Tommy's Tramps

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Tom Supergan
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Location: Tampa Bay Area, Florida

Tommy's Tramps

Post by Tom Supergan » Wed, Jul 04 2007 8:56 pm

[Originally posted on Tue, Oct 25 2005 10:33 pm on another BB.]

Dedicated to my Uncle Ralph Untz for his 90th birthday, Nov. 2005.

Wandering around Outside
Tommy used to love playing in the basement at his house, but he wasn't allowed to play in the basement at his uncle Ralph's. There was the storm windows and doors he kept in the stairway, so he didn't want a three year old playing in that area. Plus his aunt barely had enough room down there to do laundery. So Tommy headed out to the chicken brooders to try to pet the dozens of soft, yellow chicks under the two low, round warmers warmed by ordinary light bulbs. He lay down on the roof of the warmer, peered down the center opening in the roof, and wonder at all the chicks crowding to get to the center, right under the bulbs.

Next he wandered over to the other sheds, but it was hotter over there and lots of tall, prickly weeds always grew there that were too dense to mow down. But it was cooler in the "garage" where the red truck was parked. But he wasn't supposed to ever go in there, either.

Another favorite pasttime was playing in the pine trees in the middle of the driveway circle between the house and barn, by the milkhouse. There was one tree trunk that was angled real low that short people could get up on.

Tommy loved the smell of the feed his uncle mixed together each morning for the pigs, (with the biggest shovel Tommy had ever seen in his life). Tommy also loved the courdoroy pants his uncle wore that made an almost musical sound when his uncle walked, carrying the mixed feed to the pig shed.

Watching the newborn piglets was a joy. Tommy was real patient one time, determined to catch one so he could hold it and pet it. He finally got the chance when the sow laid close to the fence inside the shed down along the center aisle. He could just barely squeeze his arm under the rail, after digging some of the dirt away. He grabbed one piglet, pulled it gently under the rail and held it. For some reason, even though he was being very gentle with it, it kept squealing with an ear piercing wail that was deafening. It's skin was very soft, like a baby's. But the hoofs kept jabbing at his own tender, soft forearms, digging into the muscles.

With all this commotion, Tommy was afraid his uncle would hear it, because he had told him not to go in there without him, and to never disturb the sow because she was very big and protective of her young. But Tommy figured, since she had so many piglets, she couldn't possibly miss just one. Then Tommy thought he was caught. He at first thought his uncle had swung the shed door open mightily, causing the railing to sway as the door opened. But it wasn't the door causing the whole shed to sway, it was the sow leaning up against the rail trying to get through to the squealing piglet in Tommy's arms. Then he saw the sow digging in the dirt where he had dug to get his arm under. Tommy got scared. The sow was digging out the dirt much more effectively than he had, and he could see her teeth in her massive jaws. He hadn't known pigs had teeth before this, so the sight terrified him. Tommy added his own screams and cries at this point, which brought his uncle running to see what all the commotion was about. Uncle Ralph grabbed the piglet from Tommy and tossed it on the far side of the sow. Tommy thought his uncle had really riled the sow, because it was killing angry already at him, and he was being gentle. But his uncle explained that he wanted to get the sow away from the rails because she was breaking them down. He explained that she didn't want to kill us, she just wanted to get her piglet back, and that he didn't hurt it because they are tough, not as delicate as the chicks are.

[Years later, when Tommy was an adult, he had a flashback of sorts of that incident when he was in an earthquake in California. The walls of the building he was in started swaying. The scene had several similarities of the sow incident--walls taller than him, thinking they were strong and immovable, suddenly flexing and creaking as though they may cave in at any moment, crushing him in the narrow aisle.]

Tommy Drives a Truck by Himself
Another day Tommy decided to play in the red farm truck that his uncle would let him steer from his lap occasionally. We would go out to a place too far for him to walk, way out back where Tommy's dad and his uncle would have target practise with real guns. This gave Tommy the idea that he could drive, since he could hold the steering wheel, put his hand on the shift lever, and stand on the seat so he could see where he was going. He found the truck parked next to the shed one afternoon, facing the house. He got in, and played with the gearshift and steering wheel for a while. He wanted to make it go, but didn't know how to start it. He knew he had to step on the peddles to make it go, so tried doing that. One peddle was soft and went straight to the floor, having no effect. Another peddle was stiffer, and stopped halfway down, again, having no effect. The third and final pedal was very stiff, and wouldn't go down, even standing on it with both feet, hanging on to the steering wheel for support. Then he reached up to the top of the steering wheel so he could push himself down with his arms while standing on the pedal. It worked! He got the pedal to go down, and the truck started moving forward. He was elated! He figured out all by himself how to start and drive the truck. He now felt grown up. He only went about a foot, but when he got up off the pedal onto the seat to see where he was going, the truck skidded to a stop. Hmm, the break pedal is working in reverse, push it down to go, let it up to stop. Curious...the key must be in upside down or something, but Tommy didn't think this truck had a key. He thought it only had a button to start it, and it only worked for his uncle.

Anyway, he was determined to drive down to the house to show his aunt that he was grown now and could drive. So he got back down on the clutch and pushed up on the steering wheel to force the peddle down once again. Sure enough, it started again, but whenever he got back up on the seat to see where he was going, it skidded to a stop. Hmmm, how did his uncle do this? Then he noticed he could see the garage going by through the side window while he was moving. he could judge his speed and direction by looking out the side window. This must be why people looked out the sides when backing up. It worked. He had to switch from watching the garage go by to the pine trees in the center circle of the driveway through the other window. He didn't want to hit the trees, so made sure to stay centered in the lane as best he could. Then the truck stopped! It must have run out of gas, because he tried releasing and pushing down the peddle a few more times to no avail. He got out to see if he got in a rut, or got stopped by a rock, but the truck was square in the middle of the lane with no obstructions. Oh well, his uncle would just have to put more gas in it next time.

Tommy went in to to boast to his aunt that he drove the truck, and she just brushed him off and said "I know. Your uncle let's you drive whenever he has time to take you with him." Tommy figured she must have been watching him the whole time, so it came as no surprise to her. Later, when his uncle came home, he asked why the truck was left in the middle of the driveway. His aunt said she thought that he had left it there, perhaps trimming the trees. Tommy tried to tell them that he had driven it there. Even after he showed his uncle exactly how he did it, he couldn't quite believe Tommy's story. In the back of Uncle Ralph's mind he was petrified of what would have happened had he somehow gotten past the house and on down the big hill towards the highway. Anyway, he kept the truck doors locked and windows rolled up after that, just in case. And Tommy wasn't able to get in to drive anymore.

Hide and Seek
Another one of Tommy's great adventures was playing hide and seek with his aunt. No matter where he hid, she could always find him, especially since his favorite spot was up the tree in the driveway circle. So he hunted about to find a better spot. He found one in the silo, but she found him in there in an earlier game. So he decided to stand flat up against the wall and not move, or make a sound next time so she wouldn't find him. He had always giggled or hooted before to give her hints where he was, but he was determined to remain silent this time. It worked. She poked her head in the window of the silo, but he didn't move or make a sound. Even though she let her eyes adjust to the darkness a few seconds, she didn't spot him.

After searching the trees, barn, milkhouse, barn, silo, sheds, and everywhere else she'd found him before, she started calling out that the game was over and for him to come out. He thought it was a trick, so he kept hidden. It was so warm in the silo, with the pungent smell of silage that he loved. He got tired of standing flat against the wall, so decided to sit down and bury his legs with silage so he still couldn't be spotted. Being so warm and comfortable, he fell asleep. Sometime later, he woke up. It must have been very late in the day, because the air was cooler and it seemed to be dimmer than high noon when they started the game. So he groggily walked back up to the house to get a drink of water. When his aunt saw him, she cried out "Oh my heavens! Are you all right?!" Then she hurried to him and ran her hands all over him, searching for any injuries. He said he was OK, just that he had fallen asleep while hiding. She asked where, but he wouldn't tell her, because it was his best spot yet. She insisted that he reveal his secret hiding place, because she had to call the police he was gone so long. So, he reluctantly told her. Again, she didn't believe him because she looked in there several times. He said he hid himself really well, and didn't move, and that he saw her looking through the window and heard her calling to him to come out. So he had to show her the exact spot he stood, and later half buried himself. Convinced, she decided he had succumbed to some sort of gas that the silage emits, and that was what put him to sleep. She said for him to expect a big headache the next day from breathing so much of it for so long, but that never came to pass. He was just so comfortable that he fell asleep for his nap.

Old Neighbor Man
Tommy would watch when his uncle's neighbor would come walking from his house across the highway down to the milkhouse for a can of fresh milk. Funny thing with this man is that Tommy rarely saw him walking. He always seemed to just be standing in the middle of the driveway, leaning on his cane. Whenever Tommy looked again, the old man seemed to be further along, but still not walking. Tommy thought he must have had some sort of secret, personal escalator he was using to move about. His uncle would spend several minutes with him in the milkhouse, which Tommy found very boring. His uncle would just be sitting there, using a ladle to stir the milk in the milk can which floated in a cool trough of water. Once in a while one of them would say something terse, then what seemed like ages later, the other would respond, equally terse. Pretty much the opposite of women, who rarely have a moment of silence for hours on end. Tommy preferred listening in to get all the gossip. These men, on the other hand, were silent most of the time, not accomplishing a thing, and occasionally saying something totally uninteresting. Tommy tried to liven it up by showing them you can hear your echo in there, but his uncle explained to him that his friend didn't like noises, and that it was best if he go so as not to disturb him further. Tommy thought, "Boy, if that old man would have heard that piglet squealing, that would have probably killed him!"

Tommy's uncle had three girls of his own, but no boys. Uncle Ralph had pondered all the things that Tommy had done in one short visit. Tommy overheard him telling his aunt that he didn't realize until now how much easier it is to raise girls instead of boys.

[Copyright © 2005 Tom Supergan. All rights reserved.]

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