A WELL-MADE DECISION

March 17, 1980.

What was going on tonight? Nothing in particular, as far as I knew. Wait a minute, though. It was St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe there will be a little frivolity going on at the Pittstown Inn.

Better yet, why not phone that sweet young damsel, Judy Thomas, whose path I’d crossed a time or two recently. How would this be for an inspired interlude, I asked of her when she answered. The Pitt is advertising Green Beer Night!

Judy didn’t have any problem with green beer. In fact, her enthusiasms for a host of subjects rendered a superlative visit that night at the bar. Turns out, I married her a year or two later.

Consider deliberately, my friends, the decisions that you make. Today’s just might be your best ever.

WHO’S LISTENING TO YOU ?

Surely there is an explanation for this. It escapes me, but I’m right here in the room. So must be the explanation. Hell, it’s in my lap.

I know! It’s some sort of sophisticated algorithm . As far as I know, there’s not a listening device in my IPad, but that’s what I’m using to type these very words that you’re reading.

I’ve been talking with people here in the room, talking with them about what I’m writing about. How does it do that, though? I’m writing a sentence and my device fills in my next intended word.

Hey, good guess IPad. I love your artificial intelligence. Just don’t get to thinking that you’re some sort of know it all!

You see! This thing has me talking to myself. No, talking to you. No, talking to my IPad. Am I losing you ? No, am I losing it ? What is “it”? Oh no . I’ve lost it !

HAPPENSTANCE… The Larsens

It is a remarkable adjunct to writing a book. People who you don’t know come out of the woodwork, sometimes with notable circumstance.

Not long ago I was contacted by a chap named Arnold Larsen of Wilsonville, Oregon. He had read both of my memoirs books and wanted to convey his appreciation.

Then just a few days ago a lady, Aleyne Craig of Fountain Hills, Arizona wrote a very complimentary letter, again regarding MEMOIRS of a JERSEY FARM BOY.

I never met either of these individuals, but something told me that I knew their names, both of them. It didn’t take much discussion to figure it out.

Aleyne and Arnold are brother and sister. Further, not only did they once live here in NJ, Hunterdon County., Alexandria Township. Their folks used to own the farm contiguous to mine!

The coincidence doesn’t entirely end there. Aleyne and my older brother, Dan (RIP) were chums for years on the school bus.

Can ya make this stuff up? I suppose, but it’s not too likely.

Why, you ask, didn’t I know Arnold and Aleyne? After all, they were the next farm over. Well, it’s simple. They’re about 10 years my senior. When you’re kids, that’s a lifetime.

Wilsonville, Or.

DRIVE YOUR TRACTOR TO SCHOOL DAY

No, they never had this at Alexandria Township School, although I can picture a few classmates who would have loved it. Where, you ask, did I even get the idea ? Where else? A vintage farm tractors page on the internet featuring the Allis Chalmers ‘breed’.

I had a couple of them in my day, so stumbling upon this page compelled my interest for a bit. What a walk down memory lane ! On the very outside chance that I’ve corralled a reader who is remotely familiar, I had a model 185 and a much older WD 45 Allis Chalmers. Without boring you with further specifics, I’ll move on.

Try to picture this at your old grade school. What’s that you say ? At your old school kids didn’t have tractors. Well, they didn’t at mine either. They were Dad’s tractors. Mom’s too. The kids just spent long days in the field with them.

Back up, though. Surely you remember “show & tell” episodes at school, or maybe set-asides of a day to display something you’d found or wanted discuss. But how about DRIVE YOUR TRACTOR TO SCHOOL DAY ? This must have been an idea straight out of the Midwest. In Jersey, the whole notion smacks of lawsuits.

What if Johnny flips his Minneapolis Moline on Rt. 513? No, that wouldn’t be good.

What fun, though. You know how kids banter about cars. Chevys are better than Fords. No, Fords trump Chevys.

In other parts of the country, you’re more likely to hear a kid telling his buddy that his John Deere 4020 can outpull his International 1056.

Where am I going with this? Only to the parking lot at Alexandria Township School. Otherwise, I didn’t mean to get carried away! Have fun, Johnny.

THE “SHUT IN”

Mom spent her final days living in her own little house in Franklin Township (Hunterdon County) . In almost story book fashion, the house was a “stone’s throw” from Capoolong Farm where she grew up. Capoolong, as we always called it, is a story for another day.

We visited Mom frequently. From time to time we’d take her to Clinton for grocery shopping or the like, just to give her a break from the house for a while. She never complained of boredom, but that almost had to be part of her day to day existence. She was a trooper.

An old gentleman lived next door to Mom. He, like Mom, was essentially incapacitated. Ironically, though, Mom always referred to him as “the shut in next door”, but truth be told, they both were in the same boat.

Fast forward Lord knows how many years. The irony continues. I have contended with MS for 40 years now; to the point of being wheelchair bound and essentially incapacitated. Now who is the shut in next door ?

It would follow, I suppose, to wallow in self-pity here. That ain’t gonna happen. I only note this to mention life’s remarkable trials . Back in the old days, after having fitful attempts to load a cow onto his truck, the local cattle dealer, Mr. Kadezabek, would shrug his shoulders and demure,”Whattcha gunna do ?”

I say the same, Mr. K. It is what it is.

ALLOWANCE ??

A recent question on Facebook inquired how much allowance did you receive as a teenager. Apparently the question impelled lots of interest. I finally stopped reading all of the replies.

Silly me. I never realized that it is common for kids to earn their allowance. Heretofore, I had assumed that kids got allowances just because they were kids.

Indeed, some of the respondents received a modicum of cash regularly. Some acknowledged earning it. Some didn’t. I was prompted to recall the occasional discussion on the subject that I would hear as a kid. Those conversations always induced me to question the whole allowance notion from the get-go.

Why prompt kids to discuss this among their piers? Last I checked, there was never a Bretton Woods Allowance Agreement that standardized the practice worldwide. Some kids are destined to get the short end of the allowance stick, plain and simple.

OK, how about me, you ask. How big was my allowance ? Well, as a kid I worked 5 1/2 hours a day, every day, in the dairy barn. 2 1/2 in the morning, 2 at night.

I guess that was my allowance, but I never broached the subject with Dad. Well aware of his childhood poverty, to even ask would have been an indiscretion. I didn’t need it anyway. Where was I going to spend an allowance? In the haymow?

AUCTION SALE

If ever the term “local color” finds a definition it is surely at a farm sale, a farm auction sale, that is. What gives farm auctions the color? About everything.

The farmers start showing up, a motley-looking bunch. Most are still in their “barn clothes”. Overalls, leather work boots, Carhaart jacket and maybe a John Deere cap that hasn’t been washed any time in the near past.

They step out of their pick-ups that have varied states of rust beginning to pucker at the bottom of their beds. Yes, there’s still an outstanding bank note on the beast, but add that one to the three others that were necessary to put the combine in the wheat fields, the discbine in the alfalfa and that spanking clean New Holland tractor that’s attracting a ton of attention this morning in one of the equipment lines.

Of course, some of these farmers chew tobacco, some puff on a cob-ful of Borkum Riff. Another is just happy to talk farmin’ with an old timer who he hasn’t seen for years. Most of such banter focuses on how prices suck for whatever crop they have in the ground. Better days are coming, they assure each other, but none of them are sure when . A wry smile only indicates the tenuous nature of their business.

Maybe it’s only the real estate that’s being sold today or maybe the ground isn’t for sale, rather hundreds of pieces of equipment that will be in new sheds by day’s end. They are all arranged in rows on the ground. The auctioneer will do his chant in front of each piece until his hammer strikes the block. “SOLD”

If you’ve never farmed yourself , but happen to be here today, don’t feel badly if you don’t have half a clue what most of this stuff is. If you have never used it, then you can’t possibly be expected to know what that whirly gig is used for. Just think of it as part of the local color !

There is a cross current at play here today. A farmer, maybe your neighbor, isn’t just liquidating. He’s selling his all. In ways he’s selling his soul. 27 years of knuckle-busting toil are represented by these lines of equipment strewn out on the ground today. It is a profoundly emotional day for him and his family.

I’ll quote the lyrics from a bluegrass tune by the James King Band. A line from THIRTY YEARS of FARMING laments, “Oh my Daddy stopped talkin’ the day the farm was auctioned. There was nothing left to say.”

As a teenager, the auction at our farm was more like a festival. Dad only sold the dairy cattle and the milking equipment . In a seeming blink of the eye, a huge and every day burden was lifted from the whole family. No,I couldn’t stop talking about that. There was plenty left to say!

YOUR FIRST MEMORY ?

Take a spin, my friend, about as far back as your mind will take you. Who cares the number of years ? What is time, anyway, but the brook that flows by the old homestead? It still flows, doesn’t it?

Hopefully the fun part of your little retro-trip here, assuming that you will take it, is pinpointing the first item or phenomenon that your memory can recollect. What was it?

I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. If you’re like me, there might be a few items swirling around up there in the memory bank that might qualify for the first memory prize. Well ! There’s your first dilemma. Nobody said anything back then about keeping track of your own chronology. What was that, but a word you’d never heard ?

What really did come first? Is it a succinct image in your mind or is it vague and nebulous? C’mon. Are you telling me that really happened?

Mine was a distant sound that I would hear when I was outside. What was it? We lived at the end of a long lane. Yes. It was some rumbling from up there. The end of that lane could just as well have been the tip of the world. It was distant. That I knew. All the rest of life was a persistent phantasm, exclusively mine to further imagine.

Therein the question arises. Was your first memory something that actually happened or a grand production of your wonderfully vivid imagination?

Incidentally, Rutgers 70 – Illinois 59

IT’S HELP LESS !

You, my dear reader, by now may have gotten the impression that I am helplessly addicted. Yes, I suppose it’s true.

Has my exact psychosis ever been defined or named? Surely E.A. Poe dealt with this condition, but truly your forgiveness I implore. It is an odd compulsivity, that of a habitual, chronic writer, but it is something that the afflicted must do!

Am I reduced to a writing junkie ?.. Something like the guy who loves to hear himself talk , or the guy who must push the pen whether or not there is anything to write? Is that what I’m doing right now ? Lord, let it not be!

If nothing else, dear reader, do tune in tomorrow when fate will have delivered a basketball score between Rutgers and Illinois. Then there’ll be something to write about.

VALENTINES DAY ROMANCE

Be it duly noted that on this Valentines Day my dear Judy and I luncheoned at one of Morristown, NJ’s most fanciful and quixotic restaurants, THE COMMITTED PIG. How better to heed the occasion than to spend the lunching hour with my dedicated bride and a pork roll sandwich?

After 40 years of wedded bliss, I doubt it gets better than this !