If Back Yards Could Talk

If Back Yards Could Talk

There I was, sitting in my car, having another one of those moments. Those weird moments when you don’t know what to think, or maybe it should be described as thinking too much. It was nearly lunch time, and I had spent most of the morning cleaning and sorting at my parents’ house.

Beside me on the passenger seat were two small boxes full of letters my brother Ed had sent home  while serving in Vietnam. I felt as if the words he had written were not only still on my mind, but somehow within me. And I remember thinking the world is a strange place to live.

We may daydream as a child about how life is going to go, and then we do things like grow up and start living as an adult must live. We realize there really is no rehearsal. No script to follow. It’s all ad lib.

My car was parked in front of the garage door – a place where the basketball rim is still there for those who show up to play a little ball. Who knows how many times the pavement bounced the ball right back into the hands of the players? How many “air balls” and how many “nothing but net” shots has it seen?

My brother Steven used that court to perfect his three-pointers, and he still loves to laugh at others who are not so great at basketball. It’s okay to show up with no basketball skills, for your total lack of talent is likely to cause some laughter. And rest assured he will keep it a secret – but only after he tells everyone. There you are, a character in his conversations with others.

Just a few feet away from the basketball court is the east yard where grown trees now stand in the baseball outfield. The brick grill my dad made is a reminder he knew how to do everything.

Like many families, Dad was the one who did the grilling while Mom stayed in the house getting the rest of the meal ready. 

The lilac tree blooms each year, and a couple of rose bushes are still there blooming every summer throughout autumn.  The back door is still the same door. How many times have I opened that door? It still sounds the same. How many times have my daughters entered the house through that door?

When my children were growing up, they called it “going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” Now my grandchildren call it “going to Uncle Stevie’s house.”

There were plenty of opportunities to go with my parents to their childhood homes, but we never did such a thing. Now I’m asking others if they know where my parents lived when they were children.  

It’s rather fun to mentally take ourselves back to the days of our childhood, the days when we were six years old and would walk barefoot out the back door with clean feet and back in with feet that were black – but only on the bottom.   

If our back yard could reminisce, it would tell us it remembers back in 1947 when my mom and dad, as a young couple, first drove into the driveway. They were looking over the house before deciding to buy it and remodel it. The mortgage payment was $22 a month, and they bought the house through a GI loan. Our back yard ended up seeing a lot of clothes hung on a line, and toys in the yard, and little toes walking through the grass.  

Every time my mother left the house to head to the hospital, the back yard saw her step into a car, then reappear days later with a baby in her arms. I wonder what kind of car my dad owned in 1962 when I was born. The back yard would know that.

A back yard knows who comes outside and delights in the landscaping and pokes around in the flowers and the garden.

A back yard knows who sits themselves down in the grass and feels the good vibrations, and who has blown a few thousand dandelion wishes into the air.

Any given back yard has seen the effort it takes to load the children in the family car on Sunday morning in order to make it to church on time. And it knows when the children are headed to the ice cream stand, for they are dressed a little differently and pile in to the car quite easily and then return with ice cream cones in their hands.

Our back yard watched as each baby became a toddler and then a child trustworthy enough to play outside on its own and later old enough to babysit the younger ones.   

The back yard knows every car my father owned – each make and each model. And every Edgerton Hardware truck. It saw the kids become old enough to drive and buy their own cars, and graduate and move away but come back home for visits. The back yard watched Ed grow up and become a soldier, and it knew when he came home for the final time.

The older children remember their pet rabbit, Fluffy, but my only memory of a childhood pet is an outdoor cat named Muffer. I had to ask my siblings if Muffer was a boy or a girl. Darrell knew Muffer was a boy, and he even knew where he slept. We think Muffer passed on to kitty heaven somewhere around 1970, for we remember the devastation of losing a pet.

Lee remembers Muffer was buried at the back of the property. Burying a pet is something the father of the family has to handle while the kids go off and cry somewhere – like maybe the back garage – until they can pull themselves together again.

I never knew my dad won a free puppy back in December of 1953 at Gruver’s Market. The black-and-white photos and Mom’s handwritten notes provide only a glimpse into the story.

Can you imagine winning a puppy?  Maybe there were not a lot of people entered into the contest, and that’s why Dad was the lucky winner. My brother Ed remembers one of Dad’s friends gladly took the puppy and gave it a good home with plenty of room to run on his farm.

A back yard sees all the sunrises and sunsets and never misses what is happening in the night skies. It knows if a deer decided to walk through the residential area. It has seen coons and possums and heard all the crickets and toads who keep themselves tucked away in the grass. The back yard knows what the birds are saying to each other, and has watched the activities of the purple martins in the birdhouse high in the sky. 

Our neighborhood included the Landmark feed mill where many a farmer waved as he drove his truck through the alley beside our home.  Callendar’s Dairy and Knox Linen were across the street, so plenty of delivery trucks drove by. The back yard also knows a basket factory was once the business across the street before it became Edgerton Metals factory.   

I found an article about a very large fire at the factory in one of Joe Hinkle’s fire department scrapbooks. If you want to know anything ‘fire department’ – just ask Joe who has an incredible collection of memorabilia along with a memory to go with it.

The article tells me the fire happened on Saturday night, June 15, of 1968. I would have been 5 years old. My siblings and I simply remembered we had to evacuate – in our pajamas – to our Grandma and Grandpa Imm’s home. My sister Jayne was old enough to drive and remembers driving Mom and the kids there. Dad must have sent us on our way and driven himself in a second vehicle.

I remember all of us standing at the top of the hill at their house. The huge yellow flames from the fire were above the trees and, although I felt safe, it was naturally a frightening event. It makes me wonder where the other neighbors went that night. I remember Dad driving us back home when the fire was out. He had to roll his car window down and talk to a police officer before we were allowed to drive through the alley and go into our home.

Joe told me the firemen had just returned from a weekend at Firemen’s Convention, and they were a very tired crew when they were called at 11:30 p.m. to this huge fire. According to the article, Fire Chief Harold Bunting reported the fire was brought under control at 2:30 a.m. All twenty members of the Edgerton Fire Department were battling the fire, and they called in the help of the Bryan, Hicksville, and Butler Fire Departments. The Edgerton Ladies Auxiliary provided coffee and food for the firemen. 

When you do the math and figure out how old the men of the department were at the time of this fire, many of them certainly had youth, and the endurance that comes with it, on their side. Thankfully there are still those who dedicate many years to volunteering and training in basically what is fundamental to the community’s safety.

Edgerton did not have an emergency room, but if Dr. Boerger’s office was open, or not open, he was the ER doc. I remember a summer day when my brother Steven was a toddler playing with toys on the living room floor. We did not know there were a few marbles in a toy drinking cup, and I remember seeing him tip the cup as if he were taking a drink from it. Four marbles went into his mouth. All I had to do was pick him up and turn him over, and three marbles easily came out, but it was apparent one was lodged in his throat.

I remember yelling for my mom, and she ran like a mother would run when she hears that kind of scream. The marble would not come out for her either, and she ran with him out the back door.

Freddie Buchs, who was visiting our neighbor Jeff Green, took Mom and Steven to Dr. Boerger’s office. I remember seeing them running to his car and Freddie driving away quickly. My memory of his car was that it was large, as cars were back then, and light in color – maybe a two-tone green or grey. The important thing was he was there for us.

Of course there were no cell phones or beepers to summon my father. My mother knew he was working at the Hilberts’ home, so a call was made to tell him to go to Dr. Boerger’s office. It was said the retrieval of the marble didn’t happen easily, but it did happen. Dad took some time off that afternoon to stay home and rock Steven and let all of us recover a bit.

Thankfully Mr. Buchs and Dr. Boerger were at the right place at the right time that day, and the back yard was probably delighted to know there was a good outcome – as it watched Steven grow up and many neighborhood friends hang out with him on the basketball court.  

My mother documented in her diary that Ed was home for a weekend in August of 1969, and that explains why cousins from both sides of the family were found in family photos in our back yard that day.  

I was recently speaking with a friend about how the world has changed and how the strange happenings leave us with thoughts we’ve never thought before and feelings we’ve never felt before.

My friend said he knows of four words to remember – “Stay in the Word.” That was just what I needed to hear and continue to remind myself. 

It seems when we talk about how we planned for our life to play out and how it actually turns out, we often conclude life is full of mostly unplanned moments. We just do the next thing we need to do. It eventually becomes apparent there is no such thing as a perfect job, or a perfect family, or a perfect life.

What we do have is a perfect God who has not surrendered His authority; He created the heavens and the earth, and He will lead us through the many trials, plot twists, and unplanned moments with His unfailing love and incomparable wisdom.

This photo of Jeanette and Muffer was probably taken in 1967.
May be a black-and-white image of 4 people, child, people standing and grass
Jayne, Carolyn, Elaine, Marcia, and Ed with their pet rabbit Fluffy
in the back yard in the late 1950s.
Dad beside the brick grill he built. Photo taken in the early 1970s.

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