Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Let Go and Let Larry

I don’t remember exactly what I did for entertainment when I was seven years old. I imagine in my time it had to do with a lot of television. In 1959 if we weren’t hiding under school desks waiting for the Soviet Union’s big one to mutually assure our destruction, we were watching the boob tube. There were no videos, no computers, no ipods, no motorized scooters and no money to spend on any of those things even if they had existed; at least in my neighborhood. The promise of each day began with the words “For God’s sake! Go outside and play!” How generic can one be? How impossible would it be for children now if their mothers said “go out and play” and all they had to their names were a few longish sticks and some stones that looked like tiger’s eyeballs.

Actually, we did have a little more than that… we had bikes. Pretty much every kid had a bike and would ride it pretty much any and everywhere. By seven I was a reasonable rider. I had few open wounds, most of my teeth and a firm grasp of the concept of balance matched by a healthy fear of the substance called “sand”. Nowadays I’m guessing bike riding done by most children takes place within the view of their parents, but then it was ordinary to leave the front yard while traveling on two wheels at dawn, and not return until dinner time. So I’m sure my mother thought nothing of it when Larry Schmidt and I left the corner of 86th and Washburn at 8 AM. She probably figured we’d cruise down to Lincoln High and watch the football team do early season calisthenics, and then whip over to the convent to see if the nuns had any chores to do in trade for cookies and milk. I’d guess it didn’t occur to her that we’d actually go anywhere beyond “mom whistling range”. She had no idea that Larry had told me that he knew the way to his dad’s farm market, and that the building was right across the street from a real live airport where planes took off and landed all gol-dang day!

A child has no concept of distance. Much like dogs probably think, a kid can see where he is and where he wants to be, and anything in between is just a nebulous space that means nothing; a nebulous space that needs to be traversed, “so ya may as well get started.” (Men have much in common with children. They only know where they are and where they want to be, and seldom recognize their shortcomings; those that may come between those two places.) Had I known then how far it would be to the Schmidt Market, it wouldn’t have stopped me. Ten miles isn’t comprehendible at seven. “Same distance as it is to grammas” might have given me pause, but there was no muse handing me analogies at that age. So off we went, up and over the giant ridge a block from our homes and down the windy, freshly tarred road that swept through the Highland swamps.

It took hours to relieve ourselves of traffic and the constant barrage of salt box and ranch homes in pastel colors, each sporting a garage, a manicured lawn and a street side mailbox. Larry must have had quite a memory to have led us through the exurban maze that led to Pioneer Trail. I just kept my eyes on his rear fender and tried to keep up; he was much stronger than I, my being an intellectual and he, an inferior laborer.

Eventually we reached the country, where giant willows are allowed to overhang narrow roads, where dogs and cats roam freely, and visit passersby regularly, and where lunch waits patiently for kid’s stomachs to growl. My father had grown vegetables in our back yard, and surely we’d driven through farm country on a Sunday outing, so I well knew what sweet corn looked like. But the driving past produce at 55 makes a hundred acres seem like a postage stamp, while riding through it at “spoke” speed conjures just the opposite. It seemed the world was made of corn, and that all the world’s corn was ours to take; so long as we shared with any critters that happened by during our picnic. And so we stopped for free refreshments and to partake in that timeless boy pleasure; outdoor urination.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. One ear of uncooked sweet corn is plenty. Two will create enough gas to power a small cube truck, and three will bloat one’s stomach to Santa proportions. It was likely an hour before the bloat subsided enough to remount the bikes and continue on toward the market. Even though I was a bit green gilled, I was hoping by then that the Schmidts had the good sense to have a refrigerator at their place of business, stocked with things like lunchmeat and white bread, cookies and Kool-aid. All the corn had done was to remind me of how much I loved food; real food, the kind kids ate.

We stopped after every couple of miles. We were beginning to tire and needed to catch our breath here and there. Besides, we had world problems to solve, and to do so properly we would need to prop ourselves against a large tree, pluck a long stalk of grass and deposit it between the appropriate pair of teeth, and ponder a spell before spouting our learned opinions on the important topics of the day. Then, after a good spit and a light buttscratching, we’d be on our way again.

It was finally made obvious that we were getting close to our destination. Not only could we hear the constant whoosh of cars parading down highway 169, but we had spotted a single engine airplane off to our left; one that seemed to be so low that were we closer to its path we might have been bonked on our minuscule heads by its massive landing gear.

Then, the corner appeared; the intersection from hell where the tiny rural road met the endless bludgeoning of commerce, where the gentle sounds of chirping birds and the whispers of wind blown grass were hammered into submission by the roar of trucks the size of Godzilla followed by smoke belching, rod knocking, mildly muffled cars of all shapes and colors. We scurried across Pioneer Trail like field mice leading a cattle stampede. Larry pretended that he wasn’t fearful. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this a thousand times” he said. Even at seven I could count. Larry had only been alive a couple thousand days; there was no way he’d spent half of them riding a bicycle in the gravel and sand alongside a major highway. But I “let go and let Larry” in any case. Sometimes one’s head is just not big enough to wrap around everything one needs to absorb. It’s at those times, faith in someone other than yourself is absolutely necessary. Later, I would experience faith in God; for the moment, it was in Larry Schmidt.

It was nearly impossible to ride the last mile. My head was dancing on my shoulders, partly due to the bumpy conditions found on an unpaved shoulder, but mostly because there was just too much visual stimulation for a seven year old boy to handle. Planes were crossing our path, one after another, so low I swore they would crash through the sides of speeding cars. I had to stop more than a few times to take in the wonder of flying tonnage. My heart was racing so fast I couldn’t grip the handlebars without shaking my front tire until I was out of control. At that moment I became a pilot in waiting; I would never lose that initial thrill and would forever plan on becoming airborne one day. (One of the only childhood dreams I ever had, and finally accomplished)

I can still see the Market though it’s been long burned to the ground. It was a one story affair built of plywood and tarpaper, an open air grocery filled with fluffy, leafy, lumpy and clumpy things in all the colors of the rainbow. The Schmidts themselves were a bit unnerved to see us coming. Mister Schmidt in fact did that dad thing, stepping within our path, hands firmly on his hips, scowl boring through our skulls. Apparently Larry wasn’t supposed to actually ride to his parent’s market. He was supposed to be home with the babysitter; the one that had just called the market crying because Larry had disappeared! I didn’t see where Larry and his father wandered off to, but I did hear a bit of thrashing and screaming coming from somewhere near the bluff overlooking the Minnesota river. It seemed such a dichotomy to have torture committed within range of such a beautiful view. Had it been my dad I’m sure he would have taken me into a cave or something before beating me senseless.

But soon the punishment for premature exploration had been completed, and I had the guts to ask Mrs. Schmidt if she happened to know where a seven year old boy might get some lunch that wasn’t raw corn on the cob. She laughed. She always laughed when I talked. She thought I was quite funny, which was a good thing; especially when I needed a sandwich or a handful of cake. Lunch was served, even to Larry though he ate his standing. Within the hour we were driven home, bikes in the trunk, chins on our fists, two boys in the back seat wondering if what they’d just done would be recorded as an accomplishment or a black mark on our immortal souls. I am sure my mother had been called and apprised of my situation, but for some reason I remember nothing about a punishment of my own. In fact, I don’t remember her even reacting to the news. 

Once I’d been dropped off and Larry had been dragged kicking and screaming into his house, I just sort of hung out outdoors, shouldering a bit of gloom and doom but pretending that if I were to ignore the world crashing in on me, it would ignore me as well. It did as I recall, nothing was ever said, my head was never whopped and I served no time in any corner of the house for my indiscretions. Perhaps my mother was already suffering in her illness, preoccupied with the neighbor women and my father’s likely designs on each and every one of them. Or, perhaps she understood what an exceptional child I was and knew that a ten mile ride alongside modern highways was nothing for this seven year old boy. Had I the choice, I would choose to believe the latter.

No doubt one might wonder what this tale might have to do with Moorsby Watch. (At least those that have a clue as to what Moorsby Watch is in the first place) Well, it was this experience that set my personality in many ways. I discovered that guts were simply a lack of common sense, and that common sense was overrated. I found that the darkness of the unknown, as scary as it was, always, harbored the most fascinating adventures if one would simply take the chance and walk into its all enveloping embrace. It occurred to me that as much as I was “of the city”, I longed to be countrified; as much as I loved the noise and blur of a population in full scurry, I adored the solitude, the spirituality of the act of watching grass grow, of picking out the scratch of each individual cricket in any given glen. 

I was handed the notion that while my life would likely be spent twixt tall buildings and upon concrete roadways, my love would sparkle elsewhere; in the silver-green grasses and sneeze creating weeds of rural Minnesota. And I learned the most important lesson of all. That vegetables, even though they’re good for you, actually taste pretty damned good too. Particularly the vegetables found on the naughty boy’s luncheon smorgasbord at Schmidt’s Market.


  1. What a tremendous tale. Thanks for sharing it.

    (If they were filming 'Tom Sawyer' again I'd ask they make you writer.)

  2. Thanks love. I love that I did this so I have the tale to tell:)