September 14, 2020

Birdman of Small Acres Lane

As I review the "trees" of my childhood, I find myself ruminating about my maternal grandparents who lived in a farm-y home at the end of a short dirt road. These memories light up this tired ol' soul. 

Please take the journey with me. 

Turning south off a busy road, you are immediately met with a tall hill lined with tombstones. To me it was a place of quiet and time with grandpa. The cemetery was a sacred place my grandfather, known and written about as The Birdman of Small Acres Lane. Grandpa sported a goatee, always wore bib overalls with a one piece "union suit", and a weathered wide brim "farming" hat. He would sit with his back against a gnarly tree tenderly petting his beloved dog, thinking or reading, while I wandered around reading the stones. Next to the cemetery was the Red Cedar River, which he told me to view but admonished me about getting too close.

Following this dusty road toward their home, we pass Sadie's woody and partially hidden home on the left and Lilah's small cottages on the right. Rumor back then was that grandpa and Lilah were good friends and that Sadie was peculiar and exotic.

Continuing down the road you would walk over a small bridge above a creek with the Red Cedar River to the left. To get to the river you had to walk down a steep hill, through beds of nettles, and find the muddy bank where I found hours of delight bamboo pole fishing. Along the bank, away from Sadie's house, there was a small wooden dock, where I would lay holding a worm in the water inevitably attracting a hungry sunfish.

About an acre of thick "magical" woods was on the opposite side of the road. Our family and the neighbors played there for hours. At one point and only for a short while someone strung a long rope from a tree near the edge - long enough to swing on as we played Tarzan and Jane. To the right of the woods was the Hagerman home ... alongside their outbuilding was an unplugged freezer filled with yummy worms where I'd get my fill for fishing in the river.

Onto the road again and 25 feet more was a white house on the left filled with my childhood friends. Evenings would find us sitting in their multi-window back room, which overlooked the river and woods, playing hours of card and board games. Then we'd go to my grandparent's house and play aggravation on the red metal table that overlooked the gardens and chicken coop.

My grandparent's rustic brown and yellow home was filled with bird houses built by grandpa. Perched on poles, trees, in the gardens, on the lawn, these houses attracted a multitude of birds. 
Grandpa and I sat on chairs in the front yard as he taught me the practice of twiddling our thumbs -- entwine your fingers together leaving the thumbs to fend for themselves as you focus on circling your thumbs back and forward. Quite a calming activity he was found to enjoy as the silence brought out nature sounds. Grandpa was a successful gardener and loved eating warm tomatoes with salt fresh off the vine, roasting sunflower seeds, eating grapes, and tending his chickens in the little coop along the side of the garden. He was also quite a musician playing accordion, violin, harmonica among some of his instruments. We were told he wanted to attend a music school but was denied by his parents because he had to help on their potato farm in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Behind my grandparent's house was a long garden bordered by a huge hill, a place where my siblings and I spent hours. A piece of cardboard served as our sleds. The steep hill was scaled over and over as sliding down was fast and exciting. Occasionally, the sharp grass would slice into a finger but didn't seem to bother anyone. I'm sure my mom tried and tried to scrub the grass stains and smell of grass off our blue jeans in her ringer washer but to no avail.

At the end of the road  - the railroad tracks. When I spent the night I'd sleep with my grandmother under bed sheets that were cool and clean and fresh smelling from the clothes line. Every night grandma would lean over and wind up the round alarm clock which would jangle us awake in the morning. But during the night the haunting sound of trains passing by and rattling the windows soothed me as they raced to destinations I couldn't ever fathom.

I spent weeks with my grandparents, every minute I could, and know they helped form the hopeful and good part of me.



  1. It's funny how both sets of grandparents lived by railroad tracks. Maybe it was my destiny to end up paying bills to the railroad for the State. I've always had good memories of both places. I don't know much about Sadie or Lilah except one of them offered us cookies (homemade) but they smelled kind of funky. :)

  2. To this day, I love railroad tracks, the sound of the train coming and going, and will always be thankful for good grandparents.

  3. Hi Barefoot! Nice history walk. Love the accordion.

    1. Thanks Sharkbytes. Walking through memories as if re-living the good parts of life.


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