Archived Story

From those thrilling days of yesteryear

Published 9:43am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Column: Tales from Exit 22

My father met with friends in Vivian’s Café. Vivian made wonderful fried rolls that frequented my dreams. Dad and the other farmers sat around the table and took turns complaining about the weather, taxes, government and crop prices.

I looked around that table and saw that many of the men were missing digits. Fingers and other body parts had been sacrificed to agriculture. Bloodthirsty farm machinery had struck unexpectedly.

One day, as my father drove home while I rode along with a belly happily holding one of Vivian’s fried rolls, I asked him why anyone would want to be a farmer if the life was going to devour you piece by piece. Dad answered that no matter what you do for a living, it’s going to wear you out piece by piece.

Grandmotherly grace

The child was throwing a major league temper tantrum in the store and had attracted quite a crowd. The tantrum moved into the crying stage. I readied for the adult in charge to say, “Stop that or I will give you something to cry about.”

She didn’t say that. Instead, the woman said, “Stop that or I will give you something to smile about.”

Everyone laughed, including the child. The woman was a grandmother. In youth, we learn. In old age, we understand.

Cleaning house

I was doing my spring-cleaning ahead of time — during the fall. Actually, I was finishing the spring-cleaning I had started nine years ago. I was filling what was empty and emptying what was full.

OK, I wasn’t doing any spring cleaning. I was reducing the collection of books that had taken over our basement. I’ve given hundreds of books to the local library to sell in its bookstore. I became carried away.

I have written for countless cartoonists, greeting card companies, comedians, speechmakers, radio/TV shows, books, magazines and advertising. I’ve kept a paper copy of each gag I’ve written — more than 150 gags each week for 37 years. That’s approximately 288,600 gags and 7,792,200 words. Those are conservative estimates.

Uffda! No wonder I’m tired.

I hauled the pile of gags to the recycling center. There will be more room in our basement. I’ll need it. I’m planning to go to the library’s bookstore and buy some of my old books back.

The nightmare was a clock radio

When I was a teenager and stayed up too late, I had a method for getting up in time for milking the cows. I set a battered device that I called the alarm o’clock. I tuned the clock radio to a station that played music that gave me a toothache. I didn’t understand or enjoy the music that I set the alarm to. When the alarm went off in the morning, I jumped out of bed to hasten its silence.

There I was

I was sharing a house with a Manhattan psychiatrist in a small town in Alaska. I was excited about seeing the northern lights at 2:30 in the morning. I shared my desire to see the Aurora Borealis and suggested he join me. He didn’t share my enthusiasm.

The psychiatrist did not like Alaska or small towns and he hated mornings — especially cold mornings. My alarm clock woke us both. I waited while the psychiatrist slurped down a cup of luke-warm coffee left over from the night before.

We ventured outside into the freezing cold. The psychiatrist wore all the clothes he owned. The northern lights were amazing. They danced across an endless sky. We stood in awe, staring at the colorful sky, until we heard noises coming from the nearby brush.

Out of the darkness strode a moose cow and calf. We froze, the moose drawing our attention from the northern lights. The cow and her calf walked by, paying no attention to us. The psychiatrist looked at me and shook his head before handing me his professional card and saying, “You need to make an appointment with me.”

The mighty pencil

I had chores to do outdoors. It was cold enough to freeze thoughts. When I was able to thaw a thought I deemed worth remembering, I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a 3-by-5 card and a Ticonderoga No. 2 yellow pencil shortened by repeated sharpening. Pencils are necessary if I am going to write something in inclement weather.

I learned long ago that no matter what age I am, if I don’t write things down, they go away, and they don’t always return.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.