|Andy and Agnes Brekhus in 1961 helping us with our garden at Allen, Washington.|
Behind our garden is a strawberry field (not ours) and behind that are the trees along the Samish River.
Andy and Agnes Brekhus were like second parents to me. Andy and my Dad went to school together, all the way through grade school and high school, and when Dad was sent in his Methodist ministry to Allen, Washington, the Brekhuses had a dairy farm only a mile away. Other than walking across the strawberry field to the Samish River, there isn't much to do in Allen, so I would often ride my bike to the Brekhus farm.
We lived in Allen through my junior high and first two high school years, in the early 1960's, and I could fill a book with the experiences I had on that farm. When Andy retired, he and Agnes moved to Utsalady Bay on Camano Island, and my adventures with them continued, both on the water and on land. Andy even got me a job driving a tractor/combine in the pea fields for Twin City Foods and was my boss, even providing a cabin for me to stay in. But that's another story; let's get back to the farm.
I used to sit on the fender of Andy's tractor as he drove through the hay fields. He let me shoot his .22 and his 410 shotgun, my favorite target being rotten eggs set up on a big mound of dirt. While setting up the milking machines, Andy would let me feed the cows. Once we found a big possum caught in one of his traps. It was limp and dripping blood as Andy carried it by the tail back to the barn. He laid it down and we went into the barn for a moment, and when we came out the possum was gone. The clever critter had only been "playing possum."
The first time I went hunting was with Andy. He had a larger rifle and I was armed with the 410 shotgun. Andy hid at the edge of a meadow in the hills, and suggested I wander through the woods on one side, hopefully to frighten prey out of the woods and into the open meadow. As I trudged through the W. Washington underbrush, I heard the noise of a large animal running a full speed, coming closer. Then into view came a large cougar, taking a tremendous leap in front of me, and continuing on its way at full run. It was the only time I've ever seen a cougar in the wild. Neither Andy or I shot anything, but that was one great hunt.
Andy and Agnes had two dogs, the largest was a Samoyed named Kayak. One snowy day I tied a rope loosely around Kayak's neck and the other end to a sled, then lay on the sled and shouted out, "Mush, Kayak!" And the big dog took off running, with me whizzing behind in surprised delight. But then Kayak suddenly stopped and I slid right into and under him. Thinking he had been attacked from behind, he growled and snarled and scratched and bit me all over my back. There was no harm done, other than scaring each other.
Speaking of my back, Andy even used to rub it. He and Agnes were unable to have children of their own, and on quiet evenings after a hard day's work the three of us would sit in the living room watching TV. I would often sit by Andy on the couch, and knowing how much I enjoyed a back rub, he would drag his calloused hand in circles on my back. His big, rough, farmer hand felt like a zillion tiny backscratchers on my skin, and it was great.
Sometimes Agnes would have my favorite drink to offer me - homemade root beer! She processed it in a big canning kettle, and it was the best I've ever had.
One day I ventured into one of their fields, and Andy yelled at me to get out, that there was a bull in there. And sure enough, here came charging a big Brahman bull. I ran as fast as I could and scrambled through the barbed-wire fence, as carefully as I dared in a hurry to avoid the electric wire. But Brahmans are mean, and this one wanted to kill me so badly that he tried jumping the fence after me. Instead he came down hard on top of it, cutting himself, wrecking the fence, and getting tangled in the wire. It was a job for Andy to get the beast back into the field and repair the fence, while I learned not to venture into just any field.
It was Andy who hiked with me up Bow Hill and introduced me to Curt the Hermit, and that's a story in itself.
At the supper table another day, Agnes told me that Andy had saved a man's life that morning, and had Andy explain. Across the Ershig Road from their farm was an old, abandoned, one-room schoolhouse, and that day Andy had heard gun shots coming from it. He went over to see what was going on, and found that a man had set up a long rifle on a chair, with a string attached to the trigger and looped back around a part of the chair's back. The man was trying to kill himself. With the rifle aiming at him, he would pull the string, but each time the gun would be pulled a bit to the side and would miss him. Andy got there before the depressed fellow succeeded in ending it all, and talked him out of it.
Each visit was a new adventure. I was the son Andy and Agnes never had - and Cathy was the daughter. Cathy was actually their niece, and she would visit and stay with them for several days about twice a year, and I would be thrilled when she did.
Cathy was about my age and good-looking, and she was as happy as I to have a friend to play with on the farm. We had all sorts of adventures together. Once when we were crawling under the wires of an electric fence, Cathy got through first with no problem. But not realizing the fence had two electric wires, I lifted my head up too soon and touched my pate on one of them. I didn't feel any shock, but instead saw flashing lights between Cathy's laughing face. We had fun with those electric fences. To tell if they were on or not, Cathy and I would pick long stems of grass and while holding onto the bottom end, would lay the top end on the wire. We would feel nothing, but as we slid the stem along the wire, closer to our hand, a mild, slow beat of the electricity could be felt. As the wire came closer, the shock increased until finally we had to let go. We had contests to see who dared to get the closest.
In the loft of Andy's barn were tons of hay that he had grown in his fields for the cattle, and Cathy and I would climb up and play in that hay for hours, rolling down hills of it, hiding beneath it, building forts, jumping down on piles of it, and there was even a rope swing.
But more than anything, we enjoyed Andy's big, flat-bed dump-truck. After enough pleading, Andy would give in and drive his truck out of the barn and onto the driveway. Cathy and I would climb up onto the wooden overhang of the truck's bed, over the cab, and lie there side by side as Andy raised the flat bed as high as it would go, carrying the two of us higher than a house. Half the fun was knowing that if either of us unhooked our arms from the edge of the overhang, we would be seriously injured. Cathy and I stayed up there each time for probably over an hour, happily talking about everything we could think of.
It was a great time, a great childhood, and I appreciate my double life. I was a small-town preacher's kid, and was also raised on a farm.
For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.