“Bob, your foot is bleeding,” Phillip shouted.
Phillip, Bob and I were strolling down Big Pasture Lane to drive the cows home for milking. Bob glanced down at his bare left big toe, covered with blood. He was not aware he had hurt his foot, but the sight of blood triggered a round of weeping and howling.
Not a day goes by when I do not think of our times growing up in the 1940s and 1950s on the Oak Grove Ridge farm in Crawford County. There were nine children in our family, but the three Scheckel boys were all about the same age. We three boys grew up together. We played together, did farm work together, attended the one-room country school, and worshipped at St. Patrick’s Church together. Over the years, we formed a very special band of brothers.
A flood of memories sweep over me. When we were little tykes, Phillip, Bob and I would go out at noontime to the fields where Dad was using the horses for farm work and call Dad for dinner.
“Down, Daddy, down,” Bob would implore. Dad would reach down, pick us up one by one, and sit us on the horse’s back. We would grasp the brass hames that set atop the horses’ collar and ride back to the farmhouse. Phillip rode on Prince and Bob and I rode on Dolly. What a great thrill to be riding so high. We felt like kings sitting on thrones.
We three boys would walk the mile to the one-room Oak Grove Ridge country school. We played softball, Annie Over, and Fox and Geese. We listened to the Wisconsin School of the Air. Ranger Mac was our favorite. We read The Weekly Reader and had parts in the Christmas programs. The Basket Social and end-of-the-year picnic were huge farm community events.
One recess, Bucky Olson, a seventh-grader, was picking on me on the playground something fierce. I was in third grade. Brother Phillip came over and walloped him a good one. Bucky never bothered me again.
We shot spit wads at the girls, got caught, and had to stay in for recess. We stole a few extra chocolate-flavored iodine pills. On Friday afternoons we scattered red flooring compound on the floor and slid up and down the aisles.
On the farm we dug worms between the Big Barn and the Small Barn, piled in the old green Chevy pickup truck, and motored down Kettle Hollow to go fishing at Cold Springs along the Mississippi River. We had our corncob fights, complete with cunning ambushes, rapid fire and sneak attacks.
We grabbed our sleds after chores and rode down the hills on that Oak Grove Ridge farm screaming “Geronimo.” We put bridles on our horses Prince, Dolly and Lightning and rode bareback to the top of the Hill pasture, where we could gaze off into the distant North, and pick out the Utica Lutheran Church steeple on Highway 27, a distance of 23 miles.
We were Mass servers at St. Patrick’s Church in Seneca. Our greatest joy was to ring the bell tolling parishioners to church. The three of us would jump as high as we could, grab the rope and ride the rope down. It took the weight of three grade-school boys to get that massive bell moving.
We made popcorn on Sunday afternoons, moving the frying pan back and forth over the stove. We cracked walnuts that we had shucked in October and make fudge and divinity.
We shed our shoes and socks in the late April evenings and ran barefoot for the first time in six months, avoiding the fresh cow pies in the pastures, lest the contents squish up between our toes.
We fashioned sails for our cucumber boats and carried out naval warfare in the cow watering tank. Sticks were used for masts and pieces of tar paper, left over from shingling roofs, made functional sails. Truth be told, those sails were quite useless. We found that the best way to win a naval battle was to simply ram your cucumber boat into your brother’s boat. We stuck firecrackers underneath an empty pea or bean can, lit the fuse and backed out of the way. We reamed a hole in a green apple, inserted a firecracker, lit the fuse, threw it as high as we could, and watched it explode.
We searched for a cow hiding in the woods after giving birth to her calf. On Sunday, we needed a chicken for Sunday dinner. Phillip spotted a regal rooster between the red henhouse and the red corn crib. He was majestically scratching the ground. Phillip shouted, “I’ve found him!” The chase was on. After a valiant pursuit, the rooster was caught, the ax fell, and he was the best tasting Sunday dinner chicken ever.
We cut wood with a crosscut saw. We would pick out the direction we wanted a tree to fall and took great delight if the tree actually fell in the direction we chose. The idea was to pick a direction that was as clear of other trees as possible. When the tree started to fall, Phillip, Bob and I would yell “Tiiiiiiiiiiiimber” to warn anybody that was nearby. Of course, the only people out there were our dad, my brothers and me, and Browser, the dog.
We had a ram named Sheepbuck, whose only job was to impregnate 30 ewes. We teased Sheepbuck mercilessly, and the angry snorting ram gave chase, no doubt seeking targets of opportunity. He found one and butted Phillip right off the edge of the manure pile. Bob and I had a hearty laugh on that one. So did Phillip, after he picked himself up and scrambled back up to the top of the manure pile. Score one for Sheepbuck!
While shocking grain, we argued over which came first, the chicken or the egg. While pulling yellow rocket weeds from the hayfield, we wrangled over whether a zebra was white with black stripes or black with white stripes.
We fed bundles of oats to the hungry McCormick-Deering threshing machine, pitched manure on winter Saturday mornings, and ground corn and oats with the Gehl hammer mill.
But these work sessions were not without their arguments on which baseball pitcher is better: Sandy Koufax or Whitey Ford. Or the merits of a Chevrolet versus a Ford car.
We tried homemade cigarettes, which we created by taking corn silk, putting it in the inner sheets of paper from oyster shell bags, wrapped, lit the homemade cigarette, huffed and puffed. We tried it just once and once was enough.
Sadly, our band of brothers was broken when our brother Bob died of cancer in 2011, which was much too young, at age 67.
Years later, grown up with families of our own, we would meet at weddings, reunions and funerals. What great times we had sharing stories, arguing politics, talking sports and discussing questions of religion.
Although our lives would never be the same, the memories of our special brotherhood will always remain. This poem by Alex Romero sums up my sentiments about brothers:
Though the seasons may change,
Spring, summer, fall and winter;
We will still be brothers.
What God has ordained,
No man can change,
Brothers are forever.