From as far back as I can remember I went with my family to my father´s childhood home, the farm, for 3 weeks every summer. As a kid I was not alone. First there was my brother Peter, 5 years my junior and in my view the total pest. Then there were our nine cousins that we co-schemed with during those weeks.
With such an assembly of girls and guys in the prime of our ability to scheme and create practical jokes on each other and on the unsuspecting parents, we had no boring moments during those weeks! Our grand rule was to leave our two grandparents in peace – they were after all our hosts! Besides, grandfather was not beyond helping us out with mischievous ideas. We made sure none of the parents knew, of course. He was our accomplice.
So who were we, the partners in crime?
They were Eve, Martin and Alec, Angela and John, Mary and Kevin, and Sharon and Glenda, and of course my brother Peter and myself.
Eve and Glenda, Kevin and me were the oldest and roughly the same age. So we had a certain authority over the rest and sometimes had to use that to stop some of the pranks to go too far. It did not mean we did not initiate some ourselves.
Then there were the younger gang consisting of 5 members at roughly the same age; Sharon, John, Martin, Angela and Peter.
Sharon and John were the cautious ones, and Martin and Peter clearly troublemakers. Through the summers we found that Angela was prone to give us away to the adults. We therefore quickly learned never to let her know of any of our plans, but she had a cunning ability to suddenly appear on location.
Then we had Mary and Alec – both were 3-4 years junior of the middle gang and not the types that would initiate mischief, only to admire our activities – at least for the most part…
The main building on the farm was the old two-storey house that was the home of my paternal grandmother and grandfather. About 100 meters down the hill from the house there was also a cabin that had several bedrooms and a small kitchen. It was typically used to house some of us that invaded the farm each summer. Then there was the barn that was the home of five cows, a few pigs and a number of chickens, and that was about it.
Oh, there was a horse – “Brandy” - as well, useful for smaller jobs not requiring the tractor and for fun riding trips for us kids.
The buildings were set on top of a hill with a fantastic panorama over the valley that had centuries of farming tradition, many of the farms being of considerable size. Below the hill, to the west, the farm fields flowed down towards the lake and to the north the forests belonging to the property started and spread out over a large area. The forest was our main playground. It seemed exciting and mysterious to us, it had lots of hiding places, and gave ample material to build little huts and encampments for us kids to play out our fantasies in. During the summer the cows were let out there to grass during the day, adding to the excitement for us kids.
The barn became an important base for a lot of our shady activities. The animals were kept on the ground level, but at one end of the building there was made space for storage of dry hay used to feed the animals during winter. This hay store ran from the ground level and all the way to the roof. The dried hay was dumped from the tractor entrance at the second storey level. For us kids it was an exciting experience to jump out from that entrance and into the deep hay store below. It was one of our favourite activities together with playing hide and seek in this huge space. Not to mention the somewhat creepy experience of encountering the odd mouse in the hay…
To get to the farm from home my parents, Peter and I usually went by train. It was a distance of less than 200 kilometers but in those days it took the larger part of the day. First the train from our home town to the west end of the capital, then we had to traverse that city to its east side to get the train from there to an intermediate destination where we again would go over to another train that brought us to the station a few kilometers below the farm. Grandfather would pick us up with his tractor and we sat in its carriage pulled behind. We would arrive just in time for dinner.
And what dinners they were! We were all benched around the large dinner table that seemed to go on forever in the spacious dining room, in the corners there was not much space to move but that was where many of the kids were placed. Not acceptable to be introvert and sit there without taking part in the conversation. Subject during the first dinner after arrival would naturally be every side updating on the latest news from their end, and often after a while us kids would get into unseen pranks under the table or by showing faces to each other. I was already in on the spooks and could not wait till the next day when we kids could start out on the farm.
Space was limited but the hospitality was not. We were all able to find a bed to sleep in even if there were not much privacy. In addition to us eleven kids there were 5 pairs of parents. Although little space we all felt comfortable, though.
As on any farm there is always work to do and there was no exception here - we were all put to work immediately. We loved it. Out in the field uncle Harold drove the tractor with the grass cutter, leaving the long grass lying neatly cut behind, ready to be hung up on stacks. Our job was to hang the long grass up for drying outside to turn into hay. Typically the drying period could take weeks depending on weather and temperature. When it had dried we helped load the hay on to the barn carriage that was pulled into the barn where it was unloaded and ready for feeding the animals in the winter – and for us kids to get an exciting play area!
And for us boys – we actually considered ourselves “the guys” – we could every summer look forward to the attention of cute and attractive city girls whose parents rented cabins near by. So of course we would show off, but not always with the success that would cause the desired admiration from these ladies. I actually clearly remember one time when I in a show-off attempt jumped from the top of a fully packed hay cart to the grassy ground about 4 meters below. I thought that would be an impressive feat for a little kid like myself. Unfortunately for me I fell and rolled around when I hit the soft, grass covered ground below. The girls that were my primary attention smirked when I stood up, clearly not impressed.
One of the first things we did after arriving was always to walk up to the local store up by the road and look at the selection and have a chat with Hans, the owner. He loved us kids and would sometimes give us a treat. Could that be the reason for our interest in visiting his store? I think we knew the answer to that question… This country store sold not only food and drinks but also hardware equipment, some clothing, and medicines also, typical of the local stores in those days. It was a meeting place for the neighbouring farmers, where discussions would range from the current crop situation through sports to politics. It was definitely the place to get to know the locals.
This was the 50´s and we were thoroughly captivated by the American western movies we saw in the movie theatres. So we built an Indian village in an opening in the forest and acted out Indian & cowboy life as we had picked it up from the movies. Kevin really dressed up and made himself up with war paint and the whole thing. He looked really good and he must have thought so himself. It was just that he took himself so incredibly seriously and could not see the fun or humour in it at all. So we teased him endlessly. I think we were pretty bad at times!
The first day after lunch one of the summers we suddenly saw Martin charging out of the outhouse toilet raving mad. I was with Glenda and Eve and we laughed! Why? 2 hours earlier the three of us had locked Martin in the toilet from the outside. We had seen him go in there to do his business and we saw the opportunity to tease him. He was stuck there for all this time poor little boy. First when his father, uncle Harold, happened to discover him locked in did he get out and that with a vengeance. Uncle Harold never shoved any anger and so it was this time, but his son had a tendency of really getting mad and he certainly did now! So guess who wrecked much of our little Indian camp in the woods in revenge. We were even, but the rest of us enjoyed immensely that we had managed to upset Martin. Victory!
A few kilometers south along the hillside was the farm that belonged to uncle Leonard and aunt Olivia. We visited them every so often. During one such visit we boys – including the tomboy Eve – decided to do a good deed for uncle Leonard – it was going to be a surprise - with the stream that passed by the field at the back of the house. We decided that building a barrier to guide it away from the field would be a good thing to do and so we did. Then we were called in by aunt Olivia for what we considered a lunch well earned.
After the lunch, however, uncle Leonard came in rather mad and told us off. It turned out the barrier we built had caused the water to seep towards the foundation of the house. Angela had seen us and squeeled to her father. It was not the last time she would go behind our back, and we learned to watch out for her.
While at the summer farm up in the hills I often had a swim in the local lake and I always wore swim trunks. One time I was there and decided to go for a swim but had forgotten my swim trunks so I jumped in wearing my underwear briefs. Only a couple of the other boys were there so why worry?
Then suddenly this rather attractive city girl came visiting with uncle and she came up to me on shore while I was in the water. We talked – I hoped she would go away and out of sight so I could get up without embarrassment. But no. She hung around. I finally got her to get me a large towel, I wrapped it around me while still in the water, and then slowly and awkwardly crawled up on land. I noticed clearly she grinned but said nothing while I must have had a red face like I never had before.
Lesson learned: Always have your swim trunks on – a beautiful girl may suddenly come up to you when you are in the water…
The summer was not without drama. I vividly recall an incident one summer that many of us have not forgotten to this very day. The main characters were my brother Peter, Alec, my mother and my aunt Melanie:
Alec was 2 years old at that time and lying in his pram outside. His mother, aunt Melanie, had just given him a little teddybear to play with. My mother was outside also and aunt walked over to her and they chatted.
Peter, who was just 4, was outside and played with his toy car. He raised his head to see aunt give Alec the teddybear. Then when she met up with my mother outside the other end of the house he walked over to Alec lying in the pram, bit Alec in the nose and grabbed the teddy. Screams poured out from Alec in the pram. Aunt and my mother ran over to him. Luckily the nose looked undamaged – the bite must not have been that hard and probably more symbolic of Peter´s jealousy.
The tension in the air could be felt. I was 9 and picked up the situation both mothers were in. Aunt Melanie was a person that never said one word in anger and she did not do that now either. My mother was up in arms and apologized profusely while aunt said that Alec was OK.
The incident marked my mother for the rest of our stay at the farm that summer, and I tease Peter with this every now and then when I get tired of his antics to this day. He was led away from the scene by my mother clearly to be told off.
And such the summers passed, with neverending new experiences that we kids could savour as tales from our childhood. We all still keep in touch and we meet once a year for a weekend of tales and recollections of those days. And not surprisingly – in spite of us all having become adults a long time ago - it does not take long after we meet that each one of us fall into the role we had in these early days. Lots of laughter each time. And this is the end of the story – but not the end of the memories!