Bubble #1: Where I write

Bubble #1 Sunday 19 July 2020. This is the first of occasional blogs I’ll write during the idling phase of my weekly Cogitation. Welcome to Bubble. I’ve named it for the social distancing bubble that’s incumbent on all during the devastating days of the coronavirus pandemic, with a special nod to those who use their eyes and ears and common sense.

We occasionally meet with a few people on our patio. When not moving about in people-free out-of-doors areas, we mask-up and take other precautions. It is heartening to see more and more people adopting the mandate to wear face coverings in stores. May more fall in line.

Be that as it unfolds. I’m here in Bubble #1 to write about life before Covid-19. I offer reflections for the record and perhaps something to brighten your day.

So, where do I write? Duh, the subject begs the question: How in the world is that of any interest? Wouldn’t why, what, when, who, and how I write outweigh talking about “where?” Where? How boring, inconsequential, pedestrian. Be that, too, as it may.

The question of where I write brings to mind a story from the past, a story, come to think of it, that may have a bearing on our social bubbles today when even social distancing bubbles offer too few in-person human relationships and may even make one stir-crazy.

Telling the story also gives me a place to post current photographs.

The answer to where I write is short. For the past decade I’ve mostly written at home–apart from writing related to my employment years. For the past 45 years we’ve had home offices variously equipped with telephones, typewriters and then computers. When traveling, I use a tablet on any available tabletop surface. Short, to the point.

Now here’s the rub. The story of where I write also involves the matter of where I did not get to write. That’s the story of a dream sequestered in the dusky corners of time.

As a teenager I dreamed of having some kind of dedicated writing studio. The small desk in my bedroom worked fine, but I wanted an off-site spot where I could muse and ponder and put pencil and fountain pen to paper.

The potential for such a studio surfaced when on our farm we transitioned from a thresher to a combine to harvest grain crops. The Herrgott Thresher was the first of two threshing machines that served four farm families. We must have got it in the mid to late 1940s.

The proud, red, steel-wheeled, shake-a-sheaf Herrgott Thresher did a thrilling job. It was connected by a twisted belt (to keep it on the pullies) to a fairly powerful tractor parked on the barn bank. The machine ingested sheaves in a steady stream (my older brother remembers forking loads of sheaves into the feeder in a precise formation that kept the machine humming, without plugging it up). Once the sheaves were pulled inside the hopper, the thresher separated grain, straw and chaff, depositing them in grain bin, straw mow or straw stack.

My siblings and I still exclaim and shake our heads over the dust in the barn, the noise, the revolution of the belts that needed occasional friction dressings (while running), and the itch that settled on us as we leveled grain in the bin. Our dad wore a handkerchief mask as he kept an eye on the machine and as he trampled the straw to get as much in the barn as possible.

Fortuitously, the threshing crew could wash up for lunch in big wash tubs set in the front yard. We were nothing short of ravenous.

Its mission finally fulfilled, the Herrgott Thresher languished at the edge of the woods behind the barn. There it sat, in close proximity to the engineless remains of a surplus Avro Anson aircraft.

My father had bought the plane, in the late 40s or early 50s, to adapt its undercarriage and oversize tires as a trailer. My grandfather hauled the plane home, its wings clipped, on his milk truck from the training airfield, maybe some 30-40 miles away. You can imagine how we children sat in the cockpit and pretended to fly it. We settled on using the nose cone as a tent and other parts for various and sundry purposes.

An oil funnel, once part of the toilet used by the pilot, remains on display in the machine shop, the farm now owned by a nephew and his family, Grant and Laura and their two sons. Grant is a commercial pilot, the farm an imagination-rich enterprise for the whole family.

The low-slung trailer turned out to be the better way for us siblings to load up the stones we gathered in the fields in spring, potatoes in summer and turnips and corn and firewood in fall. The balloon tires worked nicely in dry or wet soil.

Avro Anson aircraft. Photo from the Warbird Heritage Museum, Hamilton, Ontario.

But the Herrgott, oh the Herrgott, what dream lay within the now silent creature. I gathered a few tools and went to work. In spare moments I set about to remove its insides. Sadly, though, gutting the thresher proved too tough for this young teenager, the situation not aided by few or no offers of help or encouragement from siblings.

My dream of creating a place to transform thoughts into stories, to separate chaff and straw from prize-winning words, to thrash about with creative abandon, that was not to be. The marvelously-built Herrgott resisted all efforts to be gutted before summer holidays ended. The dream evaporated.

Little did I realize that my dream would evolve into a lifelong reality. After college, I found a vocation as a writer-editor. I found myself inside an office, behind a desk, with pad and pen, telephone, electric typewriter, then computer, part of a communications team for a binational mission and service agency, and thereafter other not-for-profit agencies (may be a topic for a future Bubble feature).

In retrospect, the Herrgott Thresher would have offered cramped quarters, ill-suited to hot, cold, and wet weather. Probably even would have shed residual chaff and dust to cause sneezing and wheezing. A poorly outfitted bubble. Oh, what efforts we go to to mollify the past.

Nevertheless, the Herrgott Thresher represented not just a passing fancy or a pipe dream. It had a role to play in sorting out my career, in shaping a passion for writing, in imagining a place where I could put high school typing class skills to work.

Ah, the Herrgott bubble of threshing team, harvest days, family and neighbors working hand in hand, bountiful thresher meals at our and neighboring tables, a goodly heritage, surrounds me still. It’s a bubble that gave way to a wider world, but one that holds sway to this day. May we find in today’s social distancing bubbles good fuel for future fond memories.

A field of wheat harvested by combine in July 2020.

Photos from July 2020

US Highway 33 on the east side of Goshen, Indiana, the First National Memorial to Abraham Lincoln, that ran from New York to San Francisco.
Highway 33, approaching College Avenue, is a heavy traffic route that includes various horse-drawn carriages, still the Amish communities conveyance of choice, from long before Lincoln.
Tabor Hill Winery and Restaurant, Buchanan, Michigan, offering a fine social distancing Sunday lunch, along with the benefit of driving some backroads to get there.
Nappanee, Indiana, offering a place to walk and do breakfast and check out the Nappanee Arts Council project, Le Tour de Nappanee 2020. Artist: Harry Miller, “The Way the Wind Blows.”
Artist: Matt and Michelle Myers, “It’s All down Hill From Here.”
Artist: Menessah Mullet, “Einstein’s Chair.”
One of the horse and buggy shelters in Nappanee.
Quilt Garden in Nappanee.
Resident garden, Greencroft.
Resident garden.
Resident garden.
Morning walk near the Goshen mill race.
Walk-by parade at Greencroft.

Keep calm and bubble on.


One thought on “Bubble #1: Where I write

  1. The airplane and threshing machine are vague memories. But I can still hear the sound of the threshing machine and smell the dust and grain. There was so much dust you could hardly see in the barn. The summers were consumed working In the fields and the garden. What a nice reprieve when you could sit under a shade tree and open a bottle of homemade root beer or when the ice cream truck Would arrive and mom would buy drumsticks and ice cream bars. Oh so good. So where did you find a place to write I wonder and do you have any of your early writings? I wonder what the topics would have been?


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