- Historic Sites
A Summer’s Wait
A young poet’s memories of the old rural America in whose fields he worked for two sunny months while awaiting the call to service in the First World War
June/July 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 4
One of my most positive delights consisted in walking before sun-up to the gate of the pasture wherein these animals had lain and fed all the dewy night, and whistling them up to the barn for breakfast and harnessing. The east would be faintly rosy by that time, and the currents of mist and cool morning air would scarcely have begun to stir. My long, carrying notes would float out through the dawn and soon the figure of the nearest horse or mule would appear, moving soberly towards the gate. Then another figure would appear, then another, and soon all would have filed past me to their places in the barn, where corn and hay would have been distributed by Roy and where Bowen would be milking the two stupid red cows. Then we would curry and harness our respective teams and go in to our own breakfast.
On the farm to the west were Bob and Mont Cessna, the only representatives of a family which had once numbered 15 or 20,1 believe. Mont, who was, I suppose, 27, was operating the farm that summer for the estate. He was a slender, sharp-featured, gentle fellow, who I do not doubt was aware of many subtle values & distinctions but who was distressingly inarticulate. He was impulsive, yet never acted impulsively; was friendly, yet never cordial; was anxious to jest and banter, but never succeeded in being genial or hearty; started often to confide an opinion or an observation, yet somehow always failed to finish his statement or complete the image of his mind. A thoroughly decent fellow, but not destined for a blithe kind of career, and never, I fancy, a successful farmer Bob was more glib, He was the youngest of the family, a sophomore at the University of Illinois, and was only spending the summer with Mont. The two of them lived in a little shanty behind the tenant’s house, and cooked their own meals. Mont had contrived a shower bath in the rear, consisting of a tank and a hose. Mont liked to ride over on horseback to see Bowen and me on rainy mornings, when we would sit on the straw in the bottom of the driveway in the barn and lazily converse.
Not much happened during these three months at Hope. Dad had the Chicago Tribune sent to me; I read little else. He was convinced, quite rightly, that I should thus keep abreast of the larger events. Such was my delight in this vegetable existence, however, that I should never have missed a newspaper. Dad was indescribably good. He came about once a week in the old Overland and took me home for Sunday. I would shave and dress hurriedly (I remember how soft and snug my good clothes seemed when I put them on) and run down to the automobile where he would be waiting, always patiently, or perhaps imparting a few final directions to Bowen, who promptly forgot 9 out of 10 of them. I would drive home most often, to rest Dad, who drove so much. The late afternoons would often be cool, and we would roll pleasantly along towards Urbana, talking of all that country in the old days, and many things. How I loved then and shall always love that gentle man! How I despise my tongue that has uttered so many sharp, shallow, impatient things to him! At home would be mother, who was also as good as any mortal can be. The next morning, perhaps, we would go to church, to please mother, and then in the afternoon Frank and Grace and Charlotte were very likely to drive up from Villa Grove, and Paul with them. The next morning, often before it was light, Dad arid I would be rolling back to Hope, where he would leave me and go on to Potomac to look after the farm there. Twice I went with him to Potomac in the evening to see Grandma and Grandpa; and once I went with Bowen in a wagon, leading three colts which Vasa, the Potomac man, had better pasture for than we could find at Hope.
There were a number of trips in this direction or that. I rode with Roy in his buggy one evening to Collison, and once for three days Bowen and I hauled shelled corn for Dave Fowler to the elevator at Collison. Then Bowen and I drove three wagons to Fithian before daylight one morning, with hogs. And of course we all drove over to Royal on many a fine evening. I was sorry that the occasion never offered for driving to Muncie or Danville for coal. I had in mind a dramatic procession past Hazel Shepherd’s house. She was Nell Littler’s cousin, and, as I remember, a beautiful girl. I had been first smitten by her, strangely enough, at Ed Knight’s funeral in the Baptist Church at Muncie, where she played the piano. I had gone out from Urbana twice since with Nell and Carne to see her family. Now I wanted most particularly to drive by in my overalls and give her a good, rough, first-hand impression of me. But this never came off.
The Tillotson Reunion was held that summer at Uncle Frank Henry’s, near Number 10. Dad and Mother and Charlotte drove out from Urbana and Frank and Grace came all the way from Villa Grove in their Marmon. I have forgotten now which party picked me up at the farm. The day was rich in revelation to me. Never before had I seen so far into the good-natured bosoms of the Hope and Potomac people. Grandpa, of course, got up on the porch and made his Prohibition speech, and referred to his old girl, Grandma. There were dozens of distant cousins to meet, and no end of little children to praise and immediately forget. The dinner was only slightly curtailed by the exigencies of war: cakes, salads, meats, jellies, preserves, and sandwiches went round the table, which stood under the trees, unceasingly. The talk ran mostly upon the war. I had little to say.
I rode back as far as the farm with Frank and Grace and Charlotte, who stopped a few minutes to see “my horses” and take a picture of good gray Jim.