Most kids’ parents jump in the car each workday morning and join Carmageddon, the commute from hell. My dad, being a rancher, had no commute. His work was right outside the front door. Yes, sometimes the cattle broke into the garden and front yard, which made for some tough bumpy mowing — but it did provide plenty of fertilizer. Grass grew knee high by the Fourth of July. Occasionally, the corn did too.
In the fall, about the time the sun slanted low, and people’s thoughts turned to football, pumpkins and making sure they had enough wood for winter, dad and his two brothers, Ab and Lars, would harvest the field corn. One brother, Ab, would run the combine. The other, Lars, would drive the truck. Row after row of 10-foot-tall field corn was turned into silage.
Once full, the truck would be driven to Grandpa’s place, 1 1/2 miles up the county road, where the silage was dumped in a huge pile. Dad ran the caterpillar. He bladed the silage into what I called Silage Mountain.
In the months that followed, the silage would ferment. It would stink. On cold days steam would rise from Silage Mountain. Despite its stomach-turning aroma, the silage was a staple of the cattle’s diet during winter. Uncle Ab would drive the tractor with a bucket that scooped up silage from the continually shrinking mountain and then dump it into the steaming troughs under the eaves of the big red barn where the cattle came to eat. I would grab a shovel and distribute the heaping piles of steaming silage throughout the bins. It was almost as much fun as being poked in the eye with a stick.
Once, when I had my back turned, Ab, who loved a good practical joke, rushed back with the tractor and dumped a load of silage right on top of me. I was suddenly immersed in a huge pile of smelly silage. It was in my hair. In my ear holes. Down the back of my shirt. In my pockets. Everywhere.
The cattle slurped up the silage with unbridled enthusiasm. I was less enthusiastic. No matter how often I washed, or how hard I scrubbed, or how hot the water that roared over my body, I would smell like fermenting silage for the rest of the winter. It was a major social liability. Whenever I jumped on the bus, and joined Carmageddon to go to school, I noticed the other students gave me my own private row and was able to read to my heart’s content and not have to join in the paper, rock and scissors games or throw spit wads at the backs of girls’ heads.
I got elbow room the hard way. I was the kid from Silage Mountain.