Archived Story

The view from Section 13 of Hartland Township

Published 9:48am Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt 

We all hope to make it, whatever that might mean.

It was back in the days when farmers sat on the ground in the spring. If their rear ends were cold, they knew it wasn’t time to plant anything.

Soil samples were taken from the dried mud clinging to a tractor tire.

I listened to transistor radios. I wrote things in notebooks. Important things like, “Don’t eat any more beets.” I collected just enough box tops in order to get nothing in return.

“Why does the city have so much pavement?” I asked.

My father replied, “Because that stuff is too hard to plow.”

Boys bragged about their fathers. A neighbor lad boasted, “My father is an Eagle, an Elk, a Moose and a Lion.

I said in return, “Wow! What does it cost to see him?”

Hartland had a population of 300. Once a week, somebody stopped by the farm and said the population was only 298, using this explanation, “One guy died, and I’m out of town visiting you.”

Hartland once had a series of Burma-Shave signs. Burma-Shave was a brand of brushless shaving cream, famous for an advertising gimmick of posting humorous rhyming poems on small, sequential highway roadside signs.

“Don’t lose your head. To gain a minute. You need your head. You’re brains are in it. Burma-Shave.” “Why is it. When you try to pass. The guy in front. Goes twice as fast? Burma-Shave.”

Hartland was small enough that you had to leave town to read all the signs.

A neighbor was tough and gruff. He was an ex-Marine who didn’t even cry during the movie, “Old Yeller.” His cigarettes smoked themselves while hanging from his lip. He was fond of asking, “What’s this world coming to?”

That was a reasonable question. He had many answers. That was OK. He’d earned his opinions. His ideas were a little far-fetched. He was no judge of distance. One day, he walked into my father’s shop where Dad was doing some welding and picked up a bolt from the floor, not realizing that my father had just freed it with a cutting torch. He immediately dropped it and jammed his hand into his pocket, trying to act as if nothing had happened.

Dad noticed and asked with a guilty grin, “Kind of hot, wasn’t it?”

“Nope,” answered the visitor, “it just doesn’t take me long to look at a bolt.”

He’d been unhappy when he got there. He was unhappier when he left.

Living on a farm where the highest point on the farm was where a Holstein had left a cow pie made for an interesting existence. It was difficult to plant potatoes in hills when the closest hills were 20 miles away. I claimed that our farm was the home of the world’s lowest mountain. I told all who would listen that we could see almost a quarter of Section 13 of Hartland Township from its peak.

I remembered when things almost changed. It was when I discovered oil on the farm. I told my father that we should use the proceeds from our discovery to get a new car. He considered it until he found out that the oil was coming from the old car.

One day, a salesman pulled in the yard. He had a nice car. He drove in at a high speed, but that speed couldn’t match the haste of his exit from the vehicle. He was out of the car before it had stopped rolling.

He ran up to me and asked if he could use our bathroom. He had the look of a bulldog chewing wasps. I said that we didn’t have anything indoors that would help him, but we had an outhouse behind the house that had an old catalog available for recycling, and that he should knock himself out.

He mumbled a “much obliged” and took off both lickety and split. He moved swiftly. He was purpose-driven. I tried to tell him something else, but he’d left too soon. The day was ending, darkness was at the edges. Especially in the backyard, where the shadows of the woods had encroached. He moved at a rapid pace until he hit the clothesline with his Adam’s apple.

He hit the ground with a gagging thud.

I ran to him and told him that I’d tried to warn him about the clothesline, but he’d moved away too quickly.

He looked up at me from the ground and said, “That’s OK. I don’t think I’d have made it anyway.”


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