112. Red and the Puppet Shows

112.  RED AND THE PUPPET SHOWS

When I was eight years old, my aunt Viva helped me make a puppet.  To be honest, when Red was done, I’d have to say I helped Viva and Mom make a puppet.  Viva was the artist in the family, and was constructing a marionette show with the intention of doing shows professionally.  Red was a marionette with the same head and parts as one of Viva’s puppets.

Viva sculpted the head of soft clay, and helped me make a Plastic Wood replica.  She painted his face, and we glued on red doll hair.  I cut out wood body parts and shoes, and we connected them with leather joints.  Viva carved realistic-looking hands of wood.  Strings were fastened to Red with screw-eyes, then up to the control bars.  Mom sewed the small slacks and shirt, and Red was born.  Red stood about eighteen inches tall and could walk realistically, and skate to the Skater’s Waltz.

We made a clown, and Viva made a Bugs Bunny for me.  Alan, my neighbor friend who was in high school, liked the idea and made an Elmer Fudd to go with Bugs, and a fabulous tramp, and a character who was Master of Ceremonies.  Viva had made furniture to scale for her professional show, so we had a sofa, chair, and a grand piano.

We created a simple, ingenious stage.  Two big dowels in Christmas tree stands held the front curtains.  Two card tables on their sides with a cloth draped over were the back of the stage.  Two floodlights up front and a bulb with a color wheel gave us theater lighting, and we were in show business!

Alan and I created variety shows with skits, jokes, singing, and Red doing the Skater’s Waltz wearing aluminum foil skates.  Mom played the music on the piano at home which we recorded and played during the show.  My sister Jan sang with a young lady marionette from Viva’s cast.  Red was the star of the show.

We did shows at elementary schools, a few churches, and the local farmer’s Grange Hall.  I think we sometimes charged ten dollars, but one church took up a collection of fifty dollars from the audience.  We were delighted!  The show business ended when Alan graduated and left for college.

Viva took me to a national puppeteer’s convention in Chicago.  I was amazed at the variety of puppets by the professionals.  There were many Punch and Judy style hand puppets, and puppets on rods, and shadow puppets, but very few marionettes.  Viva arranged for me to do a little pantomime skit from our show with the clown and a jack-in-the-box.  The clown tried to walk up a plank to the top of the box, but the top kept rising up a little and tipping him off.  Finally, the top pops up with the jack-in-the-box clown head, and our clown marionette fell down in surprise!  It was cute, and always got a laugh.

PUPPET ON A STRING

When he was done, it could be said,
“There’s no one who is quite like Red.”
His name was from his flame-red hair.
He faced the world without a care.

It didn’t matter where we’d go.
When Red went on he stole the show.
He could play piano, dance and sing.
He could tell a joke, and act, and swing.

But, he was a puppet on a string.

Red could do a lot of things,
At the whim of him who pulled the strings.
His painted smile was fixed in place.
No emotion ever stirred his face.

His wooden mouth didn’t have a voice.
His empty head could make no choice.
Live your life! Do your thing!
Use the talents you can bring!

Don’t be a puppet on a string.

Once I Was A Kid

Once I Was A Kid – With the Wild Things On the Farm

Big news!  My memoir book, Once I Was A Kid, With the Wild Things On the Farm, has been launched into the world of ebooks!

The cover of the book is a portrait of me, age eight, drawn by professional artist Ashley Otis, from a photograph taken in 1943.

Ashley added the crow on my shoulder, and the raccoon, to show two of my favorite pets of that time, Barney the crow, and Bandit the ‘coon.

Crystal Bowman, best-selling Christian children’s author, wrote the following about the book:

Robert Z. Hicks shares stories from his childhood adventures growing up on a farm in Michigan during the ’40’s.  Whether or not you lived in that era, and whether or not you lived on a farm, you will love the warm and humorous stories from Bob’s memories.  Bob’s encounters with cows, bees, birds, raccoons, skunks, and many more of God’s creatures will entertain both children and adults. His sometimes hilarious encounters with God’s creatures will stir your imagination.

 In between the stories, Bob treats us with his gift for rhyme with humorous, poignant, and delightful poems written as he relished the memories from his childhood.  Step back in time and imagine when life was sweet and innocent, and sometimes spiced with a bit of mischief here and there.”      

Bob writes: “Enjoy with me some fun things I did, and happy days I had, as a child growing up on my grandfather’s farm.  

Imagine too, the lessons I learned from Mom and my experiences, that imagination and empathy are key skills for good relationships and communication, and that God’s creatures are born to be free.

Come reminisce, and imagine along with me.”

Once I Was A Kid has been launched at an introductory price of $0.99 for a limited time.  It will be available wherever ebooks can be purchased.  You don’t need to buy an ebook reader.

If you have an account with Barnes & Noble or Amazon – go to their website and type in the search bar – Once I Was A Kid Robert Z Hicks – to bring up the book.
OR  use the link below to all the ebook digital stores where “Once I Was A Kid” is available:(Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Scribd, etc.)
https://www.books2read.com/RobertZHicks

This is my first ebook, so any feedback you give, and any review you would write, would be much appreciated.

 

111. School Bells and Cow Bells

111.  School Bells and Cow Bells

Summer ended, and I had to go to school.  I attended Hall School, a one-room country school down a side road about a mile from home.  At age seven, I was in second grade.  There were about fifteen students in a small building set by itself on an acre, with two paths out the back to the outhouses.  Our teacher, Miss Tanner, cooked noodle soup on a kerosene stove to augment the sandwich we brought from home.

We carried water in a bucket from a hand pump in the front yard for drinking and for washing dishes at the small sink.  In the winter, Miss Tanner built a fire in a small pot-bellied stove to keep the room warm.  We started each day with the pledge of allegiance to the flag.

A special memory was my developing a love of reading.  Miss Tanner had arranged with Bantam Books to get pocket paperbacks for twenty-five cents, and had an incentive for us to read as many as possible.  For each book report we turned in, we got a star on our chart, and after so many stars we got to choose a pencil or soap eraser.  I collected soap erasers to stack up.  I remember reading Frank Buck’s Bring Em Back Alive about capturing animals for zoos.

I usually walked to school, but one day I rode Smokey to school.  Smokey was the big attraction of the day!  All the kids wanted to ride the pony, pet the pony, or feed the pony!  During class they were looking out the window to see what Smokey was doing.  Recess was chaos!  The teacher and I agreed that Smokey was too much of a distraction for me to ride to school.  From then on, I walked to school.

As I walked home from school toward the highway one day, it occurred to me it would be shorter to cut across the pasture, instead of walking all the way to the corner.  So I climbed the fence and started across.  About half way, I realized I was not alone in the field.  There was a herd of cows off in one corner.  Afraid, I started running.

COWS IN THE PASTURE

The cows in the pasture, what do they do?
They graze, and gaze, and sometimes they moo.
The cows in the pasture, what do they see?
A little boy running; the little boy was me!

The little boy is running, what should we do?
To see why he’s running, we’d better run too.
The cows in the pasture, running to see,
Why I was running; they were running toward me!

Little boy running, what do I see?
A whole herd of cows, running toward me!
All of us running, was their intent to pursue?
I ran on scared, as any boy would do.

I ran to the fence, and climbed over fast.
I jumped off the fence, to a safe place at last.
The cows ran to the fence, then what did they do?
They stopped, and looked, and one cow said, “Moo.”

I didn’t stop running, I ran home to say,
“Hey folks, guess what, cows chased me today!”
My aunt was amused, “Cows wouldn’t chase you.”
To see who was running, they came running too.”

Little boy walking, what did I do?
I walked home the long way, wouldn’t you too?
The cows in the pasture, what did they do?
They grazed, they gazed, and sometimes they moo.

110. Summertime Solo Play

110.  Summertime Solo Play

Growing up in the country on Grandpa’s farm, especially when we didn’t do much farming, I had time to play; mostly by myself.  My grandparents had passed on, we had some chickens, but there were no cows to care for, and no TV.  Once in a while, we did put in a crop, or bring in hay from the fields, but Daddy worked in town and we had sharecroppers work the property.  Neighbor kids were not close by, and those my age were doing chores and helping with the farm work, and not available for play.

One activity I could do by myself was archery.  Mom had a wooden bow that was the perfect size for me.  I rolled the big round straw target out of the garage, and first set it up in front of the garage door.  But if I missed the target and hit the door, the arrow cracked.  Not good!  Archery was fun, but with the target in the driveway, I had to go retrieve the arrows both in, and way beyond the target.

I “borrowed” my sister’s tennis racquet and bounced a ball against the side of the house.  That was fun until I broke the side window in my bedroom.  Not good!  One of my favorite activities was shooting.  I set tin cans on the fence posts at the back of the yard by the garden, and plinked them off with my bee bee gun.  But then, I had to go and put the cans back up again to continue. Before I was smart enough to shoot tin cans on the fence posts, I used old light bulbs.  Not good!  Mom made me pick up all the broken glass.

I wanted to find something to do that didn’t have extra “work” or problems.  Finally, throwing the tennis ball up on the roof above the kitchen seemed perfect because it rolled back down to me.  It worked great until I threw the ball too hard and it went over the top of the house and was lost forever somewhere in the rock garden.  Oh well, it was all fun while it lasted!

SOLO BALL GAME

I tossed the ball high in the air,
Expecting I would catch it.
But I almost always missed it,
And I’d have to go and fetch it.
I hit the ball against the house,
It bounced back really good.
But then I broke a window,
So I didn’t think I should.

I threw the ball up on the roof.
It rolled back down to me.
At last I’d found a ball game,
With no problem I could see!

I threw the ball up on the roof.
It rolled clear over the top.
That was the end of the ball game.
‘Cuz then I had to stop.

It wasn’t that I’d done a wrong.
No, it wasn’t that at all.
When I went around the house,
I couldn’t find the ball!

 

109. Bunnies in the Garden

109.  Bunnies in the Garden

Each spring, our neighbor on the farm south of us drove his tractor up to plow a patch for us to plant a garden.  It would be about 100 feet long beyond the back yard from the chicken coop to the field by the old orchard.  I always enjoyed working with Mom and Daddy in the garden because I felt like I was really contributing to the project.

First, we had to rake the dirt to flatten the humps left by the plow.  Then we staked out rows with strings.  I would punch holes in the ground under the strings with a stick, then rake the dirt over the holes after Mom put the seeds in.

It was fascinating to watch the green leaves pop up out of the ground, almost overnight, and that those tiny seeds would soon be bright red radishes or lettuce.  I would hoe the dirt between rows to keep the ground from getting hard.  We had lettuce, carrots, green onions, tomatoes, string beans, and flowers.  Mom loved the flowers.

We planted rows of corn at the south end of the garden.  At the other end by the chicken coop, Daddy always made a mound of dirt and compost to plant a vine crop of cucumbers, watermelons, or pumpkins. Daddy loved the cucumbers, and I would take a big one and make a cucumber boat to float in the lily pool.

It was a challenge to have an open garden plot where wild animals could come.  Occasionally, deer would eat the corn before it was big enough to pick.  The rabbits were the biggest problem.  There was no way to keep them out, and they would nibble on the lettuce and carrot tops.  One summer, I found a picture of a rabbit trap in an old Boy Scout manual, and made a trap out of an apple basket in an attempt to catch them.

BUNNIES IN THE GARDEN

There are bunnies in the garden.
Oh my, what shall we do?
They’ve nibbled on the lettuce,
And on the carrots too.

I’ll get my trusty popgun,
And shoot them all on sight!
But they come way past my bedtime,
In the middle of the night.

The bunnies in the garden,
Are so cuddly and so cute.
With twitchy nose and wiggly ears,
I guess I couldn’t shoot.

I think I’ve got a better plan,
That will surely save the day.
I’ll trap the little bunnies,
And take them far away.

I propped a basket up,
With a carrot set for bait.
I put my trap in the garden,
Then I went to bed to wait.

I dashed out to the garden,
In the morning’s early light.
The trap was sprung, the carrot gone,
But no bunny was in sight.

I set the trap again, and again,
The results were still the same.
All summer long, they ate my bait,
And we played our little game.

The garden was a big success!
That summer was the best.
The bunnies ate their carrots,
And we enjoyed the rest.

Did the bunnies understand the game?
I guess I’ll never know.
But I’m glad I didn’t catch them.
I love tracks across the snow.

108. Smokey

108.  Smokey

When I got home from school one day, Daddy was there, home early from work.  “Let’s go to the barn,” he said, with that twinkle in his eye when he had something special.  Mom and Daddy and I walked to the barn where I was directed to a box stall.  I opened the top door and looked inside.  “A pony! For me?  My very own pony?”  “He’s a Shetland pony,” Mom said. “His name is Smokey, from the gray streaks on his sides.”

Daddy put a small pony saddle on Smokey, and Mom showed me how to thread the cinch strap and tighten it.  I was boosted up, and I was riding! I was thrilled, and scared, but they walked Smokey around the barn entry until I got more comfortable.  Mom told me that I’d be responsible for feeding Smokey, and, to fork the manure out of the stall and put in fresh straw.  I was too excited to take in that part, but it worked out okay.

Eventually, I would saddle up Smokey myself and ride around the farm.  When I mounted up, I was a cowboy!  I was Roy Rogers, Wyatt Earp, and Gene Autry, all rolled into one!  I was a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman!  I was the Sheriff and the fastest draw in the West!  What wonderful times Smokey and I had together!

One day when I was feeling adventurous, I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a paper bag, saddled up Smokey and rode across the highway all the way down the lane to the back of the farm.  What an adventurous outing!  I tied Smoky to a small tree, and sat on the grass to eat my lunch, then started riding back to the barn.  When Smokey saw the barn, he took the bit in his mouth and took off running!

My pulling on the reins and shouting had no effect on his rush to get home and get something to eat.  Thank God there were no cars on Michigan Highway 66 as we crossed.  Smokey scraped against the barn door, tearing my blue jeans as he rushed to get to the oat bin.

After my scary ride, I started using the two-wheeled pony cart which I really liked.  I felt safe driving Mom up the lane to the house and back, and with Mom riding “shotgun,” I would have help if Smoky started acting up.

THE COWBOY KID

I’m the Cowboy Kid from way out West,
With fancy boots and buckskin vest.
My six-gun strapped on my waist for show,
Up on my horse and away we go!

Been out punching cows all day long,
“My hands are sore,” the cowpoke’s song.
I’ve been riding the range, rounding up cattle,
I’ve got so many blisters, I’m tall in the saddle.

The big blue sky all day overhead,
The stars at night, and the ground for my bed,
The howl of a coyote in the still of the night,
As he serenades his love in the pale moonlight.

I love my life on the lone prairie,
As free and happy as a man can be.
My horse, the herd, and me on the range,
With a peaceful life that I hope won’t change.

 

107. The Big Red Barn

107.  The Big Red Barn

At first, the big barn past the granary was a huge mysterious empty red building to a boy of seven, but it eventually became a dreamer’s playground and a giant five-story-high castle where adventure waited just beyond the door of imagination.  Mom said the barn was the biggest in the county when Grandpa built it around 1903.

The barn was a three-part structure: the big hay barn, the animal barn, and the sheep shed on the north end.  The sheep shed looked like an add-on because it was accessible only through one open end in the barnyard and a small door cut through the wall at the bottom of the hayloft.

In the big hay barn, great hand-hewn beams framed the haylofts.  The floor of the barn could accommodate a tractor and wagonload of hay, which would be lifted by a rope with large hooks from a trolley on a track high in the top of the barn.  With hardly any imagination at all, that rope also became a jungle vine for “Tarzan” to swing across the beams and drop into the hay.

In the animal barn, a small open doorway led into the cattle section where Grandpa had four stalls for the big workhorses.  I could sense the ghosts of cows standing placidly with their necks trapped in the wooden stanchions as I walked along the long rows where the milk cows would have waited for Grandpa to come with his one-legged stool and milk pail.

In the south end of the animal part of the barn there were two box stalls where riding horses had been kept.   Huge sliding doors on the east and west walls opened so wagon loads of hay and straw could be brought in to pitch to the lofts above.  We got an old truck so Daddy, my sister Jan, and I could hand gather fresh cut hay, and then use pitchforks to toss it up into the loft.  I was too small to toss up the hay, but I could help move it back from the edge of the loft.

 

THE BIG RED BARN

The big red barn was the biggest of all;
It was a wonder-filled castle five stories tall.
There were hidden doors; it was a mysterious place.
A boy could disappear without a trace.

There were three sections for animals, and one just for hay.
There were endless opportunities for a boy to play.
The big red barn was the place for me.
It was a place to set my imagination free.

Did Grandpa have sheep? There was a “sheep shed”.
And plenty of stalls where horses were fed.
There were many stanchions all in a row,
How did the cows know which place to go?

The big barn was painted red I’m told;
The paint was cheap and prevented mold.
The sheep shed was an unpainted grey;
It must have been built a different day.

I swung on the hay rope from side to side;
I hung from the trolly, and went for a ride.
I liked to jump and bounce in the hay.
The barn was a wonderful place to play!

106. The Night Visitor

106.  The Night Visitor by the Window

Mom had just turned out the kitchen light as we were preparing to go to bed, when we heard the owl.  He sounded loud, like he was just outside the dining room window.  I leaned over the sink in the darkened kitchen to look sideways through the window, and there was a little owl perched on top of the birdhouse attached to the porch pillar.  We could see him clearly by the light from the dining room window only a few feet from where he was.  He ruffled his feathers, and hooted.  “It’s a screech owl,” Mom whispered.  We watched him for a while, and then when I tried to get a closer look by peeking through the drapes on the dining room window, he flew away into the night darkness.

 

THE LITTLE SCREECH OWL

The little screech owl flew high in the tree.
He wanted to see how far he could see.
He looked to the left. He looked to the right.
He looked all around, all through the night.

He saw a great horned owl standing tall.
He puffed and stretched, but still felt small.
The great horned owl looked very wise.
The little owl tried, but it strained his eyes.

There were lots of things that screech owls knew;
The little screech owl knew what to do.
He knew he was smart and fast and cute,
He’d just be himself, and not give a hoot!

 

105. Feathered Friends

105.  Feathered Friends

The granary was about 200 feet north of the shop, and was a small white rectangular building with blue trim.  Inside were wooden bins suitable for wheat, oats, and mice.  In the facing above the heavy sliding door, there were rows of “decorative” pigeonholes forming a pyramid, with boxes behind the siding built to accommodate nests.  Why Grandpa wanted birds there, I do not know.  But one of my boyhood memories is waking in the early hours of the morning, all cozy in bed, and hearing the cooing and calling of the mourning doves at the granary.

 

THE MOURNING DOVE

Good morning, mourning dove
I hear you cooing up above.
Are you calling to your love?
“Wake up, it’s morning, mourning dove.”

I hear you coo at break of day,
And, when the daylight fades away.
Your happy cooing at first light,
Turns to mourn the coming night.

Just like me you greet the sun,
Then coo to mourn when day is done.
To greet the light from God above
“The light of life,” coos mourning dove.

 

                                               BIRDS

Mom loved birds!  Bird feeders lined the wall of the house outside the kitchen window, and a slab of suet was always nailed to the willow tree where the branch had been cut off, and we could see the birds come.  Every spring, two large apartment-style houses were raised on big posts in the yard for the purple martins.  Each house would accommodate eighteen families of martins.  Wren houses were hung under the porch and in the maple trees.  If there was a “bird grapevine,” the word would be that Mom’s Place, just up the hill and north of the apple orchard, was a great summer place with lots to eat!

Each spring, the yard was alive with the music and activity of birds.  The robins and martins and wrens arrived and started building nests.  We listened for the oriole that built a nest high in the trees.  Red-winged blackbirds flocked to the pond, and later to the mulberry tree.  Redheaded woodpeckers came to work on the suet, and to “knock” on the willow tree for bugs.  A pair of cardinals would “stake out” their territory in the yard.

Mom watched out the kitchen window hoping the bluebird would like her newly painted house perched on a pole near the lily pool.  Sparrows, who were year ‘round residents living in the barn, chattered constantly, as if annoyed by the summer competition.

 

IN THE DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT

The sun is up; it’s time to sing.
The herald birds announce, “It’s spring!”
The break of day begins the dawn,
And all the birds burst into song.

Chirps and whistles pierce the air.
Birds are singing everywhere!
Twitter, tweety, chirp, and peep.
I love the birds, but I’d rather sleep!

104. The Bumblebee and Me

104.  The Bumblebee And Me

On a warm summer day, I was standing inside the open shop door, directly over a knothole in a floor plank.  That I was wearing shorts suddenly became significant when a big bumblebee “floated” in the door and stopped about six inches from my bare leg — hovering.  I froze, as I had been taught to do when confronted by a potentially dangerous wild thing.  As I watched the bee, Mom appeared at the door, took in the scene, and yelled, “Bobby! Jump!  Get out of there!  You’re in his way!”

I jumped!  I think I may have broken the record for standing broad jump from a motionless position, because I landed way outside the shop door, where Mom grabbed my hand, and we ran as fast as we could for the house.  To our relief, the bee stayed behind.

When we caught our breath, Mom explained that bumblebees couldn’t see very well, so they fly in familiar routes they have established, and I was blocking his way into the knothole, which Daddy thought was the entrance to the bee’s nest.  The danger was that if the bee became confused, or decided I was a threat to the nest, he might attack.  Bumblebees, unlike honeybees, can sting many times, so it is best to “leave the bumblebee be.”

BUMBLEBEE DREAM

The bumblebee is not that bright,
His wings are much too small for flight.
Because he doesn’t know he can’t,
He flies all day from flower to plant.

Dare to dream what you’d like to do.
You can make your dreams come true.
Just like the bee; go ahead, believe.
Believe your dream, and you’ll achieve.