Thursday, May 28, 2009

Remembering Grampa

My grampa, Pops, collected old cars. By "old," I mean anything newer than the 1940s didn't count, and he'd make a throaty grunt and wave a dismissive hand. And by "collected," I mean that he filled an entire two acres with car bodies and car parts, and most were stacked 2 or 3 or 4 high. You can see that barnyard from the highway there (and even from Google maps), and over the years, they had visitors stop in from all over the country, requesting tours of the cars.

We kids didn't care so much about those cars other than that they made fantastic forts. There were eight of us grandkids out there playing in the barnyard every summer. Somehow the older grandkids laid claim to a gutted out city bus as our fort, while the younger cousins got relegated to an old ambulance. The bus was far superior in terms of fort quality; you could stand straight up in it, and it was high enough off the ground so that the crazy attack sheep couldn't jump in and get you. You see, one of the dangers of our barnyard autoyard of a play yard was those sheep. The head sheep, Linea, would jump up and do full ice skating twists in the air, and she took great joy in charging at us cousins.

Along with the segregation of the older and younger cousin forts, we participated in annual Copper Wars. Pops had coils and coils of copper wire in one of the barns, and over time, that wire took on a monetary value for the cousins. Red was the most coveted, while the other colors took on rankings of lower value. We used to hide our stashes of copper wire in the secret nooks and crannies of the bus. And the younger cousins would hide wire in their ambulance. From time to time, we'd raid each other's forts and rummage through them, stealing any wire we could find. This went on for a couple of summers, with the wire coils somehow determining the balance of power.

But the day that Pops found out marked the end of the Copper Wars era. He responded with his usual way of gruff scolding followed by grumpy silence. It helped that his 6'3" frame made him tower over us. So, the cousins went back to our previous forms of play in the barnyard. We gathered seaweed from the irrigation ditch as "food" that we cut up with dull and rusty knives foraged from a barn. The girl cousins tidied and prettied up the rusted out bus by sweeping and by rearranging the boat chairs serving as furniture. The boy cousins rigged up lighting from car batteries and found buckets to put in the makeshift bathroom we built.

While Pops wasn't out there to witness all the probable damage we did to his collection of old cars, he was certainly there in spirit. In the early years, we had a bit of a love-fear relationship with the man. We kids feared his wrath, but we all loved him deeply for his quiet sense of humor and his way of teaching us about mechanical things. Now that I look all grownup, I don't have a set of colorful stories and anecdotes to share with you. But, every summer memory from my childhood revolves around that barnyard and the cars Pops filled it with. And those memories are what I'll carry with me from here.

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