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My grandfather had a station wagon and an army jeep for hunting. While Dad taught us to play tennis and other games he enjoyed on the base, Daddy Ray taught us how to survive. As I mentioned, the army bases were sometimes color-blind as to our attending activities and eating good meals. But out in the civilian world, particularly in public school, we had to deal with civil rights, racial prejudice, and the accompanying self-hatred. Daddy Ray wanted us to be prepared. Best of all was my grandparents' farm up in Wyoming, where my grandfather and my grandma specialized in growing sugar beets and raising goats. My favorite place in the world. We went there on weekends. The farmhouse had a big old barn where Daniel, one of my American Indian uncles, lived. Uncle Daniel had a long white braid, and he mainly survived on canned peaches from the farm. He lived to be 107.

The farmhouse had no indoor plumbing, so we used an outhouse that was stocked with corn cobs and a coffee can full of vinegar to disinfect and disguise the smell. Our grandparents had used corn cobs for toilet paper back in the day, but by the time we got there, we had toilet paper, so the corn cobs were just a reminder of days gone by. Since there was no electricity, and it was pitch-dark at night, Daddy Ray set up ropes that we could hold on to that led from the house to the outhouse. We used a kerosene lantern to see our way, and when the wind blew up in swirling gales, if we didn't grasp the rope tightly, we could get blown away.

The farmhouse kitchen was one big room with a slab of slate with a hole in it for the sink. The actual sink was underneath in the form of an enamel basin sitting on a small table. At the end of the table was the pump primer that we would pump a few times to get water flowing from the spigot into the sink. We heated water there for our baths. The farmhouse eventually became the cabin where the men stayed during hunting season. A small slice of heaven on earth, this wonderful farm was precious and charming, and I felt safer and healthier there than anywhere else, even as we dealt with the harsh and sometimes cruel elements of the wild, such as high winds and extreme temperatures from hotter than hot to freezing cold. In fact, the wind-chill factor was so extreme that when it reached up into the higher registers, the force of the gales could actually crack metal.

FROM: The Bravest Families in America
Published on February 03, 2011

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