I am unwilling to relinquish the pastoral pleasures to, on the one hand, the Teddy Boy survivalist mentality or, on the other, to the cosmic John Denver types, both groups containing members who apparently love to smoke weed from corncob pipes, yet simultaneously seeming to cultivate a mutual contempt for one another in between Presidential elections. Personally, I'm doing my best to sit this whole Lesser of Two Evils thing out. Matter of fact, I haven't actually been excited about a Leader of Our Country Election since 1976 and that one blot on an otherwise pristine non-voting record only occurred because that was my first opportunity to legally vote. Back then the choice was between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. The former smiled a great deal and made much of his nonexistent rural roots and during the course of a Playboy interview admitted that he had on occasion lusted in his heart after women to whom he was not married. Meanwhile, Gerald Ford, the incumbent, continued his habit of walking into airplane propellers and falling off ski lifts, at least when he wasn't being assassinated by Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore. His biggest foreign affairs snafu was perhaps the destruction of East Timor, but, as the late Alexander Cockburn so aptly put it, Ford probably didn't even know where East Timor was, much less whether or not it deserved to be bombed, so it was hard to hold that against him. I ended up casting a write-in ballot for Alfred E. Neuman. Someday I'll explain "write-in ballots" to you youngsters, even though you'll probably think I'm making it up.
Where was I? Oh, yes! Rural living. Where I was born and lived the first nine years of my tiny life was in the extreme rural outskirts of a decidedly small village called Portsmouth. One had to take a very rough road to get out to where we lived. The nearest neighbor was across the road and happened to be my Uncle Leo and Aunt Edna. A quarter mile down the bumpy lane from them lived my paternal grandparents, Clay and Macie Mershon. A bit over a mile in the opposite direction lay the spread belonging to my maternal grandparents, Albert and Edna Spradlin. We owned a property right in the center of all this fun, an acreage as large as our house was small. My father built our first house and from what I've been told it took him thirteen years to finish it. That may seem like a long time to build a house, especially a small house. And yet by God when the place was completed there was not one nail head standing up, not one hinge out of place, not one speck of paint anywhere other than where it belonged, and not one drop of oil on the driveway. The house and its environs were immaculate, as befitted a place that had taken so long to construct. Winters were warm on the inside and frigid out of doors. Summers were hot both in and out. My parents burned our trash in one of those rusted out fifty-five gallon drums, this being a time and place where the concerns of ecology had yet to permeate. Mom used wooden pins to hang our laundry on a nylon clothesline. And even though I never once used it, an outhouse stood next to our tool shed. I never used the tool shed either, come to think of it. Maybe the reason why, even to this day I remain shy around things of a mechanical nature harks back to the lack of geography between outdoor crapper and supply hut.
We had snakes. I should say, the snakes had us. I don't mean to give the impression we lived adjacent to a herpetologist paradise, but often enough it seemed as if the reptiles ran the show. Crawling about on the basement steps at the age of six months, my noggin came upon a copperhead which my mother, in her horror and outrage, chopped to bits with a garden hoe. Jumping across the rivulet that bordered our land, I looked down and spied a rednecked coral snake, possibly the most poisonous snake in North America. The snake didn't care that it was poisonous. It just wanted a place out of the sun. Then there was the time I walked over to Jeff Hansen's house. He was a classmate of mine and lived even farther out in the boonies than did I. He and I were walking along a road of mud on our way to climb his tree house when I noticed that a thin, curved strip of the muddy road lifted its head up and struck out in the direction of Jeff's shins. It turned out to be another copperhead. I nearly passed out from shock, although Jeff, to his credit, was very nonchalant and just kicked the damned thing off the road and into some bushes.
So, yes, we had snakes, just as we had bees, wasps, mosquitoes and yellow jackets, all three groups of flying terrorists enjoying nothing so much as they did swarming after me any time I dared poke my head out our front door. Even as a child, I wasn't about to display how terrified I was of the evil winged bastards, so I used to run around in our clover-infested front yard sans socks and shoes, invariably returning home with a stinger nicely lodged in an arch. The last time this happened to me, I remember quite clearly, the bee refused to let go of its stinger and before I could pull out the stinger, I had to knock the bee off my tender arch. Within a few minutes, my foot had swollen to three times its normal size, I found it difficult to swallow, and for some reason I couldn't remember my middle name. After a while the name did return to my memory, however, probably because my mother began shrieking "Phillip Eugene Mershon! Are you going to die?" I really didn't think I was terminal and as things turned out, it was only a mild anaphylactic reaction. All the same, I steered clear of bees as well as their reptilian counterparts.
The one safe haven I had against the presence of buzzing or slithering interlopers was my sacred sand pile. Lord, how I loved that sanctuary! My father brought home a dump truck load of sand one Saturday afternoon when I was four years old. He backed the truck up near the shadiest tree in our backyard, emptied out the truck bed, and in a few minutes I was watching brown and shiny granules of earth fall between my fingers. I dug caves and set up all kinds of obstacles for my toy soldiers and Indians to navigate. I dug holes and filled them with water. I set up a Hot Wheels track so that the cars could descend from a perch, hit the straightaway at the speed of light and with a whish become airborne across that pile of sand, once in a blue moon actually landing on the other piece of track I'd set up. My entire life I have been either cursed or blessed with the ability to lose myself in thoughts of either real or imagined adventure and that skill--if that's what it is--began right in my own backyard.
It is easy to fall victim to the delusion that one's childhood was all bliss, with everything beyond a certain age representing one's post salad days demise. I have been fortunate in not falling victim to false memories or inappropriate emphasis. I can still summon the ability to get lost in my own thoughts, observing the passing of hours as if they were seconds, accomplishing nothing yet feeling more refreshed than if I had taken a cruise to the Bahamas--and without the botulism. I used to believe this was due to my early roots in rurality. Nowadays I am not so certain. I have lived in what is today the sixth largest city in the United States since 1982 and, in spite of doing my best to avoid learning anything useful, I have come to the conclusion that even in a megalopolis such as Phoenix, one can still find moments of surcease from the cacophonous buzz of our own creation. One of these days soon, however, I aim to find out for certain. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but some way or another I am going to make my way back to my adopted home of Circleville. It may not be in 2012. It won't be long, though. And then I will know joy. Or something similar.
I just hope they don't have bees. Or snakes.