Tonight I’ve been going through some short stories written by one of my favorite writers- my father. As I’m a bit choked up while typing this I’ll let his work (below) speak for itself. After rereading his story A Prairie School of My Own for possibly the hundredth time I just felt compelled to share it with someone so here it is, one of the stories that is most near and dear to my heart written by the one man on this earth who I love more than life itself. Hope you enjoy.
A Prairie School of My Own
(Published in Prairie Magazine ca.1998)
by Tim McGannon
Growing up amidst a maze of intersections rumbling with traffic offered certain advantages to town kids. My brothers and I could usually count on a half dozen neighbor kids for a game of kick the can or sand lot baseball. An ice cream cone was never more than a few minutes and twenty five cents away. And, a frosty bottle of coke cost a dime at the local gas station. But every so often, as if to torment us, our father would announce at the breakfast table “we are going to grandfather’s farm for the day”.
“There’s nothing to do on the farm.” We lamented. “We will die of boredom.” But off we went, heads bowed solemnly, packed into the family’s Ford, for a day in the country.
Upon arriving at the farm we three slowly crawled from the back seat of the car, lumbered over to the concrete stoop in front of my grandparents house and pouted for a reasonable length of time. My youngest brother, looking for a way to end this self imposed penance slowly raised his head as a bright yellow finch danced from tree to tree. Off he went, on a solitary mission to capture this golden fowl. My older brother and I, experienced in this sulking game and without a word between us, admitted our defeat. Our mood broken, we too began to explore.
My grandfather’s farm was a wondrous place filled with adventures, mysteries and treasures. In the back yard, close to the barn, stood a galvanized steel stock tank kept full with a pipe running cool water from an artesian well. The continuous flow, spilling over the low side, produced a steady stream coursing over the ground to the slough several hundred feet away. Old pieces of farm equipment supported on wooden spoked wheels with forged iron rims dotted the trees surrounding the farm yard. Armed with a bag of Black Cat firecrackers and a punk, we boys could turn these relics into cannon for many imaginary wars. Inside my grandmothers chicken coop I learned that with a steady hand I could reach under a sitting hen and pluck her guarded treasure.
But my favorite spot of all was an old one room school house. An important looking building with raised steeple pointing majestically to the Dakota sky, this particular school sat vacant for a decade until discovered by me.
The old school house was about a half mile’s walk from the farm. For a 6-year-old, this journey from farm yard to school yard was a long one, requiring a canteen of water, a sandwich, a couple of apples from the tree and at least one brother.
The path from farm house to school house was a worn gravel road lined with grasshoppers, gophers and a snake if we were lucky. A steady hum of crickets, highlighted with the whistles of meadowlarks reminded us we were not alone on the journey.
The ditches, cropped low to the ground and sun dried in the fall air, crackled underfoot. Midway, a conveniently placed bale of hay served as lunch table and rest stop.
In the quarter hour it took to make the journey, an occasional car would pass on the gravel road, momentarily silencing natures sounds and stirring the dust into the air, leaving a choking cloud lasting for minutes.
Arriving at the school, our sandwiches gone and canteens half empty, my brother and I discovered that an abandoned country school is one of the loneliest places on earth. Unkempt with thistle and kosher weed growing through the sandy soil, the playground looked tired and abandoned. Saplings pushed their way upward from around the outhouse. The outhouse door, long relieved of its duty banging into the well worn door jams, now lie askew on one hinge. Wooden swings hung by rusty chains eerily creaking in the prairie wind would unnerve all but the bravest of souls, but not my brother and me.
We played for a short while on the swings, but soon our curiosity about what treasures lie within the school took over. First, we opened the outer door of the foyer, only to find the inner door padlocked soundly. We climbed upon the coal box and tried the window. It too was locked or stuck shut. For some time, we gazed at the belfry wondering if there was a way down from that tower, but soon discovered that the way up to the tower was a greater problem. We were ready to give up until my brother decided to open this coal box upon which we were perched. We climbed down and opened the large door of the box and in the dark bottom there appeared a small, square opening about the right size for a boy. In we went. Lying on our backs, feet in the air propped over the edge of the coal box, we squeezed into the schoolhouse head first. Covered with dirt, dust and cobwebs, we began to dust ourselves off.
The air in the school was heavy with the smell of mildew. And dust, awakened from its long sleep, danced excitedly in the sunlight. Bookcases of oak lined the walls, and wooden desks in neat rows waited for the next morning class. On the teacher’s desk sat a brass hand-bell with a long black wooden handle. In the corner near our new entrance stood a wood or coal burning stove. The wooden floors sounded a creaking welcome, punctuated by the sound of the bell, now in my brother’s hand. Hearing an approaching car, we ducked down, listened as the car passed and shared a feeling of sheer excitement that somehow we had gone unnoticed by this passerby . We were inside and no one was the wiser.
Driven by the wind, the ghostly sound of the old swing set alerted us that the weather was changing. The sky had dimmed, the setting sun hid behind fall thunder clouds and a cool breeze announced an imminent shower. We unlocked the window above the coal box, climbed out, pulled the window down behind us and ran back to the farmhouse.
Arriving at the farm yard about the same time as my father and grandfather returned from the field, our dust of adventure went unnoticed amidst their dust of harvest. We men all washed up for dinner. When we finished eating, my father announced that it was time to go back to town.
“There’s nothing to do in town.” We lamented. “We will die of boredom.” But off we went, heads bowed solemnly, packed into the family’s Ford, for the drive to town.