 including the surrounding farms and the town was not much more than a bunch of grain elevator towers along the railroad tracks that held the grain from the massive crop farms around the town. My granddad worked at the grain mill and his job mainly consisted of filling 100lb burlap bags with soybeans to move on down the tracks. I remember his hands were big round hands that were as hard as granite rock from holding the ears of the burlap bags as the beans came down the bean chute and filled the bags. His forearms were gigantic, much like Popeye’s forearms, minus the tattoo’s. Later on when I was a teenager I got to feel the wrath of those big hands when he caught me smoking for the first time. Those hands also doubled as a club up side my head after ripping a pack of cigarettes out of my shirt pocket when he saw them in my front pocket of my t-shirt. He wanted to make his point stick and to this day I still remember those hands, both in a grandfathers loving way and also to teach me a lesson in life.
Our little town had a town square with a 3 story stone courthouse in the middle with a diner, a five and dime, a drugstore, an old bar called “The Long Branch” a clothing store as well as a little grocery store called “Farmers Food Center” owned by my dad and my dads brother, my uncle Richard. There were a few other businesses on the square surrounding the court house but it was just a small farm town like any other that dotted the Midwest. We had a small school system and I think there were no more than about 60 if that many in my graduating class. At the time the town was booming with a homecoming every fall when the square would be shut down with carnival rides and a homecoming parade, a homecoming football game in which the whole town attended and everyone took a lot of pride in our little town.
Since my dad worked a full time job as a half owner and butcher at the grocery store my stepmother Kay and us kids were responsible for taking care of the farm. It’s safe to say that I started working about the time I was strong enough to carry a bucket. My brother Steve was just a couple of years older than me and my little sister Debbie was a couple years younger. We each had our chores which consisted of feeding cattle, slopping and watering pigs, feeding chickens, gathering eggs and taking care of our Brittney Spaniel dogs that we bred, trained and sold for bird hunting. All this had to be done, rain or shine, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. It was a team effort and my dad usually didn’t get home till after 5pm to help out. Although my dad owned a grocery store we drank fresh milk we received for free from our neighbor’s Jersey milk cows in trade for letting them graze in our pasture. Our eggs came from the chickens we raised and our meat came from the cattle and pigs we raised and took to slaughter. The slaughter house was right behind my dads store and I used to watch my dad slaughter the cows and pigs and then cut them up for the freezer. The chickens were decapitated and feathered 10 at a time and we shared some with my grandparents and put a few in the freezer. My dad and I hunted and fished every year but hunting and fishing wasn’t for sport but it was to supplement our food supply. We never ever hunted or fished for sport when I was growing up. My dad didn’t believe in killing anything for sport and it was only out of necessity that we killed anything. With the exception of a pack of coyotes, desperate raccoons or a hungry bobcat looking to raid the chicken house, everything we killed we ate. Everything else we shot or caught came home and was cleaned, plucked, skinned or scaled and put to good use as food for the table. Our little farm was a mile west of town and surrounded by crop and cattle fields on all sides with an old dirt/gravel lane from where the pavement ended at the west end of West Walnut street. That was the layout of where I was raised until my dad sold the farm and we moved away after I graduated from High School.