John Wetrosky, Columnist
I learned certain things on that small Iowa farm that ensured I would reach the mellow age that I have now come to. Things that I did not learn from a textbook or in the school room. Things taught to me by my dad, mother and grandparents. Each rural teaching experience has stuck with me.
The ominous smell of nitrate hung heavy along the river bottom near the little fireworks shack. It was the week of the Fourth of July near the western Iowa border, and my dad turned the 1951 Chevy into the parking lot in front of the stand. Bright-colored signs featuring growling gorillas, hissing black cats and fanged snakes adorned the little wooden building that had seen its share of floods over the years. But, outward appearances meant nothing to a kid who accompanied his dad to this place that somehow seemed illegal.
Jerry's pig died. My Holstein calf developed a sprained front leg. Randy's sheep jumped the fence and headed up the blacktop toward LeMars. It was the week before the Plymouth County Fair. Our community is hosting the county fair again this year. It starts this week and there will be four fun-filled days, according to the posters around town. No doubt there will be visitors from around the area strolling through the midway and through the cattle barn and the chicken house.
The bull got up and disappeared over the hill. This is the time of year, after high school graduation, when many young people begin making decisions on where they hope to end up in the world. They have been seated in those hot high school auditoriums and listened to someone give a long-winded speech on how exciting their future will be if they just knuckle down, work hard and dream big.
I hope Canada doesn't decide to put a tariff on walleyes. I'm kind of worried about that. This part of northern Minnesota attracts thousands of anglers each year searching for walleyes, northern pike, bass and panfish. The highways are full of $100,000 boats pulled by shiny-wheeled pickups and cars. A long way from the rusted out pickup and beat up boats I remember making the trek in in earlier days.
Every small 1950s farm had one. Some called them the "machine shed;" some called them "the pump shed;" some called them the "shop." They were icons on a small farm and held the odds and ends of an operating farm. You might find the leftovers from an overhauled tractor or the pipes left over from a new well or spare wire left over from a fence project. If you couldn't find what you needed in the tractor's tool box, you might head for one of these small buildings and usually you could cobble something together from inside to get you back on the job.
An organization in our community had a "fun run" last weekend. Even though the north wind was blowing about 30 miles-an-hour and temps hovered in the low 40s, the runners showed up, pinned on their numbers and took off down the race route with smiles on their faces and yells of encouragement from their family and friends.
I've been addicted to the outdoor life since I was old enough to understand the stories told to me by my grandfather. He loved hunting and fishing, and I was in awe of his descriptions of downing a flying goose or landing a flopping carp on the muddy banks of the Floyd River. I believe some of those stories were a bit overblown, but I was mesmerized with his tales. When I was old enough to read, my room always held outdoor magazines featuring giant moose or antlered deer on the covers.
This week's column is dedicated to my Mom, Millie. Mother's Day happens this weekend, and even though moms have to share it with the Minnesota fishing "opener," I'm sure that mom will take precedence over any fishing excursion. They should! My mother, Millie, just turned 96 in March. She was born on a small farm in the Loess Hills of western Iowa to an immigrant mother and a close-to-immigrant father. My mom has no middle name, which always puzzled those who knew her. Maybe they just didn't think of it, but no middle name has followed her through her days.
It wasn't much of a fish. A 6-inch, silver-sided, horn-headed creek chub that weighed about 4 ounces. My first fish. It came flipping out of the West Fork of the West Branch of the Little Sioux River that wound its way through my Uncle Reed's farm. I barely remember my dad and granddad helping me land the little fish, but I was told later on that I held onto it with both hands and refused to let it go until I returned to the farm. I think they told me I wanted to sleep with it. I've been "glued" to fish ever since that day.