My Stroke Of Genius

It was summertime and approaching the annual season for all the Link cousins to meet at the farm. The duration of stay depended on where you lived and how long Uncle Louie could tolerate all these nieces and nephews.

Since I lived the closest to Alma Center, Wisconsin and was an only child, my presence was often requested. Someone was needed to carry the sugar-laden orange Kool-aide out to the thrashers and help Grandma Link do all the dishes such a crew can produce. It was also noted that my only child status produced no noise when Uncle Louie was taking his afternoon nap.

Next to arrive were the Stodola’s with my Aunt Alice. Joseph, who was my age, and John about five years younger. Their father, an aeronautical judge in Washington, D. C., never accompanied them to the farm because of his job. They stayed most of the summer since airplane tickets were expensive and Aunt Alice thought it her duty to rearrange Grandma’s house. (As soon as she left, everything was put back in tis relaxed state, pre-Alice arrival!)

The last to arrive, and with the shortest stay, were the Lonergan’s from Milwaukee. All nine of them, including a baby-sitter lined up in their station wagon with seats assigned by age. Their mother, my Aunt Florence, was the youngest of the Links and her husband, Nelson, always came with his wife and children to the farm.

The dozen of us, all born within a 15 year span, were found competing for the best jobs the farm had to offer since “helping out” was expected. Feeding the pigs was not one of the cherished positions! We all knew everyone’s choice was driving the tractor. It was a Ford utility, small by today’s standards, but I remember the wheels were over my head!

It was during one of these treks to “the farm”, before the arrival of all the other cousins, that I needed to prove my superior position in the pecking order so to be chosen for the job of tracker driver. I decided intelligence probably played an important part in securing this position. To prove this point, when I was either 7 ½ or 8 ½ years old, I undertook a serious discussion with Uncle Louie.

It started out with my ability, since Christmas, to be able to figure out that he was Santa Claus. Now, of course, none of my other cousins could help me in deciphering this feat because my family was the only one close enough to drive the ice and snowy roads to the farm for Christmas.

Late afternoon, on Christmas Eve, we would arrive and Uncle Louie would produce an old wooden box in which he inserted a scrub pine tree. The few ornaments and thinning garland were hung from this tree causing the malnourished limbs to bend. Today we would call this a Charlie Brown tree! To me, it was beautiful.

Immediately after supper Uncle Louie went to the barn to milk his cows. Not long after he left, I could hear Santa with the bells on his reindeer ringing in the orchard. “Uncle Louie, come quick, Santa’s here!” Of course, he never heard me, working away in the barn. Soon a loud thump, thump, thump, stamping the snow off Santa’s boots was heard. Entering the kitchen door a clamorous “Ho, Ho, Ho and a Merry Christmas to all” was his greeting.

My eyes and mouth opened as wide as possible, not quite believing Santa was really here. It didn’t take him long to march over to the large grate inserted into the gathering room floor, feeling the heat coming from the furnace, keeping everyone toasty warm.

“Is there a Mary Ann here? I have a package for here and I can’t find her in La Crosse.” “My name is Mary Ann”, I timidly answered. Before this great treasure was passed to me, it was my responsibility to kneel down and say the Our Father. This was proof that I had been saying my nightly prayers, I guess. One year I got stuck, but with parental prodding, I managed to make my way through. Santa soon left after a cookie or two and I remained breathless telling Uncle Louie what he had missed just to milk his cows.

This particular Christmas I had entered the closed off parlor to get something and saw a small metal toy that happened to match the one I later received from Santa. The wrapping paper also happened to be the same as some of the other presents under the tree. Of course, the ever absent Uncle Louie gave me the final clever clue in solving this puzzle.

Now someone with such intelligence could surely be ready to drive the tractor, in my estimation. I proceeded to explain my discovery to Uncle Louie. He denied any involvement, stating that my facts were coincidental. My greatest disappointment was in realizing that this mystery solving had nothing to do with driving the tractor. How long your legs were, which were needed to step on the clutch and brake while still remaining on the gray metal seat with holes in it, was the deciding factor.

The only thing I had accomplished that summer of “legs still-to-short” was having enough genius to keep Santa from ever coming again!

POSTSCRIPT: About 1995, while eating dinner at a restaurant decorated with for-sale antiques was a fake composition mask of Santa, with a yellowing cotton beard, complete with its’ attached red flannel pointed hat. The nose was a little pushed in but my husband knew from my story that this was just as Uncle Louie had looked and bought it for me. Each Christmas it is hung on the wall so our now grown grandchildren, who no longer believe in Santa Claus, can see what the REAL Santa Claus looked like when I was a child.

My Stroke Of Genius

laxwings

La Crosse, United States

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

This story started a series of stories about life on “the farm” as a child in the ’40’s and 50’s which is a reflection of time gone by in Wisconsin life.

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