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Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. — Mark Twain
Have you ever wondered what people were like when they were younger? What were people who attained financial independence early life like when they were growing up? Is there anything special about early retirees?
A week ago I proposed life is one big joke and then it is over. My original intentions were to add more humorous material. What concerned me were two things. One, writing humor is no easy feat. All too often when writing a joke, crickets fill the room after the punch line. The only fallback for the comedian is, “Well, I guess ya had ta be there.” Two, not everyone thinks the same thing is funny.
Several people emailed and said they would prefer more humor. Most emails indicated the reader enjoyed my periodic poke at candor in earlier posts and look forward to more of the same. When I speak I always add these asides many find comical. When I speak it is natural and for the most part, uncontrollable; it just comes out. Now I am asked to be funny on purpose. Oh, shit!
All the stories here are true as I remember them with a small amount of literary license applied to smooth the story. I would never lie, fib, or adlib to you. You have my word. This is the little shit, ah, kid I was growing up and into early adulthood. Less than a decade later my net worth crossed the seven figure mark. What is surprising is I lived at all.
Things we Did
Biking: Growing up on a farm has its advantages. The wide open spaces offer opportunities to explore. Even in our rural setting we had neighbors. Not too far from the farm a family moved into a rental. The single family home had a few landscaped acres, but more important, they had kids! My uncle, Kev, brother, Dean, and I used to ride our bikes around the fields of the farm playing cops and robbers. We chased each other down as cops complete with a screamed “rrrrrrrraaaahhhhh, rrrrrrrraaaahhhhhh,” or biked like hell to keep ahead of the coppers.
Our new neighbors had two sons (our age roughly) and a daughter. The oldest boy was Len. He was a big dude and funny as hell. He had a habit of doing before thinking. He saw our clan playing cops and robbers around the farm and joined us on his bike.
Len played a bit rough. Bigger, he could chase us down easier and would sometimes push us over. Dick! It was all in good fun, however.
Behind the barn we had a manure pile. (Don’t get ahead of me here.) This is not an ordinary manure pile with hay and straw mixed. This was slurry from the free stall barn. The manure was push on a pile and later hauled to the fields for fertilizer. Our particular manure pile was about three to four feet high with maybe an inch of firm crust. Growing up on the farm we knew the manure pile was there. You had to. The manure pile was impossible to see if you biked around the edge of the barn fast until it was too late.
Well, Len was having one of those days. He was biking at warp speed and getting a bit rough so I cut him off and he starts to chase. I gave it everything I had, blowing past mach 4. It was going to be close as I raced along the west side of the barn and around to the free stall barn. I stood off my seat as I pressed the pedals with all my legs had. As I approached the edge of the free stall barn I made a sharp left at the corner. Len anticipated my move and cut left at the edge of the barn with me. What Len did not see is that I immediately cut hard right as soon as I cleared the corner missing the manure pile.
It was too late for poor Len. He hit the spread out manure pile square. When his front tire hit the edge it stopped cold, sending Len face first into the soft landing of slurry. When he stood up he looked like the swamp monster leaving the pond. Dean, Kev, and I laughed so hard as he walked from the manure pile dripping with manure we almost peed out pants. Almost.
We were not worried about retaliation. Len needed to get washed up. Instead of washing off at the front of the barn he ran home where his mother kicked his ass.
I do not know whatever happened to Len. His brother was a bit on the heavy side so we nicknamed him Mini Clause. He also gave us kids a recipe we enjoyed for years: Joel’s chocolate cookies. We lost the recipe years ago, but I still hanker for them. Joel, if you read this, send me an email with your recipe. Len, if you are reading this, Kev lives in San Diego; my address is confidential.
Summer Water Fights: Northeast Wisconsin can get warm and muggy in July. After the cows were milked at night there was always the risk of an unprovoked water fight on a hot day. The long summer days were not conducive to higher levels of thinking. An unprovoked five-gallon pail of well water would end with everyone dripping wet.
I had a brainy idea one summer evening and received help from my uncle, Daryl. I figure the best way to have a water fight, and not get wet, is to use some creative warfare tactics. I decided we should fill a five-gallon pail with water and tie it above the milk house doorway with just the bottom of the pail reaching into the doorway. The idea was that when the door was opened the bottom of the pail would push out, spilling the water on the victim.
The victim was supposed to be my dad. I always wanted to get dear ‘ol dad good in a water fight. Daryl helped me tie the pail above the milk house door. My dad always had the same routine after milking. It was a lock. He would walk out the milk house door and end up with a bucket of cold water on his head.
Unfortunately, the gods did not love us. Before my dad could be victimized, my grandfather, whom we affectionately call Doc because he knew so many home remedies, came walking toward the milk house door. Before my dad finished his rounds, Doc walked through the door. The water bucket idea worked perfectly! For some reason Doc was not wet. It might have had something to do with the steam coming off him from the heat on his forehead.
Boy, did we catch hell. None of us caught hell like we did that night, except for my dad. Damn it! We laugh about it now, but back then we were concerned we might not make it through the night.
Farm Dog 1: Every farm needs a dog. We had a dog named King. He would run with the tractor down the road a mile before giving up; he would chase the farm truck halfway to town before calling it a day. One day we were headed to town to pick up supplies and did not want King to come along so we did not allow him to ride in the back of the truck. True to form, King chased the truck as we started out. This time I put on my Tony Robbins hat before Tony Robbins was a tingle in his daddy’s shorts. I rolled down the window and started chanting, “Go, King, go; go, King, go.”
Wouldn’t you know it? The friggin dog chased all the way to town, seven miles. Of course, we felt bad for King and let him ride in the back of the truck on the way home.
Farm Dog 2: A few years earlier we had a mutt named Tipper. Back in those days farmers kept the cows out in the field during the day. A dog would help herd the ladies back to the barn for milking. On this particular day Tipper was very motivated to get the cows up and moving to the barn. Some cows as they got older got an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude. Number 37 was one such cow. She was lying in the grass at the edge of the field next to the road. Tipper was having none of this. With a “sic ’em” Tipper was off at full throttle. For some reason Tipper did not put on the brakes that day as he closed ranks with Number 37. Number 37 decided she was not interested in getting up all that fast. Poor Tipper ran, full-speed, into the forehead of Number 37, bounced off, hit a fence post, and ended up in the ditch. It is all fun and games until someone pokes an eye out. I confess we laughed until we saw Tipper twitching in the ditch.
The good news is Tipper was only temporarily dazed by the collision. He was a lot smarter after that. He approached cows with an added layer of caution. Experience is such a good teacher. Like Tipper, never run full-speed into a situation or you might end up in the ditch twitching, too.
Ghost in the Machine: Dean and I get along like brothers, which is surprising considering the circumstances. You see, when Dean was about seven or eight, Kev and I came up with a brilliant idea to scare the shit out of him. I am five years older than Dean and Kev is two years older than me; Kev is my uncle (dad’s youngest brother).
Our idea was to create a recording of ghost sounds. Kev had a cassette recorder and I helped his record about twenty minutes of scary sounds. We started out softly at first, “wooooooo, woooooooooooo.” Then we ramped it up to, “wwwwoooOOOOOO, AAAAAHHHHHHHH!” (Hey, we thought it was scary.)
In the old farm house we lived in the cold air duct in the basement had an access panel. We placed the recorder in the duct and closed it up. The tape had ten or so minutes of silence before the sounds began. Kev and I found Dean outside and invited him into the house to play a board game. As we sat and played the voices and sounds started slowly. At first Dean had a strange look on his face. How we kept a straight face is beyond me. As the sounds got louder Dean asked if we heard it. With an innocent face we shook our heads ‘no’. As the sounds got louder, Dean got more paranoid. It was too much. He ran from the house screaming. Kev and I busted up laughing.
All good jokes have a fatal flaw. Dean ran outside and told our dad. Dean refused to go back in the house. My dad walked in before we could retrieve the recorder. My dad heard out Oscar performance, “WWWWWOOOOO!!!” in stereo from the furnace vents. Needless to say, we got our asses kicked and kicked good. Dean almost had to sleep outside that night. It took until ten o’clock to convince him the house was okay. After all these years we still laugh.
Polish Canon: Do y’all know what a polish canon is? A polish canon as we constructed them utilized tin cans. Back then Campbell’s Soup cans were made of tin with a seam on both ends. We would take five or six can, cut off both ends with a can opener, and duct tape them together. We would add one last can to the end where we would punch several holes with a nail on the flat end panel and on the opposite end of the can put one small hole on the edge just above the seam. Tomato soup cans worked best for blowing out the contents. The final can was attached to the canon. We then placed a tennis ball into the canon, added lighter fluid to the working end, rolled it back and forth in our hands until the lighter fluid was all vapor, and then put a match to the single hole at the back of the canon.
Polish canons are more powerful than you think. They fire with a lot of noise. The tennis ball can fly as much as a quarter mile. We experimented with the mixture until we were able to get the tennis ball flying a third of a mile.
Never satisfied, we decided it was time to build a bigger cannon with coffee cans. (C’mon, guys! You are getting ahead of me again.) The concept was sound. We built the bigger canon with the same design. By now we had discovered gasoline worked better when sending a tennis ball half way to the creek. Good thing we did not have anything the right size to put in the advanced canon or we would have died that day. A bigger cannon needed a foundation so we place the back of the canon into a depression in the ground toward the front of the house. We loaded her up with gasoline. Then we lit the match.
They say the loudest noise ever heard by man was the sound of Krakatoa erupting in 1883. Not true. When that canon let loose we lost our hearing for a day or so. The coffee cans were warped and twisted. By divine intervention, the cans held together and did not shred into shrapnel. There was no doubt it was a single use canon.
My grandfather, Kev’s dad, was enjoying an afternoon nap when the Germans opened the artillery. He flew out of the house and chewed us a new one. The great news, however, is we did not hear a word he said. By reading his lips he was mentioning the Lord a lot, however.
Some Damn Fool is Shooting at Me: It still amazes me my grandfather made it to 90. He certainly played a good game of cards, not that we helped any. A couple of years after the polish canon incident, we concocted an idea where we would throw a box of firecrackers into the fireplace. (It sounded like a good idea at the time.) Thanksgiving was approaching and the cool autumn day caused us to move inside for our entertainment. Granddad was once again enjoying a short afternoon nap. (As farmers we almost always took an afternoon nap. We started milking cows at four in the morning so a nap was needed.) In my defense, Kev was the one who threw the firecrackers into the fire. I admit I might have provided some encouragement. Okay, I egged him on.
The firecrackers did all we had hoped for. The rapid fire BANG! of each firecracker was awesome! Dear ‘ol Doc jumped off the couch and started yelling, “Some damn fool is shooting at me!” Oh, then reality showed up. It was the worst spanking I endured in my life. Lesson learned.
Things We Did Not Do, but Thought Of
Acetylene Bomb: One idea we toyed with off and on was the acetylene bomb. I am glad we never tried it. The idea was to fill an empty 55 gallon drum with acetylene from a torch and set it off. We laughed as we envisioned the explosion and hole created in the field where the bomb would be placed.
I know people who actually tried this. None died, but most ended up with permanent hearing loss or injuries. Our self-preservation instincts served us well in this instance.
Whoopee for Church: I grew up in a religious family. The years have tempered my zeal (I have not been in a church for a few years), but most of my family holds the Bible high. At our church the pastor has a seat on either side behind the pulpit where he sits when song is sung. The wooden benches has a cushion. I always thought it would be a good idea to slip a whoopee cushion under the padding. When the pastor sat as a song began it would let out a loud fart for the whole congregation to hear. Alas, I never realized my calling. Good thing. I could have been struck down and sent straight to hell right there and then. If God did not take action, my father (not to be confused with, Father) would have.
There are many more stories to tell. I will refrain to protect the guilty (that would be me, guys). The stories above are fun. I think I am at my best when I get on a rant. When one shows up I’ll try to record it and see if it translates to paper. Usually I need a couple of espressos and a shot or three of whisky to get me going. It is an experiment worth practicing.
Enjoy your weekend, kind readers. Don’t take life too seriously. Early retirement and financial independence mean nothing if you can’t laugh and have a lot of fun along the way. Make life a trip worth travelling.
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Also, share your funny stories in the comments below. It eases the pain.